Schools affect us all, whether or not we have children currently enrolled. The quality of education available today will impact generations to come, and with more than 90% of American students enrolled in public schools, the question of quality is a very public one. And one answer we all seem to agree on is that schools could be better.
Education reform means different things to different people. Betsy DeVos, recently picked to be Secretary of Education for the new administration, is a strong advocate of private schools and an opponent of teacher’s organizations. She supports the diversion of public funds to pay for tuition. But I wonder ….
Isn’t the advantage of privatization that we benefit from the efficiency of a market-driven competitive system? If privatizing a public responsibility like education requires taxpayer support, can you even make the argument that the private sector is more efficient? Isn’t this proof that education is one of those functions, like national defense and firefighting, that we want to be available for everyone, but that the free market just can’t provide at a uniformly high quality?
Some private school proponents, as well as advocates for charter schools, argue that the greatest stumbling block to reform is teachers’ unions. But professional educators, parents, and students will tell you that teachers know better than anyone what is needed to make schools more effective. It is politicians’ interference with schools and their unwillingness to take the advice of dedicated and insightful teachers that has dragged schools so far from their essential mission.
The governor of Georgia recently made a bid to take control of some public schools and turn them over to a state agency that might farm out their operations to for-profit companies. His “Amendment 1” lost at the ballot box, but look for continued efforts to break up local control of schools. Look for further efforts by the higher reaches of government to partner with private interests and funnel your tax dollars into someone else’s pockets.
There is nothing wrong with privatization per se, and it is always worthwhile for public servants to consider lessons from the private sector. But privatization is not the cure for every government program that is struggling to reach its goals.
There are some things that are public responsibilities, and most often our government is the best tool we have for carrying out these responsibilities. Education is a public responsibility that affects every individual who goes to school as well as society at large. It is essential that such an important job be carried out efficiently and effectively. And in order for schools to serve the many who pass through their doors, governance must be local, and services must be individualized. Cost efficiency, let alone profit, must take a back seat when it conflicts with quality. We are talking about our children.
Big government with sweeping mandates that suppress individual talents and potential for the sake of uniformity has no place in schools.
Private profit should never be a factor in education. How can we justify feeding off the weakest and most vulnerable among us?
The burden on advocates for public education is that there are problems in the system as it exists. We lose any argument that simply defends the status quo. But we should stand up for teachers and defend their expertise. We should stand up for local schools, and get involved personally in making the schools in our communities the best they can be. And we should be on guard against easy answers from politicians who are looking to score points.
Schools affect us all. There is just too much at stake to hand our responsibility off to other people.