As a retired teacher I love reading that I have done it wrong all these years. Governors like Jindal of Louisiana and Walker of Wisconsin are taking on the role of experts in the field of education and changing the way that public schools will look in their states. Their contention is that the private sector; education by free market approach; is much more effective than what they view as government intervention in the process.
As quoted in Stephanie Simon’s article:
“We are changing the way we deliver education,” said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. “We are letting parents decide what’s best for their children, not government.” 1)
And yet by forcing this action through himself, Jindal is doing just what he says he deplores. He is having his state government decide that education in Louisiana will be a free-for-all which, of course, means exactly the opposite. Those who can afford it, or demonstrate the right credentials, will find their way into the few positions that are available in the name schools.
As Simon goes on to say: (The) list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.
Many of us have heard of the trials and tragedies portrayed by “Waiting For Superman”; the documentary that chronicled the struggles of parents and students to get those coveted lottery placements.
Making public education a competitive process is a bad idea. It is the same old Republican mantra that we have listened to and continue to hear from every sector of society that they can buy time from: “If we just let the Free Market System work, unregulated, it will provide the best product for all.” No it won’t, it will disenfranchise a vast number of citizens. Long ago, a Republican, and a personal hero of mine, Teddy Roosevelt acted to end many such inequities in our country from existing.
A study by Stanford University indicates that while 17% of charter schools outperform public schools, 46% perform at about the same level and 37% under-perform them 3). The data presented by proponents of privatization does not support their contentions and yet like unthinking automatons we stand on the brink of continuing to do the same thing we have done before and expect a different result this time. The thought of privatizing public education causes me to make an allusion with Czarist Russia prior to 1917. Is that what we had in mind when we initiated free public education for all, regardless of economic status? That eventually it would lead to a country of a few haves and a vast number of have-little or have-nothings?
There can be only one reason to privatize public education — so someone can money on it. Writing in the article, “Privatizing Public Schools: Education in the Marketplace”, 2) Ellen Boesenberg makes the case for public education when she says:
Educators, community activists, parent groups, consumer advocates, and media watchdog organizations, as well as independent researchers and critical scholars need to be vigilant in exposing the interests behind proponents of voucher programs that pave the way for the privatization of public schools and other aspects of public life.
Because as she states: As flawed as public education may be, the way to improve it is not by abandoning it to the private sector. As anyone in the corporate sector would readily agree, the primary concern of a corporation is to increase its profits.
Writing about a similar effort to privatize public education in Michigan, Andy Kroll quotes opponents: Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt says Pavlov’s (Michigan Republican Sen. Phil Pavlov) plan is a “terrible idea” that would erode the quality of public school teaching because districts will look for the lowest bidder, not the best teachers. 4)
Whereas the primary concern for public education is to educate; this tired and retired teacher can only hope that somehow, despite the actions of a few temporarily in power, our tradition of a public school system will survive the current attacks and continue to provide free public education to all American school children.