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Education for Sale
 
For the past several decades, Wall Street, venture capitalists, and private-for-profit education companies have been working diligently to privatize American public education. You can read here several accounts of this diligence, including: The Billionaires’ War Against Public Education and How Wall Street Power Brokers Are Designing the Future of Public Education as a Money-Making Machine.
 
The diligence of the privatizers is paying off for them. For-profit charter schools and voucher systems have taken hold in communities across America. Between 1996 and 2012, the number of for-profit companies running charter schools grew twenty-fold from five to ninety-seven. While voucher systems currently enroll just one percent of K-12 students, the trend is spiraling upward: according to The Economist, 61,700 students used vouchers in 2008-09; by 2015-16, that number had more than doubled (to 153,000). An increasingly significant segment of higher education has also been claimed by Wall Street corporations running for-profit colleges--colleges whose income depends almost entirely on taxpayers, who provide the funds for federal student loans and grants. 
 
And the pace of school privatization is about to pick up. As widely reported, the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, intends to press for K-12 voucher systems throughout the country. Soon,  across these United States, education will be for sale.
 
Linda Darling-Hammond’s recent article on this topic, published in The Nation  traces the record of accomplishments, or lack thereof, among privatized schools. As Darling-Hammond concludes:
 
The central question for a public-education system in a democratic society is not whether school options should exist, but whether high-quality schools are available to all children.


Read more at Education for Sale?
 
Twenty years ago, a policy brief from the international Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development noted that “Charter schools are gaining ground. Tuition vouchers are provoking dramatic debates.” This brief from 1996 went on to point out that a central purpose of American public education is to “prepare people to become responsible citizens.” The authors quoted educator and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois, who warned in 1902 that the ideals of education “must not be allowed to sink into sordid utilitarianism. Education must keep broad ideals before it, and never forget that it is dealing with Souls and not with Dollars.”
 
Yet here we are in 2017, dealing with the promise of a flood of public tax dollars into corporate coffers in the name, ostensibly, of our children’s education.

What do you tell the parents?
 
Educators, policy makers, and thought leaders have a vision of a public education system that works well for all students and meets the need for an educated citizenry. However, as Claude Goldenberg, Professor of Education at Stanford University, asks: “As we try to attain that vision, what do we tell the parents who see a potential upside for them and their children to expanding choice (whether or not ‘choice’ is illusory)?”
 
School privatization is bad for students. The evidence is overwhelming. For examples of how privatization (including charters and vouchers) has failed children, see here, here and here .
 
DeVos and the Trump administration, meanwhile, have found appealing labels for their school privatization movement, calling it “school choice” rather than “vouchers” (a term that does not poll well). Recently they came up with another obfuscating label: “education scholarships.” Such canny marketing may be the biggest challenge to progressives hoping to preserve a viable public education system, especially since policy specialists tend to communicate mostly with each other, using obscure terminology. The challenge as yet unmet, and that seems to be unaddressed in policy circles, is effective public communication.
 
Across the U.S., those parents who are least educated, most vulnerable, and most in need aren’t aware of the research on privatized education that shows time and again how badly it serves students. Indeed, the dilemma for parents who want the best for their children is that it will not be possible for them to evaluate the quality of the “choices” available. Clever labeling and marketing will obscure the dismal track record of the “education industry” and frustrate parents’ attempts to make informed decisions. As education is put up for sale, the challenge is how to counteract this manipulation of evidence and opinion by those who seek to profit from an “industry” rather than to create a reasoning, well-educated citizenry.
 
The question remains:
 
What do you tell the parents?
 
Who has the answer?
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The Public Goods Post has been created by June Sekera, 
Founder and Director of the Public Goods Institute; and Research Fellow at the 
Global Development And Environment Institute, Tufts University.

The Public Goods Post is produced by Daniel Agostino.

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