Sadly, more than a decade of evidence and facts under both Bush and Obama don’t seem to have “taken the shine off” this “market reform” education model in the US:
When one of the biggest private education firms in Sweden went bankrupt earlier this year, it left 11,000 students in the lurch and made Stockholm rethink its pioneering market reform of the state schools system. School shutdowns and deteriorating results have taken the shine off an education model admired and emulated around the world, in Britain in particular.
“I think we have had too much blind faith in that more private schools would guarantee greater educational quality,” said Tomas Tobé, head of the parliament’s education committee and spokesman on education for the ruling Moderate party. In a country with the fastest growing economic inequality of any OECD nation, basic aspects of the deregulated school market are now being re-considered, raising questions over private sector involvement in other areas like health.
Two-decades into its free-market experiment, about a quarter of once staunchly Socialist Sweden’s secondary school students now attend publically-funded but privately run schools, almost twice the global average.Nearly half of those study at schools fully or partly owned by private equity firms.
The opposition Green Party – like the Moderates long-time supporters of privately run schools but now backing the clamp-down – issued a public apology in a Swedish daily last month headlined “Forgive us, our policy led our schools astray”. It is a cautionary tale in a market estimated to have been worth more than $400 billion worldwide in a 2010 report by the International Finance Corporation.
Sweden replaced one of the world’s most tightly regulated school systems with one of the most deregulated, leading to scandals like the 2011 case of the convicted paedophile who set up several schools quite legally.
“I’ve often said it’s been easier to start an independent school than set up a hot-dog stand,” said Eva-Lis Siren, head of Lararforbundet, Sweden’s biggest teachers union.
The private schools brought in many practices once found exclusively in the corporate world, such as performance-based bonuses for staff and advertising in Stockholm’s subway system, while competition has put teachers under pressure to award higher grades and market their schools.
While it is difficult to say how, or even whether, private involvement and falling standards are linked, the NAE says there are indications the market-driven reforms have contributed to widen the gaps in school performances.The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) benchmark Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study paints a bleak picture, with Sweden now ranking below Russia in maths.
The idea that private equity firms and large corporations would run hundreds of schools was a far cry from the individual, locally-run schools envisaged at the start.
“This was something that was not … even considered in one’s wildest dreams,” said Staffan Lundh, who handled school issues in the prime minister’s office at the time and now leads evaluation at the National Agency for Education (NAE).
Where have I heard this before? In Michigan:
“The idea behind charters was to have locally run, autonomous schools that would foster innovation,” he said. “But now you have schools in Michigan that are operated by companies based as far away as Florida and California,” with a minimum of local control and using a cookie-cutter approach.
Moreover, he said, for-profit schools tend to spend less on instruction and student-support services and “much more” on administration, compared to nonprofit charters and regular public schools.
As an example, he cited National Heritage Academies, a Grand Rapids-based company that operates 71 schools across the country, including 43 in Michigan.
Budgets posted on the websites of Paramount and Kalamazoo Public Schools support Miron’s analysis about the difference in expenditures.
Those budgets indicate Paramount is spending about 47 percent of its budget on instruction this school year, compared to 62 percent at KPS. For administration, Paramount spends 16 percent of its budget compared to 7 percent for KPS. Paramount does not have bus transportation, which comprises about 5 percent of the KPS budget. Joe DiBenedetto, spokesman for National Heritage Academies, declined to talk about the company’s profit margin or the pay scales for teachers and administrators.“We do not disclose financial information on NHA, as it is a private company,” he said.
NHA is a private company when they don’t want to disclose financial information, but a public school when they want public funding. How do they make a profit? Easy. They pay teachers less.
Looking at our patched-together, fragmented, ruinously expensive health care “system” can anyone tell me why we would take an existing, universal public system and turn it into a publicly-funded private system?
How about we choose not to make this terrible mistake, because we will deeply regret it. If we lose public schools we’ll never get them back.
Ask the thousands of protesters in Chile. School privatization is a disaster there, too