Tuesday, May 25, 2021

What Privatization Actually Means

When we talk about the privatization of education, the conversation is almost always about the privatization of the vendors. Publicly owned and operated schools replaced by privately owned and operated charter and private schools, plus a dizzying web of real estate developers, charter management organizations, other support businesses. Even the extreme form, where education is unbundled and can be provided piece by piece--a nice prospect for those who balk at operating an entire school, but can imagine making a buck selling math tutoring.

This vision also includes a privatization of oversight. Let the parents vote with their feet. Let free market forces handle the issue of "quality." Make it easier for vendors to have access to the market and make a buck; let the market sort out winners and losers.

How far do some of these folks want to go? Here's Jeremy Kaufman, voice of the Libertarian Free State outfit, being blunt on Twitter.

All of this privatized profiteering can well be a feature of reformster policies (they never, ever, call it privatization), but to stop here is to miss a critical part of the picture.

The education privatization movement is also about privatizing "consumption" of  education.

In a public system, education is "consumed" by the public. All of the public, together, collectively. Hence the system of everyone paying for it and everyone voting for the board members who manage in the name of the collective owners. That's because everyone, collectively, is a stakeholder. We, the public, receive the results of the education system. 

Privatization doesn't just privatize the "vendor," but it privatizes the "customer." The premise of the privatized system is that there is no collective ownership of the results, but rather that each individual student's result belong to each individual parental unit. Put another way, all the business of oversight, accountability, all of the market research and interpretation required--all of that weight rests on the individual parental units. Quality of education is no longer a shared community responsibility, but the private, personal challenge of each parent. 

"Well, yes," some privatizers are going to say. "That's all the freedom." But without launching into another post's worth of argument, let me just offer--

1) How much freedom you have in the marketplace is in direct proportion to how much money and power you have at your disposal. 

2) We're talking about making fundamental change to the entire US system of education. We're talking about ending the promise of a free, good public education for every child. Well, actually, we're not talking about these things at all, which is my point. If we're going to implement such a major change to a foundational institution, we ought to be talking about it, rather than selling America a Porsche and delivering a worn out bicycle. Let's not promote a beautiful new dawn and then leave parents to wake up tomorrow to discover that they the country has washed its hands of them and they are on their own. 

1 comment:

  1. Nobody mentions privatization because it has negative connotations. Parents need to understand what students lose in the privatization process. They lose disability and civil rights as well as professional teachers. Parents lose their right to have a say in school policies and budgets.

    Democrats are aiding and abetting the dismantling of public education. Contrary to campaign promises, they continue the test and punish treadmill and sending federal money to charter schools.