The Myth of Privatization
Studies conducted on tax-funded private and quasi-private schools in Florida, plus the Times Union’s recent journalistic analysis, all lead to inescapable conclusions: When it comes to educating our children, the factors for success don’t turn on distinctions between public and private organizations; neither do they turn on “union versus nonunion.” Good results, instead, depend on teachers who have both the curriculum fluency and the trust-building skills to shore up students up and move them forward.
The point of introducing a standards-based curriculum was to provide a roadmap by which all children, served by good teaching, could become academically “proficient.” Regrettably, political attention which might have been devoted to developing “good teaching” morphed, instead, into sound bites about “good or bad teachers.” Similar ideology-driven rhetoric also demonized an important professional development organization, the teachers’ union.
If unions were the problem, then tax-credit voucher schools and charter schools, which generally employ nonunion members, would far outshine traditional public schools in terms of academic performance. They don’t. The last apples-to-apples study on tax-credit voucher schools, based on data from the school year ending in 2008, found voucher students performed only on par with our poorest public school students, i.e., those who often live neighborhoods with failing public schools.
Charter schools, like traditional public schools, are a mixed bag. Some are excellent, and some just aren’t doing the job. Unfortunately, Florida’s charters fall more often into the second group than the first, according to a comprehensive national study performed by Stanford University’s CREDO institute. Regrettably, 15 of Florida’s 31 “F”-graded schools were charters. The silver lining is that Jacksonville’s first KIPP School has nowhere to go but up.
The Times Union’s Topher Sanders and Steve Nelson recently analyzed the work of another tax-funded private education management company, Educational Directions. The company’s work, after four years, amounts to “virtually a wash.” If there’s one thing that the privatization experiment in Florida has taught us, it’s that the public-private distinction—when it comes to academic results for all students—is meaningless.
The privatization experiment began during better economic times. We can’t afford to have any more private “hands” on deck. Instead of throwing more taxpayer money at private “solutions” that simply aren’t delivering on their lofty promises, we need to reconsolidate our investment, and our pride, into state government’s primary function: operating high-quality public schools—where the vast, vast majority of Florida’s students attend school.