Saturday, June 26, 2004

It's not just here

I'm afraid I am guilty of being American-centric regarding public education. By chance, I ran across this interview with a critic of the public educational system in England. I was shocked. Damn; what is going on here in the US may be part of a larger picture.
School privatization has also had a negative impact on democracy. The interests of private companies in education conflict with those of local democracy in a number of ways. For example, the government disregards local public opinion when it comes to the handing over of LEA services to private companies. Nevertheless, private companies resent the constraints imposed by elected local officials. At school level, business tends to seek majority control. Private companies are given a controlling majority on Academy governing bodies, at the expense of parent and LEA representatives. A further issue is that of transparency. Local authorities are bound by legislation to give the public access to certain information. Private companies are not bound by the same legislation, and can appeal to "commercial secrecy" to withhold information from the public

There is a fundamental conflict between market principles and citizenship rights. If the state is no longer directly responsible for the operation of services, there is no direct link between the user, or citizen, and the provider. While the ability of citizens to influence policy is reduced, the ability of companies to do so is facilitated by permanent lobbying of decision-makers. It is no accident that most of the big companies now moving into education (and swallowing up the small education businesses) are in defense and construction, where skills of lobbying and close personal links with politicians and top officials are the name of the game.

And finally, privatization could have an impact on the employment of teachers. The companies that want to run state schools want to change the law so that they employ teachers, instead of the school's governing body. Opposition from the teachers' unions has so far prevented the government from acceding to this demand.
England is ahead of us in privatizing their public education system. They've got quite a bit of involvement by the central government, lots of standardized testing, actually national tests, and for-profit companies involved in the providing education. And the results? Increased inequalities betweent the social classes and the realization that for-profit companies work less efficiently than governmental entities.