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Whether it’s Teach for America, private/charter schools, or eLearning ventures like K12,Inc., there’s obviously a movement to take the work of teaching and learning out of the hands of traditional classroom teachers and put the reins in the hands of private corporations. But are the brains guiding those hands any more innovative, creative than the ones in charge of public schools?

Privatization raises real concerns for public schools (e.g. siphoning off of funding, brain and leadership drains). There are real concerns for privatizing and I find myself wondering what type of education we’re headed for.

First, we need to recognize how broad the tendency of privatizing public services has become –  we have private security forces in lieu of police in some gated communities and in many corporate settings.  Support services for the military,even in combat zones, are now provided by contractors.  Many activities that should be military or other government services are similarly done by contractors, including interrogation of prisoners.  We have private prisons.  We have sold toll roads.  Garbage and recycling is often done by corporations. Source: Educational Equity, Policy and Politics in Texas

My experiences with privatization stem from limited experiences with charter schools, and toll roads. At first blush, my initial reaction to toll roads was negative. Why can’t we reinvest in public highways rather than build entire highways that are simply beautiful, fast and wonderful? Simply, why must public be lousy while private be equated with great?

Then, I took the plunge and drove on a toll road. I was in a bit of a hurry and decided that a few dollars wouldn’t set me back to much. The toll road experience was awesome. I was the only person on the road, and I was driving along at 80 miles per hour…not a state trooper in sight.

Later, as I paid off the bill, my wife asked me, “So, Miguel, was it worth it?”
I had to answer that “Yes, it was.” The truth was, though, that when I timed it, I ended up spending the same amount of time getting home as if I’d taken the public highway. What was different was the quality of the experience, as opposed to the duration.

A higher-quality experience (e.g. open road at high speed for longer time) than I would have had on the public road. In spite of the high quality experience, the only gain was a better feeling about driving down the road, not having to maneuver around other vehicles in a hurry to get home after dropping their kid off at college.

Can I generalize from my toll road experience to public schools? Probably not. The main differentiator for toll roads vs public schools is limited ($$$) access by a few to a resource built for many. Right? It’s not that toll roads are incredibly innovative, only that most people don’t want to pay the cost of driving on them.

For charter schools vs public, isn’t it the same deal? Only the elite–or those who have funding made available to them to become elite–take advantage of charter schools. It’s not that the charter schools are actually elite, but rather, that they offer learning opportunities to less students, less expectations, etc. As soon as I write that, though, I realize that isn’t it exactly.

Maybe it’s that the public doesn’t understand how hard teachers in public schools work, as this NEA press release emailed to me points out:

“Politics is a team sport,” said Schulze, a member of the Maryland State Education Association. “We need to make sure we are heard at city hall, the statehouse and the White House. We need to have a presence on local, state and national committees responsible for setting this nation’s education agenda.” 

Schulze told teachers, school support staff, and administrators from K-12 to higher education that the general public “is probably not aware of how much work you take home each night. They don’t reflect on how evening and weekend school work can conflict with family time.” Source: NEA web site

I suppose I want more than a better than public school experience. It’s not worth the effort and cost for charter schools that get us to the same destination in the same amount of time. To fundamentally transform schools, we need to blend technology in:

New entrants in the charter school scene are pioneering blended-learning solutions, producing great student results, and looking to scale. Consequently, many of the established charter management organizations (CMOs) are finally paying attention to educational technology. 

Rocketship Education—a CMO with its first elementary schools based in San Jose, California—was arguably the catalyst for this shift. Like many high-achieving CMO networks, Rocketship’s schools get great results. They have consistently been the highest-performing low-income schools in Santa Clara County. Yet the network stands apart from some of its charter brethren in a couple of key ways. 

Rocketship students rely heavily on technology; they rotate between more traditional schooling and online instruction, the latter of which is monitored by instructional aides rather than delivered by classroom teachers. This blended-learning model saves each school $500,000 a year in traditional school expenditures, which it funnels into professional development and higher teacher salaries. Unlike many top charter schools, which have costs greater than what the public funds provide and therefore rely on a significant dose of philanthropic funding, Rocketship schools do not require philanthropy for their day-to-day operations.

Source: Michael Horn, Tech-based Learning: The New Frontier for Charters? 

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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