Monday, April 12, 2010

For-profit schools: is this really what progressive Tory education policy looks like?

Can you run a school for a profit? The Tories seem to think so, well they would, wouldn't they. What is clear is that in the US the for-profit Charter schools have been a huge disaster for the children in the cities where they were imposed. In 1997 the US Congress passed the Charter schools act pushing local school districts to let private enterprise take over or create schools.
The justification for this was that the competition of "market pressures" would force these schools and the public schools to perform and deliver a quality product. The track record has shown otherwise. For example in Michigan 75% of Charter schools are run by for-profit companies. These schools are paid with public education funds, but they are not controlled by the public. Because these schools are run by private companies, they don't have to reveal how they have used their money, or how much profit they have made. As far as the communities are concerned, the schools are just big holes that the money gets poured into. Companies like Edison find many ways to make their profits. Schools are set up shop in abandoned premises like supermarkets or large office complexes or old school buildings. These buildings are often owned or leased by a management company that is owned by the for-profit Charter school company. The charter school, run by the same company, gets state education money for each student – $8,000 in Michigan. The school then pays the management company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in rent. The educational quality in most cases is worse than in the public schools, for example students at the Charter schools around the Detroit area have scored lower than Detroit public school students on the Michigan statewide test.

How could it be otherwise? The profit taken out of these schools is money NOT spent on the education of students. So for-profit schools end up having a high number of unqualified teachers; a high turnover rate, with sometimes several teachers teaching the same class in a school year; and even classes taught by a string of temporary service employees. It was recently confirmed that in the ten schools run by one company, Charter School Administrative Services, 62% of teachers were unqualified. This is a private company that received over $40 million from the state of Michigan in 2008. This is money that did not go to the public schools. And that's just one company, running ten schools. There are over 200 charter schools in the state of Michigan alone.

Eeven more worryingly a recent report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that nearly 80% of Michigan’s black Charter school students attend intensely segregated minority schools. Why does this matter? Research shows that attending racially diverse schools significantly improves students’ academic achievement, graduation and college attendance rates. In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1) held that, along with achieving diversity, reducing racial isolation of students of colour in schools is a compelling state interest. Yet black and Latino students attending Charter schools are more often typically in schools where 90% or more students are non-white than are their counterparts in traditional public schools.

Some years ago Lehman Brothers (remember them) issued a report in which it said, "the education industry may replace health care ... as THE focus industry." In the US that's exactly what for-profit Charter schools are: private industry taking over public education, squeezing out all the profit they can – and leaving children with an even worse education. Do we really want such institutions setting up here in the UK? Is this really what progressive Tory education policy looks like?

1 comment:

rowanree said...

I have to say that I have no problem with private providers making profit from state education. The reason City Technology Colleges failed in the 1980s was that private providers had no incentive to sponsor state schools, by allowing them to do so the number of state schools could increase dramatically giving the public more choice in their schooling. As the Conservatives have used Sweden as a model for their education plans perhaps that is a better comparison than American Charter schools. Over half of the independently run Swedish Free Schools is operated on a for-profit basis and they seem to do very well indeed. A scholar called Mikael Sandstrom has studied the reforms that have taken place in Sweden and he has said, "if I am disappointed with any of the non-state providers it is the not-for-profits who, with no incentive to expand, have been less effective at identifying untapped potential demand and slower to set up new schools”. Anyway, the whole point of liberating the supply side of education is that if parents are unhappy with the service provided by a school (for example if they are taking out too much money in profit and so not providing a good enough service) other providers can come in and take advantage of the existing demand.