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Funding education through the students rather than institutions was first suggested by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, so the idea is literally older than the United States, and much older than the nation's public school system which only began to emerge well into the 19th century.
Other advocates included Thomas Jefferson. Among his many titles and roles was service as Governor of Virginia in 1779. He suggested a three-year school program, with scholarships for those unable to pay for it, and similar aid for those going beyond this stage.
Thomas Paine, in Part II of The Rights of Man, in 1792, indicated the amount of money to be provided and, incidentally, that members of the clergy be among those who would determine that a satisfactory educational program was carried out.
John Stuart Mill, in his essay, On Liberty, in 1859, said, in an advance version of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1925, that it might be desirable or necessary for government to insist that citizens be educated but that the government itself should not be the means to carry this out. He maintained that any government program would likely be one of indoctrination rather than education, and a source of division.
This approach is virtually universal in other developed nations. Revived in the mid-1950s in this nation by Milton Friedman in a chapter of a book edited by Robert A. Solo, support for it was slow gathering strength until the 1990s, during which time it has not only become more popular but is gradually winning its way into law.
School choice has always existed, and is even a common practice in this nation, with the use of scholarships (grants? vouchers?) a long-established practice at the collegiate level through such programs as Pell Grants, state and private funding sources and, most noteworthy of all, the various G.I. Bills beginning with the first one in 1944. The G.I. Bill has been hailed as perhaps the best single educational idea and practice ever initiated. The G.I. Bill is a voucher system, pure and simple, except that one has to serve in the military to qualify.
Opponents of K-12 vouchers, or grants, claim that the G.I. Bill is different because it is at the postsecondary level. In fact, most of the millions of the World War II veterans who used it did not use it at traditional colleges and universities but used it at trade and occupational schools, - as I did, prior to later obtaining undergraduate and graduate degrees from institutions of higher education. Most of these were private for-profit institutions (another objection of opponents, as if no one profits from the present public education system). Thousands of them, in fact, attended seminaries and other religious schools to enter the clergy (separation of church and state?), and, most relevant to this discussion, many thousands of them returned to high school, including religious high schools, to earn the high school diploma which they had not received earlier. No one objected then, and no constitutional questions were raised, so at least a very large precedent was established that such grants are proper and legal.
In brief, school choice has existed from the beginning. For the first two centuries of our colonial and national existence it was the general practice, including independent and religious schools, tutors, home schooling and self-learning, which was true for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, among a very distinguished and virtually endless list.
It remained unchallenged until the 1920s when the voters in Oregon adopted an initiative, backed by the Ku Klux Klan, a true element of the Far Right, which would have required every child in that state to attend only public schools. This was promptly taken to court and decided in a landmark case, Pierce v. The Society of Sisters, in 1925 in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, as John Stuart Mill suggested, while government has an interest in an educated citizenry and may establish certain requirements toward this end, it does not have a similar interest in how that education is obtained; therefore no child in this nation can be compelled to attend a public school provided, of course, they are otherwise being educated. The Court, however, did not rule on how this right might be funded, since that question was not before it. More recently it has ruled that government does not have an obligation to assist students attending private schools. It has not, however, ruled that government may not do so if it wishes. On the contrary, it has upheld various forms of such assistance, particularly when that assistance is made available to all students, public or nonpublic.
The general result to date, though, has been that, while no child may be compelled by law to attend a public school, millions are compelled by economics to do so. Any child whose parents have the resources to afford a nonpublic school may attend one, as some 5,000,000 presently do. Beyond that, parents who have the resources to live in a school district of preference or, even more precise, in the attendance area of a preferred public school, are also exercising their right to a school of choice. This is the more common exercise of choice and one that is largely overlooked. A national study some years ago found that 53% of public school parents said they live where they do because of the school which their child attends. This alone is a major reason why school choice will not cause a flight from the public schools.
It is only the poor who are left without options. This is increasingly being understood and, combined with the realization that even those who can afford options are being economically penalized, the result has been a growing movement to make school choice more readily available, as is true in other developed nations around the world and as has been developing in former Iron Curtain nations, including Russia.
From the beginning, Vermont has permitted local communities to pay the tuition for students to go to public or nonpublic schools elsewhere rather than have to build their own school. Originally this included religious schools as well. In 1961 the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that their inclusion was unconstitutional but in January of 1994 the same court unanimously reversed its earlier decision, saying that jurisprudence had changed considerably in the interim.
In mid-1996 the Vermont Department of Education held that this ruling applied only to the issue of the specific student and school before the court and threatened to withhold all state funds if the town of Chittenden permitted students to attend a Catholic high school in Rutland. This has led to a further court case that is underway as this is written.
Minnesota has led the remainder of the states in making school choice more readily available for its students, phasing in a number of laws beginning with the mid-1980s, during the administration of Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich, which is significant since so many charges are made that school choice is a plot of Republicans or, even moreso, an undefined "Far Right." The Minnesota reforms included options for school dropouts to return (Minnesota already had the highest high school graduation rate in the nation, 91%); a program for disadvantaged youth; a postsecondary enrollment option, whereby qualified high school students could enroll in college prior to normal high school graduation; and statewide public school enrollment, whereby a student may enroll in any public school in the state accompanied by thousands of dollars of state funds.
Wisconsin also has a post-secondary option program as well as choice transfers within school districts. Milwaukee and its suburban districts have a comprehensive school choice program, in addition to a controversial state funded school voucher program originally for up to 1,000 of the city's students but more recently expanded.
More than twenty states now have some form of public school choice, generally not involving students at nonpublic schools, particularly sectarian schools. Vermont, Milwaukee under the Wisconsin state-funded program, pending the outcome of the court case, and Cleveland under a new Ohio state program, also under court challenge, are major exceptions.
Wisconsin has subsequently expanded the program in Milwaukee to 15,000 students, the cap later to be removed, and to include religious schools as recipients of the grant-aided youngsters. Opponents returned to court but the program was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in June, 1998, and is going forward although an appeal is being made to the U.S. Supreme Court to reject it.
The options, and the number of participating students, are therefore still limited.
One result, as government at its various levels drags its feet in making full school choice a reality because of the resources of the opposition, particularly the teachers' unions, is that private sources are providing evidence of what might be achieved. The Golden Rule Insurance Company in Indianapolis got the movement underway in August of 1991 when it established a privately funded voucher system in that city. Virtually all of the hundreds of students so assisted attend area parochial schools. Despite the opposition of public educators (who heretofore have always said students had the right to go to the school of their choice as long as public funds weren't involved) the program has been introduced in more than two dozen other localities, such as San Antonio, Atlanta and Detroit.
Their popularity and success makes it increasingly more difficult for public educators to say choice doesn't work, the poor won't be able to make wise decisions, etc. Businesses are also finding this approach has more of an impact than the traditional investment of more dollars in the public system, which has not had significant results. There are even those, such as Chester E. Finn Jr. and Diane Ravitch, who argue that some federal programs have even had negative results.
School choice is often argued as an option for students and parents, and rightly so. But it is even more an option for teachers, although view realize that yet, because of the constant attacks from others, including those who supposedly serve them, who have their own agenda, one not necessarily to the advantage of teachers. This, in the long run, may prove the more important of the two reasons, even for students.
As a five-year federally funded program in California's Alum Rock District showed in the 1970s, it was the teachers who gained in their role to determine the curriculum and programs of a school. Parents didn't insist on running the schools any more than patients insist on administering hospitals. What parents wanted, and received to a greater degree, was the option to select from the offerings made available by teachers, especially groups of teacher working together, just as patients want the right to select their own doctor or hospital, clients want the right to select their lawyer, etc.
A rapidly emerging development is the creation of charter schools, a concept which seems to have first appeared in 1988. The next year, a member of the Minnesota State Board of Education said legislation was to be introduced. It was, and it became law in June 1991, although with some severe restrictions, primarily the limitation authorizing only local school boards to grant a charter, which the great majority are reluctant to do, and holding the number of such schools to only eight, with no more than two in any one school district. Subsequent changes in the law have made it easier for charter schools to be launched in Minnesota and increased the number that can be created.
The idea is to permit teachers and others to have their own publicly-funded schools, operating under agreed upon contracts, or charters. As long as the school abides by the agreement it would be independent of a public school board, able to hire and retain its own employees, develop its own budget and devise the curriculum.
Under the Minnesota provisions, they couldn't charge tuition or be sectarian, but they could restrict student admissions to a particular age group, grade level (as do conventional public schools) or in other ways provided they did not discriminate contrary to law.
The school must describe its purpose(s), explain how it intends to accept students; accept all eligible pupils up to capacity, and use a lottery system if there are too many applicants; meet health and safety requirements; have at least 170 instruction days a year for students aged 7-16; and the contract may be valid for up to three years.
On September 21, 1992, Governor Pete Wilson of California signed into law a charter bill with even broader provisions. The Governor actually had two charter school bills reach his desk. The one from the House required certified teachers, the one from the Senate did not. He vetoed the House bill and signed the Senate bill into law. It permits up to 100 charter schools in the state, with as many as 10 in a single district, and a contract valid for five years. Again, there is considerable flexibility in the school's operation once an acceptable contract is signed.
This has developed into the most rapidly growing meaningful reform of public schools, perhaps the most promising ever to be adopted. More than thirty states now have such laws, although some, such as Kansas and Rhode Island, have statutes so meaningless that few or no charter schools have been created.
However, from the national perspective, since the appearance of the first charter school, in Minnesota in 1991 the number has burgeoned to more than 1,000 by early 1998 involving as many as 250,000 students.
Arizona, California and Michigan lead the nation, these three having more charter schools than all of the rest of the states combined. There are a number of state charter organizations, and a national association of charter schools can be expected to emerge.
Privatization has existed in the public school system from the beginning. For example, school construction, like major highway construction, has never been performed by public employees of the system but has been contracted out to private companies. The descriptive term is new but the practice has always been present. What is now happening is the conscious expansion of privatizing, both in areas where it had limited application before - such as pupil transportation and cafeterias - and to academic programs where it was heretofore unusual.
An example of the former is in Piscataway Township, New Jersey, a district with 6,000 students and a $51 million budget. According to district Supt. Philip E. Geiger, the hiring of private companies to provide noninstructional services in one year shifted $2.4 million from those services into classrooms, with more anticipated over time.
He next planned to do the same with the school bus system with potential savings of $1.5 million a year in operating costs plus a one-time bonus of $1.33 million from the sale of the district's buses.
Nor is this Geiger's first attempt at such privatization. His experience with such tactics while in Lexington, Mass. led to his being offered the job in New Jersey.
The savings can indeed by significant. Dade County, Florida school officials say they save $7-15 million each time they open three small satellite schools in office buildings or parks. In Minnesota, a partnership between the Mall of America and five school districts reportedly saved the state $15 million in set-up costs.
In 1987, Dade County opened its first public-school classroom in a private workplace on the premises of the American Bankers Insurance Group (ABIG), beginning with 25 kindergarten students in a portable classroom. The next year, ABIG built three classrooms, offices, assembly area, clinic, and conference room at a cost of $375,000 and further elementary grades were added. Dade County provides teachers, books, and furniture, but saves $50,000 per classroom, per year in maintenance and utilities which are paid for by ABIG.
There are benefits other than financial. Employers note less absenteeism and tardiness by workers and a lower turnover rate, especially among those with children in the centers. Others have opened at Miami International Airport and at Miami-Date Community College.
It is in the academic areas, and management of entire schools or districts, that privatization is now being tried. It is, therefore, those areas that will receive a closer look.
Boston University/Chelsea, MA, S.D.
One of the most far-reaching examples of privatization is in Massachusetts where the Chelsea Public Schools signed a 10-year contract with Boston University for the University to manage the schools, definitely a first in the history of the nation. Instituted in 1989 the project hasn't worked miracles, and has experienced more difficulty than perhaps its initiators anticipated, but it is continuing.
Chelsea, one of the poorest school districts in the nation, with an average annual household income at the time of $10,000, was facing a financial crisis of unusual proportions, even by its own standards, and its student achievement scores were also very poor. It is the growing existence of both of these conditions in other school districts in the nation that may inspire, even impose, the willingness for other innovations to develop in the future.
According to Ted Kolderie, the movement toward private practice by teachers began in 1978. "Some of us had gathered together about 20 public school teachers..It was a discouraging evening. We got a full sense of teachers' frustration and unhappiness...Toward the end I looked at the teacher sitting across from me and asked him: 'Who do you work for?'...What he finally said was, 'I used to think I worked for myself. But I guess I can't really say that any more'.
"The next question was obvious: Why do teachers always work for organizations? Most professionals don't. Most professionals do work for themselves." (Private Practice in Public-School Teaching, I, 1986, p. 2)
As the concept has grown since then, and become a reality, it has been learned that "People are not so much opposed to the idea as they are unacquainted with it." (Op. Cit. p. 27)
Among other results, "The response has been more positive (it would perhaps be more accurate to say less negative) from one union than from the other. It has been more positive at the local level than at the state level, and more positive from individual teachers than from the organizations." (Op. Cit. p. 28)
"Short term, the union concerns are a serious question for the idea of private practice. Longer term, private practice is a serious question for the unions." (Op. Cit. p. 29)
According to Ruth Anne Olson, this realization of the possibility of private practice became a more formal approach in 1983, when Public School Incentives in Minnesota brought together educators and others to consider the topic. It didn't take any research or sophisticated discussion to realize that, unlike other professionals, private practice has not been a viable alternative for teachers. They can open their own school, as some former public teachers have, or become consultants in educational areas other than teaching, but it has been exceedingly difficult for a teacher to make a living as an independent practitioner.
The difficult questions include whether it might be practical for teachers to work for themselves; what would they do; who would hire them; what might the conditions be; and would group practice be a possibility, as it is with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.
In the years since then, these questions, and others, are being answered, although not necessarily in a definitive fashion.
Chris Yelich wrote to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards urging it to recognize the private practice option as it develops its national, voluntary certification system for experienced, accomplished teachers. "As president of AAEPP, I hope to recommend that NBPTS standards for certification would be a goal of all AAEPP members," she said. (Enterprising Educators, Feb. 1992)
It is interesting that one viewpoint is teachers may go into private practice to make more money, since in other professions those in private practice tend to earn more, sometimes substantially more, than those employed by government. At the same time, many teachers themselves hesitate to consider striking out on their own for exactly the opposite reason - that they might not even be able to maintain the income and fringe benefits which they receive as public employees. In the real world teachers rarely go out on their own in the expectation of improving their financial status.
There clearly are educational advantages to school districts contracting with private teachers for specific services. As one superintendent explained, 'People who are interested in this kind of contract are self-selected. If they're willing to do this, they're willing to perform." (Olson, Ruth Anne, 1987, p. 46)
Beyond that, however, such arrangements permit schools to obtain services that might not otherwise be available in the district, utilize a teacher on a part-time basis when there isn't the need for a full-time employee, employ a person full-time but for a limited period of time when there isn't the need for a long-term position, etc. Even at today's national average of about $50,000 per teacher, in salary and fringe benefits, and allowing for no future increases, when a school board hires a new 21- or 22-year-old teacher with the anticipation that they may remain for 40 years until retirement the board is making a $2,000,000 commitment, although perhaps not one of the nation's 100,000+ plus school board members stops to realize that.
It has been reported that only forty percent of Wisconsin high schools offer physics courses, and only ten percent of those schools employ a full-time physics teacher. A related estimate is that there are fewer certified physics teachers in the nation than there are school districts, about 15,000. If correct, this means that it is statistically impossible for most high schools to obtain even one certified physics teacher, much less the number that a very large high school may require. Would it not be better to find those who are qualified, as distinct from certified, to teach physics and might wish to do so, at least for a year or so?
Too often the assumption, or even the comment, is made that teachers who stay in the classroom, or a district, only a few years are not as committed as those who make a career of it. What should be of interest to all involved - students, other teachers, administrators, the school board, taxpayers, etc. - is how well a teacher teaches this year, not what they plan to do next year or for any number of years hereafter.
Other examples include Upper Saddle, N.J. where Berlitz International, Inc., teaches Spanish to second-graders on a contract basis. The $19,600 cost is far less than that for one full-time teaching position. This is one of 73 schools Berlitz has signed up in two years, 12 of which are public.
School boards are hesitant to be aggressive about contracting, fearing opposition and litigation by the unions, and the fact that state laws, with some exceptions, are generally silent on the subject. Still, Hal Seamon, deputy executive director of the National School Boards Association, thinks "It's a promising area that should be explored." (Billings, 1991)
Attempts are being made to clarify the law in at least a few states. In the 1991-92 session, Assembly Bill 136 was introduced in the Wisconsin legislature to allow school districts to directly contract with teachers to supplement teaching staffs covered by collective bargaining contracts. It didn't pass but the American Association of Educators in Private Practice (AAEPP - now the Association of Educators in Private Practice [AEPP]), which supported the legislation, did win a partial victory early in 1992 with the passage of a $325,000 matching grant program to allow school districts to contract with private teacher groups.
In Indiana, the "superintendent of public instruction, H. Dean Evans, proposed letting teachers hold for-profit classes to supplement regular school programs. Under this private venture program, teachers would be encouraged to develop education programs and seminars on a fee basis for students and other community residents." (Enterprising Educators, Oct/Nov 1992) This should not seem to be a radical proposal since, as noted earlier, school districts have historically contracted with their own teachers for additional courses, such as adult evening and summer school classes, whether on an individual basis, under policy established by the district or, more recently, under provisions agreed to in a union contract.
States in which some contracting is permitted include; Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin. This is one reason AEPP's members are still disproportionately located in the upper Midwest area.
A survey by Apogee Research, Inc., and the National Association of State Comptrollers, found that states expect to contract for more services in the years ahead. Cost savings are the major, but not the only, reason. Higher quality services and shorter implementation time are also expected to be achieved.
From the time the public system was founded, down to the present day, there has been a large element of privatization involved. No school district, even one as large as that in today's New York City, has its own construction company. School construction is, as it always has been, contracted out, or "privatized," although the word hasn't been used until recently.
The same goes for textbooks and other supplies, and even for some professional assistance, such as lawyers. School boards legal counsel are almost invariably lawyers in private practice who are hired on a contract or fee basis as needed. As teachers have become unionized this has also been the case for the negotiators used by school boards. Negotiators for teachers' unions are generally employees of the unions, with occasional exceptions, but those for the school districts are usually hired at an hourly rate during negotiation periods.
Some districts contract for student transportation and for operating school cafeterias.
Professional education services are occasionally "privatized," as is often the case with special education students. Many school districts in the nation send these students to another agency. This may be to another level of the public school system, such as Intermediate Units, or Educational Service Units, but thousands of such students, and particularly those with the most severe problems or greatest needs, are transferred to private institutions. The irony here is that many public educators oppose the idea of school choice because of the possibility that the best students will leave and the public schools will be left with a disproportionate share of the students with problems, or problem students when, in fact, it is the problem students who tend to drop out of the present system or transfer to a private environment.
The argument is that nonpublic schools will be selective and will reject the disadvantaged, the disciplinary problems, and other such youngsters. This is not necessarily the case. Not only are such students welcomed in many private settings but there are many nonpublic agencies whose prime, or sole, purpose is to reach out to them. Those most willing to do so often include former public school personnel who left the system precisely because they were interested in such students and believed they could more adequately help them if they could be free of the many constraints which exist within the public school structure.
In September, 1988, Wisconsin passed a law requiring the Milwaukee schools to hire local day-care centers to run five kindergarten classes, which may be a first. Private tutoring chains are also expanding rapidly, and some Minnesota school districts encourage outside contracting by giving principals discretionary funds.
Such arrangements aren't a totally new experience for school districts since not only do they hire other professionals in this manner, such as the district solicitor or physician, but it is even common practice for school districts to, in effect, contract with their own teachers, as well as "outsiders" to teach evening or summer courses. Substitute teachers are almost invariably signed up in this manner, as, in effect, individual contractors. It would be possible for a district to hire extra teachers on their regular salary schedule, with full benefits and all, and assign them on a daily basis as needed. Instead, they hire substitute teachers on an as-needed or on-call basis, and pay them an hourly or per diem rate that is generally considerably less than the regular teachers earn, with no fringe benefits.
Of course there are difficulties, or such arrangements would be developing much more rapidly than is the case. The nature of such contracts is one example; legal liability is another. Not the least, however, is the existence of teacher unions and contracts. Many assume that private educators might constitute a threat, but Ruth Anne Olson says that is not the case, that "...none of the contracts between the private practices and the districts have threatened the master contracts between the unions and the districts." (Olson, Ruth Anne, 1987, p. 49)
At the same time, she notes that private practice, is "an idea that shakes at the roots of the current structure of public education--a structure which assumes a homogeneity of staff and their relationships with one another, which assumes a separation of school and 'the real world,' and one which hierarchically places kids and teachers at the bottom of the system." (Olson, Ruth Anne, 1987, p. 50)
Kolderie has said that of public school teaching that "Private practice is a new idea. But it has major potential for the effort to improve education for children and to improve the professional status of teachers." (Private Practice in Public-School Teaching, I, 1986 p. 1)
Ruth Anne Olson has argued that "...private practice is not new. The information and support for other professionals entering private practice must only be made available to educators." (Olson, Ruth Anne, 1987, p. 48)
Both are partially right.
Kolderie is correct because of the conscious attention now being given to the idea. In recent years those considering teaching as a career almost invariably thought of becoming employees, whether in a public or nonpublic environment. So did their teachers, including the professors in schools of education where future teachers study to become certified. Rare is the professor in a school of education who has suggested to his students that, if they enter teaching at all, and many don't, that they might consider something other than being employed by others, whether in a government or independent school. This is not inevitable, however. Patrick Keleher says that when the question of private practice is raised in his graduate classes at the Loyola University School of Education in Chicago, the response tends to be positive. "Some graduate students think the school reformers' rallying cry of 'teacher professionalism' is too often little more than a slogan, a concept like other 'teacher empowerment' themes, more parroted than practiced. After a decade of school reform, they ask, where is the autonomy...where is the freedom that genuine professionalism entails?...they see private practice as one form of real professionalism, as an option, that demolishes certain stereotypes about educators." (Keleher, n.d.)
Olson is correct because private education and school choice are not only older than the public school system in the United States, they are older than the nation itself, existing from the early days of the colonial period. Since the public school system did not begin to emerge until well into the 19th century, the period when private education predominated extended over a longer period than has the public government-operated system. There were not only private schools from an early date, there have also been some teachers in private practice serving, for example, as tutors to the wealthy.
It is well to remember that the Founding Fathers were not public school graduates and yet, at a time when the total population was less than modern-day metropolitan Philadelphia, a distinguished group of individuals emerged. Can one imagine the City of Brotherly Love, or any other current equivalent grouping of citizens, producing a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John and Sam Adams, James Madison, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and all the rest of the talented individuals who were contemporaries at the time of the American Revolution and the creation of the nation?
Returning to our original dichotomy of views, it is here that, in large measure, Kolderie is correct. To most present-day educators, private practice is a new idea. It has been almost totally obscured in the twentieth century. Potential teachers, whether thinking of it in a public or nonpublic school, think of teaching as something they will do while in the employ of someone else. It isn't something they will do by themselves, or in a clinic, practice or partnership with others, as is true for doctors, lawyers, architects, and all other professions.
As Kolderie has noted, "When we ask why teachers can only be hired most people pause, look puzzled and say, 'I don't know. It's always been this way.'...Most school districts are quite willing to contract with independent practitioners in other fields: lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, architects. It is only teachers with whom they will not deal in this professional way." (Private Practice in Public-School Teaching, 1986, p. 8)
The result, as Chris Yelich has said, is that "The single, most significant barrier to developing teachers in private practice is that most teachers and prospective teachers do not see it as an option. Mention private practice to students studying law, medicine, accounting, or nursing, and some will express a desire to hang out a shingle later in their professional careers. Ask the same question of students in education, and you'll be confronted with blank stares." (Private Practice Educator, 1991)
The recent attention given to privatization, and the emerging trend in this direction, is part of a worldwide movement. Everywhere there is a tendency to decentralize, to democratize, and to humanize the institutions within which we function. It is happening in the private sector as well, but there the term "privatize" isn't appropriate so "divestiture" is the term of the day.
Myron Lieberman has concluded that "the prospects for privatization are more favorable than the public school community seems to realize...a significant number of foundations and think tanks, with substantial resources and ready access to policy makers and the media, are vigorously promoting privatization in one way or another." (Lieberman, 1986 p. 734)
Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson considers teachers in private practice one of the best educational reform ideas. He has said, 'One important goal is to free up schools and teachers from some of the obstacles to excellence they now face. Our teachers should be treated as professionals...and those who want to set up in private practice, contracting with schools to offer their valued services, should be able to do so." (Private Practice Educator, 1991)
Management expert Peter Drucker, while not speaking directly to privatization, has said, "There is a great need for a new approach, new methods and new tools in teaching, man's oldest and most reactionary craft." (Drucker, 1991)
One of the more controversial programs in recent years, noted earlier, has been the introduction of state funded vouchers for students in the Milwaukee school district, whereby they may receive about thousands of dollars in state funds to attend a nonpublic nonsectarian school. The school district, the state superintendent of public instruction at the time, the teachers' unions, the NAACP, and others objected strenuously, and even tried unsuccessfully to have the courts rule the enabling legislation unconstitutional. Yet the school district contracts on its own with a number of community based organizations to provide special programs for at-risk children, and at a much higher cost. In the 1996-1997 school year they even began "tuitioning" regular students to other schools to relieve some of the pressures on the system.
The Houston, Texas school superintendent has proposed that his district pay tuition for students to attend other schools, including religious schools, as a more efficient and effective way to deal with a soaring enrollment than spending huge sums of money to build the new schools that will otherwise be necessary. To those who yelled "voucher" he noted that, like countless other districts across the nation, the district already pays the tuition for many students, including those in special education categories, to attend other schools.
Another dilemma occurs when teacher unions advocate teacher empowerment at the same time they oppose private practice as "union busting." Teaching is the only profession where those who are publicly employed, or at least the organizations representing them, seem to find it necessary to attack those who are privately employed, or wish to be. It's inconceivable that doctors employed by, say, a public hospital, or lawyers who work for a state, or the federal, attorney general, would attack colleagues who are not similarly employed. But many public teachers, and those representing them, have no difficulty in doing this constantly. Too often they regard teachers in nonpublic schools or in private practice as a threat to themselves and as somehow "unprofessional."
The Association of Educators in Private Practice (AEPP)
Whatever the theoretical pros and cons, private practice is emerging. The ultimate test of any trend in this nation is the establishment of an organization to forward its interests, and this has now occurred for this movement as well.
Originally called The American Association of Educators in Private Practice (AAEPP), the organization was founded in June 1990 by Ms. Chris Yelich. Its first president and now its executive director, she has practiced what she preaches. She contracted with a parochial high school in Milwaukee to teach five biology classes and developed a hands-on science module for primary students. She said "The group got started because there are so many teachers who have left education because they are frustrated with the system." (Sneider, 1991, p. 6)
AEPP membership is still heavily centered in the upper Midwest but has members as far away as Japan. Even its first summer workshop in Madison, WI, Aug. 14-15, 1992, was attended by educators from a dozen states, and one from Russia. Thus it was that in 1996 "American" was deleted from its name and it became the Association of Educators in Private Practice (AEPP), recognizing the international makeup of its membership, although it is predominantly made up of citizens of the United States.
Present at that first conference were two venture capitalists, a rarity at any usual education meeting. That has become more common at subsequent annual meetings of the AEPP. The 1995 conference in Minneapolis and the 1996 meeting in Milwaukee each drew more than 200 attendees, a rare mix of public educators, reformers, independent and charter school educators, private business and venture capitalists, and collegiate educators. As a sign of its growing geographical reach, the 1997 annual meeting is planned for Nashville, Tennessee.
Chris Yelich says most AEPP members, as might be expected, are enterprising educators in partnerships or sole proprietorships.
Private educational services, beyond those offered by nonpublic schools, have a long history, such as the International Correspondence Schools and, more recently, national chains such as the Britannica Learning Centers and Sylvan Learning Centers. But these have also been versions of the nonpublic school environment even, as with ICS, if conducted on a correspondence basis. They have been privately operated and privately funded, largely through fees to the students, and employed teachers.
The privatization, and private practice, approaches now beginning to appear have different aspects. Here is a summary of four of the better known ones.
The Edison Project
Perhaps best known, because of media publicity, is The Edison Project, originally planned by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tennessee, in partnership with Time Warner Inc., Associated Newspapers Holdings Limited, and Philips Electronics N.V.
It was to include a nationwide school system; contract services for public and private schools; educational software, hardware, and infrastructure; and an ongoing educational-research laboratory. Its projections for 200 schools to begin operating in the fall of 1995, with as many as 1,000 schools and 2,000,000 students early in the next century were unrealized. A private, for profit venture, with per pupil costs to be held to those in the public schools, or even less, the original plans have been dropped but the project continues on a more limited basis, taking advantage of the new charter school laws and successfully obtaining charters in a number of states, such as Massachusetts.
The Project draws upon former public school personnel for some of its key positions. Among these are Stephen Tracy, who had been public school superintendent in New Milford, Connecticut, and Debbie McGriff, former school superintendent in Detroit.
Educational Alternatives Inc.
Another major recipient of media attention is Educational Alternatives, Inc., of Minneapolis, a publicly-held corporation acquired from Control Data Corp. in 1986, which, like Edison, utilizes former public school staffers and, like Edison, has run into difficulties.
One of its projects has been the operation of South Miami Beach's South Pointe Elementary School. Principal Patricia Parham described the experiences as "'100 percent totally positive. People get so excited about somebody coming in that's a private group,' she says. 'But we buy textbooks from private companies; we have consulting services all the time from private companies. It's really no different.'" (Enterprising Educators, Oct/Nov, 1992)
Florida, however, hasn't been the company's only area of operations, its best-known or the most controversial.
For a 90-day period in 1992, EAI managed the entire Duluth, Minn., school district, serving as acting superintendent, but at the end of that time the district did not renew the contract and returned to a more conventional mode.
EAI contracted with the Baltimore public schools to run nine schools with 5,100 inner-city students. The five-year contract was signed in July 1992 with the support of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who had been talking with EAI for more than two years.
More recently, EAI has run into serious difficulties, not least of which has been strong teacher union opposition. This led to the discontinuance of its operation in Baltimore and a more extensive attempt to operate schools in Hartford, Connecticut.
Ombudsman Educational Services
An early and unusual private practice educator is Jim Boyle. As a public school teacher, principal and assistant superintendent, Boyle attempted to try new ideas in the schools without success. He left the system in 1975 and established Ombudsman Educational Services (OES).
Boyle describes his basic system as a computerized version of the one-room school. Contrary to the unsubstantiated "creaming" charges levied against alternative programs, Boyle contracts with school districts to work with students having difficulties in conventional schools. He claims to have an 85% success rate with students who otherwise seemed destined to fail, and at less than half the cost of the public system.
His unconventional schools are in unconventional facilities, such as shopping centers or professional office complexes. While not required to do so he uses certified teachers with a pupil-teacher ratio of better than 10 to 1. Students are self-paced for three hour daily blocks, five days a week. Extra-curricular activities, school bells, and assemblies are nonexistent. Boyle says students typically advance one grade level in basic skills for each 20 hours in his program. With a shortened student day many of them, who are poor, hold regular jobs and his teachers can serve two shifts per day.
His program of no grades, no failures, and positive self-concept reinforcement is accredited by the North Central Association, hasn't cost any public teacher his or her job, and, he says, helps teachers in districts he serves by taking so many of their problem kids. At the 1992 AEPP summer workshop in Madison he said that he has been introduced at faculty meetings as the man who will take the problem students, followed by applause and cheers.
Designs for Learning
This program is operated by Wayne Jennings, an AEPP Director, in Saint Paul. His proposal for a "break-the-mold" school prepared for Public Schools Incentives (PSI pioneered the teachers in private practice concept), seeking a New American Schools grant, essentially leverages public school change from the outside -- as private contractors. It was judged the best proposal from Minnesota (of 22) by the State and the Minnesota Business partnership and became one of the eleven selected for funding by the New American Schools Development Corporation. Wayne discussed the 'community learning centers' plan at the AEPP 1992 Madison workshop. It builds on Minnesota's law allowing educators to organize schools chartered by a school board. Teacher accountability and flexibility are central to the design. The centers will serve as hubs for integrating social services.
Choice, Charters and Privatization: Separate But Related
These efforts not only have much in common, they are, in fact, complementary. The movement to "privatize" is largely coming about because of the realization of the need for more economy, efficiency, and accountability in public institutions on the part of many private citizens and elected officials responsible for these institutions, and the realization on the part of a growing number of professionals that this, for them, can lead to more autonomy, self-realization and perhaps public respect.
The growing support for school choice, on the other hand, is often opposed by those connected with the public schools, including even some who favor privatization. Support comes from nonpublic school advocates, private citizens seeking alternatives to what is increasingly viewed as a public system that is dysfunctional for millions of students, and from public school establishment figures such as myself who believe this is essential for real reform.
Charter schools, as noted, can promote the other two efforts.
Many proponents of these approaches seem to belong to disparate groups. Yet their individual goals could be achieved more rapidly if they would unite, or at least better coordinate, their efforts.
This is because the privatization movement and charter schools constitute the supply side of the education equation while the general adoption of school choice would provide the necessary demand side.
When, and if, the advocacy groups get together, the results may be far-reaching indeed and help bring about the fundamental reform and restructuring of schooling in this nation that, to date, has been talked about and promoted but significantly achieved.
AEPP Summer Conferences, 1992 and 1993, Madison, Wisconsin; 1995, Minneapolis; 1996, Milwaukee, author's notes.
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- - -Copyright 1998, David W. Kirkpatrick