Privatizing Education

The concept of privatizing education in the United States includes the provision, funding and regulation of education by private organizations. Privatization is an important concept in education, which itself represents a major financial burden for governments worldwide.

The term privatization refers to the transfer of activities, assets and responsibilities from public institutions and organizations to private individuals and agencies. It is also referred to as liberalization, in which agents are set free from government regulations. An alternative definition is marketization, which represents the establishment of new markets alternative to government and public services.

Privatizing education is a controversial issue and it has been debated since the late 20th century. Some consider it will simply boost the financial burden on families, while supporters deem it could provide more resources for education and will increase the effectiveness and flexibility of educational services. Strong supporters of the privatization of education emphasize the right of individuals to choose the form of education for their children. In contrast, those against it argue that education based on financial abilities is inequitable.

Generally, privatization of education takes place in three forms:

- Private provision: when education is provided by private organizations rather than public schools and state universities. Such private agencies include various religious or for-profit organizations, or charities.

- Private funding: when education is financed by private organizations or individuals, instead of via government subsidies. Thus parents can finance the education of their children by paying tuition fees or by contributing to shared funds along with the government. Privatization occurs when even a part of the funding is provided by private subjects rather that the government.

- Private regulation, decision-making and accountability: when education services are monitored by students and their families. They can control the quality level of education.

The percentage of students enrolled in private education institutions varies from country to country. According to the 2002 UNESCO booklet on education privatization, 11 percent of school-aged children in the United States are educated in private agencies, compared to 50 percent in Belgium. In the Netherlands, 70 percent of all schools are administered by private boards, although they are publicly funded. As to higher education, the percentage of students in private universities tends to be zero in most of Europe, compared to 75 percent in the Philippines.

The main programmes and policies in privatizing education include:

- Educational vouchers: coupons allowing students to receive certain amount of schooling. Students receive annual funding that can be paid to enroll in any eligible school. Under this system, schools generate revenues based on the number of their students. This system became popular in the Netherlands when it was introduced in 1917 and it is also used in some states of the United States, including Maine and Vermont.

- Public school choice: such "free choice" or "open enrollment" programmes, which allow parents to choose the preferred school for their children. The government keeps the control over education funding and provision.

- Public school liberalization: reducing the government rules and regulations in schools in order to tackle bureaucracy. In the United States, Charter schools, which are funded by the government but are subject to fewer regulations, were introduced in the 1990s.

- Private contracting of specific services such as food supply and sports activities, tuition tax credits and deductions for parents.

- Subsidies and assistance grants to private schools: similar to the voucher system, these programs financially support private schools and thus can attract families to the private sector, taking some of the financial burden off the public sector. Such programs have been introduced in some European countries, Australia and Japan.

- Home schooling and private payments for schooling: home schooling is an alternative to both public and private schools, preferred by some families that consider the institutional education unsatisfactory. Up to 1.7 percent of American school age children are home-schooled. Another way families choose to enhance their children's education is to pay for private lessons or additional classes, usually for exam preparation.

In the United States, the cost per student in private schools equals up to 75 percent of the public schools' cost. According to research, private schools are more effective in educating children. In 1990, 33 percent of public students took the SAT exam, which is used as a test for college entrance, scoring an average of 896, against 67 percent of private school students with a score of 932.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can't Be Businesses
Larry Cuban.
Harvard University Press, 2004
Schools and the Public Good: Privatization, Democracy, Freedom, and "Government" (1)
Baez, Benjamin.
Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 2005
Schools or Markets? Commercialism, Privatization, and School-Business Partnerships
Deron R. Boyles.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?
Jack Buckley; Mark Schneider.
Princeton University Press, 2009
Privatizing Education: Can the School Marketplace Deliver Freedom of Choice, Efficiency, Equity, and Social Cohesion?
Henry M. Levin.
Westview Press, 2001
Privatization by Degree
Bloom, Jordan.
The American Conservative, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2012
For-Profit Colleges
Deming, David; Goldin, Claudia; Katz, Lawrence.
The Future of Children, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring 2013
Public Problems, Private Solutions: School Choice and Its Consequences
Harrison, Mark.
The Cato Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring-Summer 2005
For-Profit and Nonprofit Charter Schools: An Agency Costs Approach
Morley, John.
The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 115, No. 7, May 2006
Privatizing Education: The Politics of Vouchers
Kennedy, Sheila Suess.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 82, No. 6, February 2001
The Competitive Education Industry Concept and Why It Deserves More Scrutiny
Merrifield, John; Salisbury, David.
The Cato Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring-Summer 2005
Key Policies for a Competitive Education Industry
Merrifield, John.
Journal of Private Enterprise, Vol. 18, No. 1, Fall 2002
Leaving Public Education Behind: The Bush Agenda in American Education
Karp, Stan.
Our Schools, Our Selves, Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring 2006
Two-Tier Health Care, Education, and Policing: A Comparative Analysis of the Discourses of Privatization
Cukier, Wendy; Thomlinson, Neil.
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol. 47, No. 1, January 2005
Edison Schools and the Privatization of K-12 Public Education: A Legal and Policy Analysis
Solomon, Lewis D.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4, May 2003
The New Right Triumphant: The Privatization Agenda and Public Education in Australia
Connell, Raewyn.
Our Schools, Our Selves, Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring 2006
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