Magazine article Insight on the News

Money-Making Schools Are Not Immoral. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Money-Making Schools Are Not Immoral. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

It's not ethically sound to make a profit off educating students in a school that serves the public, which a charter school is, using funds from public coffers."

That's not a sentence from Chairman Mao's little red book. It's from Philip Parr, chief of staff of the Pittsburgh public schools, as quoted in a recent front-page article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Edison Inc. Set to Run Charter Schools in City; District Official: Business Arrangement Immoral"

Profits inherently "immoral"? That's the kind of talk I heard from my Trotskyite friends in Pittsburgh's South Side in the 1970s -- back before the Soviet Union collapsed, before the Berlin Wall came down, before most of the gross national product in China was produced by the private sector, before communism ended up in the ash-bin of history.

To say that profits simply are "not ethically sound," in any field, whether education or lumberyards, is a stance that puts ideology above experience, above the evidence -- and in the case of schools, a posture that places dogma above student achievement.

Let's take two hypothetical cases. In one, there's a yearly cost of $10,000 per student, average SAT scores are 600 and profits per student are zero. In the second case, yearly costs are $8,000 per student, SAT scores are 700 and profits per student are $1,000. Who wouldn't say, looking at it in terms of overall benefits to society, that the second picture is superior -- better for students and parents, and better for taxpayers?

In saying point-blank that the improved performance in the second scenario shouldn't be permitted because of the existence of profits -- i.e., that it's intrinsically a dirty business to make a capitalist buck "off educating students" -- one wonders how Parr can sleep at night after dealing with all those money-grubbing profit-seekers who supply the Pittsburgh public schools with pencils, books, blackboards, electricity, floor wax, mops and buses. Would it be better, would the operation be more unblemished and moral, if McGraw-Hill and General Motors were eradicated and the school board only bought its books and buses from state-owned monopolies?

One could ask, too, if Parr thinks (as do so many so-called "public servants") that it's somehow more moral that he gets his paycheck through taxation, no "profits" involved, rather than earning it in a competitive private-sector company. In other words, is it somehow more ethically sound to get paid with money from mandatory paycheck deductions, a quite involuntary exchange, as opposed to earning a paycheck in the free and competitive market of voluntary exchanges? …

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