POLITICS OF EDUCATION ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK, 1996, 61-69
Our society is a balancing act betwen individual liberty and societal well being, freedom and oppression, and profiting and profiteering. (McLaughlin 1992:30)
In a nation committed to free enterprise and an entrepreneurial spirit, privatization is an appealing education reform vehicle. However, a tension often exists between education's dual purposes of enhancing individual well-being and ensuring an educated citizenry essential in a democracy. Some options to increase private investment in education, such as unregulated voucher plans, favor individual interests over collective concerns. Other options, such as public school contracts with companies for targeted instruction, retain public control and accountability. This chapter reviews three strategies of private involvement in education, cites lessons learned, and illuminates value conflicts surfaced by the school privatization movement.
Full-scale choice…remains the linchpin of sound education reform (Bennett 1992:65).
Most operational school choice plans involve only public schools (e.g. intradistrict or interdistrict open enrollment, magnet schools), but emerging proposals open public education to market forces. These proposals usually entail government vouchers of a specified monetary amount that parents can redeem at public or private schools.
The arguments made by advocates and critics of voucher plans have received considerable attention and will not be recounted here. In short, proponents contend that under marketplace models inferior schools would be eliminated through natural selection. They also argue that a competitive environment would enhance teachers' professional status and salaries and provide poor families with choices that previously only the rich have enjoyed. They assert that marketplace models would result in increased student performance, more parental involvement, more efficient use of school funds, and reduced overhead with accountability focused on the school rather than the school district (see Chubb and Moe 1990).
Critics fear that marketplace models mark the demise of the common school's democratizing function. They argue that middle-class parents would escape public education, leaving the disadvantaged and disabled in public schools. They claim that voucher systems would create governmental entanglement with religious schools and exacerbate economic and racial segregation. Many concerns over marketplace models centre around social justice and the impact of voucher systems on families who lack the interest or means to make informed choices (see Fowler 1991, Rothstein and Rasell 1993).
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