National School Choice Week has brought a number of voices to the public ear about school choice, privatization and the rights of parents. The argument is global even if the issues are local to parents, educators and policymakers. The verdict is clear for pro-choice advocates and funny… just as clear for those deeply rooted in the public education camp.
In the US, there are already accommodations for private charter schools in 42 states. There are now over 6000 charter schools serving 2M US children. In addition public school choice (e.g., open enrollment) is on offer in 46 states. The pro-choice advocates are booming with facts and figures about the advantages of the students whose parents make a choice. The anti-choice advocates are focusing their attention on the students left behind the choice curve who might be the most vulnerable of our children as they remain in the default system (AKA: public local school in your disadvantaged neighbourhood).
But as these two camps are being vocal about all the reasons why choice or no-choice is important to the development of individual kids, parental rights and the nation… there is a new kind of private school that has been growing and spreading: the for-profit school.
For example, in Australia, moves are being made to open the first for-profit schools for K-12 students this year. Both Fairview Global (Malaysia) and Gems Education (UAE) plan to open profitable private schools over the next two years. The small issue of laws regulating the private school market and public funding is tightly circumvented if they simply pass the financial gains to an outside source. Convenient and perhaps unfair to potential for-profit school operator who are based in Australia. Hmmmm, can that really be right?!
The emotional reaction of the Australian Educational Union stating that “Our children cannot be seen as a commercial resource – a plaything for companies to make profit” might be an acute description of why liberal policymakers consider profitable private schools a menace to their system.
Is this why not-for-profit private schools are acceptable?
Perhaps there is no real worry for the Australians since they can indeed simply select a not-for-profit school or a public school. In both cases, public purse strings are attached regulating quality and the market.
Or… is this the start of a slippery slope that could leave parents at the mercy of profitable private operators?
Case example: Gems Education that holds about 30% of the private school market in Dubai decided that the government restrictions on fee increases disturbed their projections and so, they have decided to close a popular school. This decision might not be so serious except that there have been hints of other closures and in the immediate present, there is an imbalance with a larger demand than supply for school places in Dubai. Moreover, these parents don`t have the choice to send their kids to a public local school.
The idea of privatization in the education system is open. There are multiple ways in which it is slowly growing and changing the landscape of educational provision and redefining a new market. The debate on school choice might need to be broadened with the reality of globalization and gaps in explicit public accountability for student learning and achievement.