Privatization, while couched in rhetoric extolling the ability of the marketplace to unleash creativity and innovation, at heart is a way for for-profit companies to get their hands on a bigger share of the $350 billion K-12 education industry. On Wall Street, privatization has one single focus: can for-profit education management companies make a profit?
The verdict is decidedly still out on that matter. While some privately held companies report profits, there is not a single for-profit, publicly held educational management company that has shown an ongoing ability to make money. Edison, the biggest and most important for-profit firm, has lost more than $233.5 million in the last decade (see article page 17).
Yet the controversy goes beyond whether private companies can eke out profits from already underfunded school districts. Privatization inherently leads to private control; it undercuts democratic oversight and decision-making of what is a public institution - and turns such control over to private forces focused on making money, not on doing what is in the best interests of children and society at large.
Private sector involvement in public education is not a new phenomenon. For decades, public schools have purchased any number of products and services from private companies - whether textbook companies or bus companies providing transportation.
But in the last decade, privatization took on a new meaning as for-profit companies hoped to get involved in education at a higher and qualitatively different level. Their goal: to run entire schools or entire districts - from the hiring of teachers to the development of curriculum to the teaching of students. In the process, they plan to "compete" with publicly run schools and redefine the very definition of public education - transforming it from a public service into a source of private profit.