Commentary

Forsyth County teacher dissects the folly and hypocrisy of school privatization

One of the best op-eds of recent days in North Carolina was the latest missive from occasional NC Policy Watch contributor and Forsyth County public school teacher, Stuart Egan. This is from Egan’s essay (“Offenders of public education should be its defenders”) that appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal this past Friday:

“Public education is a sacred trust of the citizenry for the benefit of the entire public, not an open market for capitalistic ventures. If one wants to make the argument that states like North Carolina are free to allow for competition within its public school system, then one would need to explain how that complies with the state constitution, which explicitly says that all students are entitled to a good quality education funded by the state.

An adequately fully-funded public-school system is a foundational cornerstone for a democracy in which participants are represented by those elected to defend the very state constitution they are sworn to uphold.”

Egan then goes on to explain how a raft of conservative North Carolina politicians — all of them, ironically, public school graduates — are abetting the privatization process through, among other things, the rapid expansion of vouchers and unaccountable charters. He further notes that this is happening despite a growing body of compelling evidence that the notions of “competition” and “market principles” in the delivery of universal education are a sham.

Egan quotes Stanford University researcher Dr. Frank Adamson:

“The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that supports each and every child than by a market-based, competition approach that creates winners…and losers. While competition might work in sports leagues, countries should not create education systems in which children lose in the classroom….

…mechanisms such as vouchers, charters, and markets allow for private firms to compete in the education market, under the argument that increased competition will provide consumers (students and families) with a greater choice, thus increasing quality. However, in practice, public education contains different constraints than business markets, most notably the obligation of providing every child with a high-quality education…privatizing education has accompanied lower and/or more disparate student performance, likely because markets operate with different principles than the requirements of public sectors.”

Egan concludes with the following powerful plea:

“Milwaukee has showed us that vouchers do not work. New Orleans has showed us that unregulated charter schools segregate communities without increasing achievement. Tennessee is showing us right now that achievement school districts do not work. Ironically, all of those forces are being enabled here in North Carolina by the very people who should be defending public education and we are seeing the same disappointing results.

If those same legislators want ‘every student to succeed,’ then creating market-place competition with taxpayer money is antithetical to that mantra. They should preach collaboration, not opposition.

North Carolina was once a model for public education. Don’t let it become the lesson others should not repeat.”

On this King Day holiday in which many in our nation renew the call for true equal opportunity, Egan’s essay is an apt reminder that universal, free, integrated public schools are an absolutely essential predicate to that achievement.

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