Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Perils of Deregulating Schooling: the charter school example

The same sort of people who loosened the government rules that regulated airlines, trucking and savings and loans in the 1980'sare working to eliminate many rules concerning teaching and schooling. These “reformers” claim that removing government regulations and encouraging competition will encourage school improvement.

They assure us that deregulating teaching will open up a whole new source of talent. Opening public schools to competition will drive out the bad schools, encourage innovation and make educators responsive to the need for change. David Kearns, former chairman of Xerox and highly placed Bush appointee to the U. S. Department of Education, puts it this way, “Public schools acting as monopolies are failing. Providing choice means allowing schools to compete with one another for the most valuable of assets: students.” (Kearns fails to consider that some kids will inevitably be regarded as liabilities. Hopefully he had better foresight when he headed up Xerox)

As the fires of competition purify pedagogy many schools and teaching jobs will perish. That is part of the plan. When he was Governor of Minnesota, Rudy Perpich described this social Darwinism with suitable detachment when he observed: “...[Failed schools] will file for ‘bankruptcy’ like any other business.” We are assured, however, that the only schools forced into bankruptcy will be those that fail to become more effective. “Effective” at what? The meaning of that slogan is left to our imagination. Hopefully, it will not be "effective" in seducing the masses or confirming our worst prejudices.

It is not difficult to determine why reformers long for public schooling to be cleansed by competition. Too many school districts, particularly large urban ones, echo the worst aspects of the former Soviet Union. Some of these conditions are caused by too many regulations. But let's not kid ourselves. Even a conservative Republican should be able to recognize that most school problems will not be alleviated by deregulation. Consider the underfunding of urban schools. City schools have the nation's largest number of needy students, yet every year they are starved for money. Deregulation doesn't address, much less resolve, this and other systemic problems rooted in out of school realities.

And let's not forget the costs of deregulation. WHen the Reagan administration deregulated Savings and Loans,for example, taxpayers eventually had to pay a half trillion dollars to bail them out of self-induced catastrophe. Now, in Philadelphia, PA, where there is an unusual concentration of 61 charter schools, the costs of this particular deregulation are bubbling to the surface. They include mismanagement, corruption, profiteering, conflicts of interest and self-dealing, In short, deregulation has been accompanied by alarming abuses. Raise your hand if you find that surprising.

To examine these and similar issues further, see articles at

-- GKC

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