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Published in Print: April 7, 1999, as Levin To Launch Privatization Center at Columbia

Levin To Launch Privatization Center at Columbia

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Henry M. Levin, the noted Stanford University economist and education professor, is switching universities and coasts to launch a center devoted to the growing private involvement in public education.

He will hold an endowed professorship at Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as direct the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education there.

Mr. Levin, the originator of the "Accelerated Schools" project designed to increase the achievement of disadvantaged students, said last week that he hopes the new center will advance the debate about vouchers, charter schools, and private companies in education.

"We want to educate the audience out there about what the issues are and how to look at the data," said Mr. Levin, who will take early retirement this year from Stanford, where he has taught for 31 years.

Fighting Polarization

Mr. Levin, whose research on privatization goes back more than three decades, said he was struck by how polarized the discussion has become.

Henry M. Levin

"Voucher advocates say that vouchers work, that they will reform American education, while opponents say vouchers will destroy education and it's just a grab by the private sector," he said. "When I spoke with people in the media and policymakers, they said there's no one out there who can give them a balanced perspective."

Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, acknowledged that winning a neutral reputation for research on some of the most hotly debated issues in education won't be easy. "By and large, the decisions about privatization have been politically driven rather than educationally rooted," he said. "This is a very large part of the world, and we want to base the future on real, hard research."

The center will hold its inaugural conference at Teachers College in New York City on April 9-10. Journalists, academics, and researchers will speak.

Three New York-based philanthropies--the Achelis Foundation, the Bodman Foundation, and the Ford Foundation--have given a total of $275,000 to start the center.

Blue-Ribbon Panel

Mr. Levin and Mr. Levine said they plan to convene a panel of liberal and conservative experts to create guidelines for research sponsored by the center. "If the research is carried out in that manner, then the conclusions should stand," Mr. Levine said.

The establishment of the center at one of the nation's premier education colleges, headed by such a well-regarded scholar as Mr. Levin, has generated keen interest.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based group advocating choice in education, called the new center "an indication of how important reform is becoming and how mainstream the idea that there might be ways other than traditional public schools to educate students."

She warned, though, of "studying an issue to death and coming up agnostic as a result."

Others said that while Mr. Levin is a respected figure, the ideal of "neutral" research may be all but unattainable.

"I'm not sure I've seen much neutral research," cautioned Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute in Minneapolis. "I've seen helpful research."

But Mr. Nathan, who has studied charter schools extensively and believes they can work, added that the opportunity to exchange views on privatization would be welcome, especially if practitioners are included in the mix.

Mr. Levin, 60, said he will move from California to New York this summer to take up his new position. He will be joining his wife, Pilar Soler, who began working at Teachers College three years ago when Mr. Levin was on sabbatical from Stanford, and their teen-age daughter. Ms. Soler directs the New York Accelerated Schools Center based at Teachers College.

Mr. Levin said he will step down from the day-to-day running of Accelerated Schools, although he will remain affiliated with it. The program is leaving Stanford for another West Coast university, Mr. Levin said, but he would not say which one.

Vol. 18, Issue 30, Page 3

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