Education Opinion

Will Public Education Survive?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — August 18, 2015 4 min read
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That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital. - Noam Chomsky

Education has been the target of public criticism, it seems, for a very long time. Scores, teachers, and their leaders, all have been targets. Solutions in response have been new teaching and assessment methods, professional development, new technology, new schedules, new positions, shifts in funding and changed roles. Nevertheless, education retains its target status. With the 2016 election cycle heating up, we can expect to hear about Common Core and the battle between national and local standards, failing schools, inadequate teacher training programs, ineffective teachers and leaders. The truth is we have been at this crossroads for quite some time. Responding has become the status quo with little time for innovative changes. Tom Whidby blogged, “...the age-old story of doing things the same old way but expecting different results defeats us as a profession” and he is right.

There are schools and districts that have stepped outside of the fray and, within the design context that remains our framework, have made inroads toward something new. But no matter the measure, we keep getting the same results. Challenges remain as achievement gaps, schools that struggle to raise mastery and graduation levels, issues presented by poverty and race, students whose poor attendance prevents successful learning, and now a disputed claim that there is a teacher shortage.

It is hard to believe that there is an organized move by some group of politicians and business folks to destroy the public education system and have it land in private hands; yet Noam Chomsky is no lightweight. His words are to be taken seriously. We have seen privatization in war and in prisons. Even...

...The Post Office Department was transformed into the United States Postal Service, an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States (About USPS).

Since 1971, the Postmaster General has no longer been member of the President’s Cabinet. Privatization has been tried and we wonder about the successes. Similarly, the initial flurry of opening of charter schools found critics who argue

...that charters amount to a privatization of public schools because they are run by organizations that don’t answer to the public and in some states aren’t subject to key rules that apply to government agencies, such as open meetings and public records law (Brown, E. Washington Post)

While those who support charter schools argued that they are public schools because they don’t charge tuition and are open to all children. The question to be asked is: Have these changes yielded any better results? As humans we are not skilled at holding the past as information and lessons learned and we tend to be distracted to the issue of the day. It seems to be an unlikely survival technique. It is not like reading the tea leaves. We are presented with evidence each and every day. Now, from North Carolina comes a call for awareness. In the Washington Post article written by former teacher James Hogan, he begins,

I am no fan of hyperbole, but I mean it when I say this: North Carolina is waging war against public education. The pathway that brought us here has been paved with underfunded budgets, tactical strikes against public school teachers, fundamental changes in charter school operations, the diversion of public funds to private or religious schools, and the erosion of our hallowed University of North Carolina system.

Publicize Successes
There are schools and systems across the country that have made successful changes, whose students and teachers have become more engaged and motivated, whose communities rise in support of them. Their voices need to be heard. In that effort, we extend an invitation to contact us with your story of success and we will help to either publish it as a guest blog or help with ideas for how to best spread the word.

Teach the Reality
Getting to more successful schools means changing human behavior, building communities of trust, learning and risk-taking and a financial commitment. Changing human behavior can be a slow process and does not happen all at once. Some changes can be made quickly especially when it has to do with fairness and equity like those regarding discipline practices. But changing things like engaging all students as thinkers involved in relevant project and problem based learning do not happen over night. Again, public information about progress is important.


The signs are clear. School funding is inadequate. Some schools are broken and they are the ones that make the news. People are angry. Some of us are not built to be self-promoters or leaders of movements but these are essential for educational leaders now. We should be moved, not because of fear that “they” will be knocking at our doors to privatize education, but because we are educators, dedicated to developing young people into informed, ethical, motivated, curious, contributing and creative adults. It has not been enough to object. The time is here for us to fight for the changes we need in order for those among us ready to push forward, to burst open the doors of change and show the rest the way.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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