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Education: Privatization?

One aspect of globalization is the belief that state enterprises should be privatized, since allegedly the profit motive leads to efficiency. Throughout the world this has aroused deep resentment among the workers who see their jobs and their benefits endangered. Even prisons are being turned into for-profit institutions, which seems callous. It is all quite alien to my upbringing, since I went to a high school which was was non-profit and independent, but which received state funds. The system worked very well. In for-profit education , costs are often cut by reducing teachers salaries and benefits.

A mantra of the Republican Party is the superiority of private enterprise over government operations, since the market by the laws of nature produces efficiency. This is a subset of the romantic idea that nature is good and of the unromantic belief in the survival of the fittest. Experience shows that this is not always so. The privatization of British railways can scarcely be described as a success. The deregulation of energy in California has been a disaster, and we are treated to the strange spectacle of the Republicans blaming the way deregulation was carried out.

What about education? Education Matters, subtitled A Journal of Opinion and Research, has been launched by Stanford´s Hoover Institution, with the co-sponsorship of Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. It is an expression of the Hoover Institution's increased stress on education.

The first issue opens with a forum on "The Profit Motive," with John E. Chubb chief education officer of Edison Schools taking a favorable position. The other side is represented by WAISer Henry M. Levin, formerly at Stanford University and now Professor of Economics and Education and the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He cautiously says that there are not yet sufficient data to make a final judgment, but he rightly calls attention to the fact that it is not simply a choice between public and for profit institutions. Many distinguished schools are private not-for-profit institutions, as indeed are universities like Stanford, of which the Hoover Institution is part. To turn them into for-profit institutions would be madness. Hank Levin studies the case of Chile, which, caught up in capitalist reform, has introduced for-profit schools. The results are not encouraging. At the same time, public universities and schools in Latin America are often basket cases. The University of the Americas, in Puebla, Mexico, with which WAIS has close ties, is one of the non-profit private universities which promise to be the salvation on Mexican higher education. For-profit educational institutions in the US, like the University of Phoenix, have been the target of sharp and seemingly justified criticism. Educators should be inspired by the feu sacré, the sacred fire which cannot be bought and sold.

Ronald Hilton - 1/31/01