Why the proliferation of private, for-profit charter schools? A national educational crisis? As Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration, wrote in her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (reviewed below), “Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.” And whence the “new narrative of crisis?” Remember the “for-profit” part? There’s a lot of money to be made in privatizing public education. How much? In the current fiscal year, public spending on pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade education exceeded $700 billion.
Ironically, one of the early adopters of the charter school idea was American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, the most famous teachers union leader in the country at the time. Back then, the idea was along the lines of what we today think of as an “alternative” school that might be freed up from some curriculum restrictions and the like. It had little to do, however, with the proliferation of schools set up outside of existing labor contracts or the extremely high executive salaries some of the charter chains are currently paying out.
Innovation most definitely belongs in public education. Private profit does not.