The uncertain future of American public education

Published on Thursday, 19 July 2012
The uncertain future of American public education Image by Jaime Bernstein via Flickr

While academics and policymakers are debating whether education could be preserved as a public good in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, the business world has a different take on the issue.

For private equity investors in the United States, education is first and foremost a lucrative investment opportunity. It is merely a commodity that can be opportunely bought and sold in the growing educational marketplace. On 26 July, the Capital Roundtable (America's leading conference company for the middle-market private equity community) is organising a conference, "Private Equity Investing In For-Profit Education Companies", which will be devoted to this very issue.

According to the conference website, the situation is crystal clear:

"Education is now the second largest market in the U.S., valued at $1.3 trillion. So while an industry of this size will always be scrutinized by regulators, the most onerous recent changes are likely over, and investors should face an easier climate down the road. And while eventual passage is not guaranteed, several pieces of legislation favoring the for-profit industry have been proposed in Congress.

In the K-12 space, the federal "Race To The Top" initiative has enabled a growing level of privatization in the K-12 segment, and rewarding districts for embracing alternative models, technological advances, and locally-based criteria.

Schools in these states have more flexibility in how they spend federal funds to benefit students, which benefits for-profit companies focusing on high-quality programs and services."

Obama Administration’s “Race To The Top” programme – which has pledged a total of US$4.35 billion to advance education reform and innovation in American schools – is thus directly and openly linked to the advance of the educational marketplace, including various forms of education privatisation.

At the end of the day, it is all about how the federal funds could benefit business investors – not schools, students, families, or communities in need. It is about advantageous "market deals", "education transactions", and "adding value to education portfolio companies". It is not about preserving education as a public good. It is a clear example of an intensifying shift away from democratic public values and towards a market-driven vision of American education.

When a government agenda overlaps so faithfully with the interests of the business world, the future of American public education is indeed very uncertain. The protection of what remains public in American education is therefore more critical than ever.

 

Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014

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Iveta Silova

Iveta Silova is an Associate Professor and Director of Comparative and International Education program at the College of Education, Lehigh University. Her research and publications cover a range of issues critical to understanding post-socialist education transformation processes in the context of globalization, including gender equity trends in Eastern/Central Europe and Central Asia, minority/multicultural education policies in the former Soviet Union, as well as the scope, nature, and implications of private tutoring in a cross-national perspective. She is the co-editor (with Noah W. Sobe) of a quarterly peer-reviewed journal "European Education: Issues and Studies."

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