Current Events in Education

How “Big Ed” Could Ruin America

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True to form, many non-educators will read this article with disdain. They see teachers as having a Shkreli-Bresch-like monopoly on the education market, driving the cost of education, and, likewise the cost of property taxes, income taxes, or whatever other means used to pay for public schools. They’ll argue that, just like these prescription drugs, the thing needed is competition. They are wrong.
That type of competition is almost universally lauded in the “non-profit” charter school. I use air quotes because time and again, while there are no investors to pay, that doesn’t stop it from paying school CEOs (as if there’s a need for such a term) huge salaries and dividends, or, worse yet, obfuscate the salaries by hiring for-profit companies to run the books. Free market proponents, ask yourself: who is school competition benefiting?
All this occurs with the opportunity cost of paying those darn teachers LESS. In fact, private / charter schools pay an average of $150 / week less. And, of course, they make sure their teachers don’t have that old-fashioned pensions. They think, “Get with the times, teachers – scantily worry about retirement like the rest of Americans!”
While this article is hardly a diatribe in opposition to charter schools – I find charter schools to be worthwhile small shops to experiment new teaching strategies and to meet the needs of students who fall through the cracks of the public school system – we now seen an unprecedented growth of these schools. And that should concern us because they are, at the end of the day, as reliable as a business, because they are a business.
While most businesses are concerned about the bottom line, schools are concerned about the bottom of the barrel. Public schools are concerned with the advancement of the future, not the advancement of the trading price at the New York Stock Exchange. But, there are other issues, too:
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For one, the treatment of charter school teachers seems to cajole them into a high turnover rate. Teachers in charter schools face a lack of personal touch, the lack of holding students to firm due dates and responsibilities, and, coupled with the low pay and other varying factors, leads to an insanely high turnover rate. In New York City, considered the bell in the tower for the charter school reform movement, public school teachers are in the classroom at a 14-year average. In charter schools, that number is somewhere between 2 and 5 years (hammering down actual data can be difficult with charter schools).
There’s an old adage that’s worth repeating here: In the first year, a teacher teaches to survive; the second year, the teacher teaches for the district; the third year, the teacher teaches for him/herself; and in the fourth year and beyond, a teacher teaches for a lifetime of impact. But when many of the teachers aren’t even making it to year 3, it’s costing the students their education.
It’s expensive, too. NPR estimates the cost of teacher turnover in the United States is about $2.2 billion. Yes, you read that correctly… BILLION. Still, that hasn’t stopped “Big Ed.” The private school movement has been dubbed “Wall Street’s next big thing” by the Economics Policy Institute. Translation: “want to make money – invest in a school!”
It’s also caused John Oliver to focus an episode on “Big Ed” schools who have closed without notice, taken students on daily field trips because they lack classrooms, or use the school cafeterias as night clubs. He’s also reported that charters taking public money misspend public taxpayer money by a rate of 4:1 compared to all other public firms. Taxpayers shaking the alarm bell at public schools, please note where the biggest conflagration actually is.
Now, this past week, ITT Tech (a for-profit college) closed its education operations and unexpectedly handed 35,000 a difficult decision to make about their future. Where does life take them next? Personally, this has proven difficult to watch after we consider we’ve hardly learned from the failure at the University of Phoenix.
But learn we must. We cannot imagine what it’s going to be like when we have to work with “Big Education,” should it ever replace public schools. But it’s possible. Very possible.
Once there, we’ll see classrooms in which teachers don’t want to work, schools that close without warning, and public money is misspent without any transparency. We can stop the tide by ensuring our public schools – created to promote and instill our nation’s future through educating ALL of its students to the best of their ability – have a mission with a community of supporters behind it. Get behind your public school, and eschew “Big Ed.”

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