Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Public Challenge to Privatizing Schools

This week’s guest perspective comes from Bill Conway—Wisconsin’s 2009-2010 PTA Teacher of the Year. Conway is a veteran social studies teacher at Parker High School in Janesville, WI.

I read recently, with great concern, a Janesville Gazette article about a private organization from Florida offering to keep two rural Wisconsin elementary schools open at a fraction of the current operating costs.

It sent chills down my spine to read how this private organization came to a school board meeting with a plan that only required a vote to move public education to the private sector. With one simple argument—cutting the costs per student from $11,000 per student to $7,000—all other debates seemed lost.

Never mind the fact that the new schools would no longer be compelled to accept  and fully service students with disabilities, second language issues, or special needs. Never mind that charter schools can hire non-certified teachers and pay them what they want. Never mind that these publicly-funded, privately-run schools would be exempt from standardized testing and other levels of accountabilityNever mind that they would not be subject to the wishes, needs, and votes of the community. Cheaper is cheaper.

As teachers, board members, concerned parents, and community members—we should be concerned with this move toward the privatization of education in our state. With a move to the privatization direction, we all stand to lose our voice in the "education conversation" in our communities.

This push toward privatization of education is an orchestrated plan. The first step of this scheme has been to systematically attack the integrity and successes of the current system. Apparently, to get ahead, the free-market school reformers must first tear down the reputation of  public education with covert marketing plans, like "Operation Angry Badger," that seek to "document the shortcomings of public schools in education." I want to challenge all to challenge what has become accepted spin.

When you hear someone say public education is broken, CHALLENGE that. Education is not perfect and not without room for change, but it is definitely not broken.  

When you read about our broken system and over-paid employees, CHALLENGE that. Our salaries are public knowledge and our successes are celebrated. We have graduates from our systems attending the finest universities in the world. We have graduates from our public schools serving our country in some of the highest positions in the land. We have graduates that have gone on to professional sports, stage and screen, and some that have devoted themselves to a lifetime of service to their communities.

When you hear comparisons to past budgets that were smaller, CHALLENGE that. Today's schools are not the institutions they were in the seventies. We now serve a larger community with greater needs. We serve students with disabilities, students at risk, students with different languages, and students with poverty issues to a much greater degree than ever in the past.

When you hear complaints about our out-of -control kids and system, CHALLENGE that. Those of us who spend our working day in schools know that the vast majority of students, at any given time and in any given classroom, are actively engaged and learning. Television and movie classrooms are not reality.

The move toward privatization of our schools is driven by money. Almost all charter school programs could be run within the existing public school system. The channeling of public money away from public education to support the private education industry is wrong for Wisconsin’s students.

CHALLENGE  those who promote otherwise.


  1. Bill, my thoughts exactly and you said it better than I could> Thank you so much! Judy Figi

  2. Keep up the fight in defense of good teachers everywhere; we've taken heavy abuse of late. I'm trying to make similar points on my blog, too.

  3. Great perspective, nice insight. Let's not re invent the wheel!

  4. "The channeling of public money away from public education to support the private education industry is wrong for Wisconsin’s students."
    I believe this statement 100% and would add it's wrong for all of America's students. I'm greatly enjoying your blog.