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Choice of Schools
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What is privatization?

Privatization encompasses many issues, including the commercialization of public school property and the provision of education services by private companies.

  • The commercialization of school property can take the form of ads on the sides of school buses, the placement of corporate logos in the school gymnasium or the dissemination of sponsored curricular material, all of which give private companies access to a large market in exchange for giving funds to public schools.

  • The provision of education services by private companies can be partial — running a lunch program — or total — operating an entire school. In either case, a profit motive is embedded in the delivery of education services.
What effect, if any, does the commercialization of school property have on students?

While the quality of education rarely suffers from school partnerships with business — in some instances, it actually improves — the commercialization of school property creates concerns that reach beyond the classroom. Critics argue that students are captive audiences, and that companies are trying to instill brand-name loyalty at an early age, thereby compromising education in the interest of corporate profits. It remains to be seen whether privatization puts financial earnings above student learning.

Do private education management organizations (EMOs) that operate entire schools have a positive effect on student learning?

Operating public schools as businesses is a relatively new phenomenon, and the data regarding the success of private EMOs is inconclusive. The largest provider, Edison Schools Inc., claims that it can “do more for less,” increasing student achievement while cutting operating costs. A study conducted by Western Michigan University, however, found conflicting evidence regarding the success of Edison. According to the study, data suggests that Edison students do not perform as well as the company claims in its annual reports on student performance. Researchers found only three Edison schools where students outperformed their counterparts in traditional schools. In most instances, Edison and traditional school students performed at the same level. Though it is too early to definitively judge the effects of private EMOs on student learning, it thus far appears to be more a hit-or-miss proposition.

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