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8 Dec 2016

Public Schools are Entering the Free Market

Public Schools are Entering the Free Market

With the apparent new Secretary of Education selection it appears public schools are entering the free market.  What that exactly means and will look like is not 100% clear but what will be vetted is how will states define “choice”.  What does school choice mean and more importantly, why does “choice” seem to be the driver behind advocates of alternatives to traditional public education?

The push for “school choice” is not a new concept but has gained traction politically with the elections at all levels of government.  To hit close to home one just has to research the changes to the make up of boards of education across this country over the past decade.  Private, charter and home schooling have been options for some parents all along.  The rationale and motives vary but the apparent rational for a free market school system is a parent’s right to choose what school they feel is best for their child.

Public schools are entering the free market of competition.  They have always been in this realm but with the political changes recently it appears educational capitalism may be the norm.  To answer the question of if this capitalism approach is a “good” or “bad” thing largely depends on the perspective by which you view the situation and of course, what changes to school funding will transpire.  At the end of the day, every school is a business.  It takes money to operate such a complex and labor intensive industry.  School funding primarily comes from subsidized revenue streams from the state.  Revenue can also be supplemented by locally approved taxation which arguable creates inequity across communities.  State funding formulas typically take a path of equity- to ensure, regardless of where a child lives, each student receives the same amount of funding.  This model of course does not take into account variations in cost and local desires.

State education departments, school boards and superintendents must begin to think of schools as businesses with customers driving decision .  In today’s world choice is a way of life.  We have the ability to customize almost everything to meet our desires and needs from options in our automobiles to our fast food.  Our children’s’ world is one of choice in almost everything they do- except for their schooling.  Public schools tend to have traditional scope and sequences of education pathways solely determined by school personnel.

Superintendents must begin to engage their staff and community in a conversation about what their “customers” need and want.  Superintendents must also conduct a root cause analysis of what “choices” their schools currently provide and what their “customers” say is needed.  Schools must be able to customize the ability of students and parents to be involved in the decisions about their education pathways and must approach this new free market environment differently.  Market forces will predicate change so what are those drivers of choice?

Public schools are equipped to make this transition but have not been comprehensively forced to do so.  Now they may have to.  School districts who embrace this philosophical approach, and understand public schools are entering the free market, will likely germinate innovation that benefits their customers.  Public schools have the systems, expertise and conviction to successfully begin this transformation and will do so in a way that is inclusive to all students.

 

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