As Rhee Weighs Privatization, Doubts Abound
By Theola Labbe and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 18, 2007
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, in considering turning over the management of 27 failing public schools to nonprofit charter education firms, is sending a clear signal that she intends to shake up the moribund bureaucracy that has failed generations of students.
But experts and school advocates say they are uneasy about the lack of details surrounding her idea, particularly given evidence across the country that charters and schools under private management sometimes fare no better than traditional public schools.
“There’s nothing in the literature [to suggest] that privatization will get you revolutionary results,” said Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
It’s worth noting that the word “privatization” means different things in different contexts. In health care, for example, it can mean selling public or non-profit hospitals to private companies, which then own them outright and run them at a profit. That seems like a reasonable use of the word “privatize.”
What Rhee is considering, by contrast, is hiring either a for-profit or a non-profit organization to take over certain administrative and management functions for a fixed period of time, with the schools, teachers, and students remaining firmly in the public realm–accountable to public officials, paid with public funds, remaining public employees, etc. That’s a lot different then selling off a hospital, to the point where I’m not sure using the same word to describe both scenarios is useful.
As to whether this would be good for DCPS, I imagine that depends mostly on who they hire and how they structure the arrangement. If I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about renovating my bathroom, any advice?” and you said “There’s nothing to suggest that hiring someone to renovate your bathroom guarantees that you’ll end up with a great bathroom, or a better bathroom than you’d get if you did the work yourself. Historically, people who have hired bad bathroom renovators tend to end up with, statistically speaking, bad bathrooms.” I’d think you were either an idiot or a jerk being deliberately obtuse. Of course. Doesn’t that go without saying?