In a blog post, Ohio state representative Andrew Brenner (R) asserts that “public education is socialism.” Insofar as he uses the wikipedia definition of socialism and notes that public education is publicly owned, he’s not necessarily wrong. Brenner goes on to blame public ownership of schools for what he perceives as the evil of teachers’ unions. His solution to these perceived problems is to “sell off” everything, and privatize all, because “the free-market system works for cars, furniture, housing, restaurants, and to a lesser degree higher education.” There’s only one problem: as we’ve already seen with charter schools, privatization doesn’t solve the problem that Brenner seems most to resent. Brenner’s merely blaming one bogeyman–publicly-run anything–for another, unions. Meanwhile, Ohio charter schools have a worse record than publics.
Rather than address everything in Brenner’s post, which covers a lot of ground, I just want to address two points. One is concerning teachers’ unions, which he blames on the public running schools. Brenner was actually on the money when he wrote that
Over 40 years ago, public school teachers felt like their ideas were not being listened to, that their pay was inadequate, and that classroom sizes were not appropriate; so they unionized
But here’s a thought, Rep. Brenner: have those conditions materially changed? Teachers are still not listened to, still underpaid, and still overworked. How would privatizing alleviate that situation, when employers would have an even greater interest in driving down salaries? It’s not the fact that schools are run by the state (I’m using the “state” generically here) that was, and is, the problem, as the private sector underpays and overworks people, too. The problem is that we as a society undervalue the professionals who teach our kids.
The other point I want to address is Brenner’s assumption that the private sector inherently does everything better than the public sector. Restaurants? You bet. Cars? Sure. Furniture? Yep. How about national defense? Hmmm…, not a good example. OK, more to the point, what about charter schools? There are certainly many excellent charter schools out there, and there is some evidence that charter schools overall can perform well. But we must also remember that unlike public schools, charter schools can cherry-pick the students they want, and jettison those that they admit but don’t perform well; plus, the students who attend charter schools are more likely to have engaged parents than students in the same neighborhoods who don’t go to charter schools. In other words, many charter schools succeed because of the public schools as a backup, one that would disappear if all schools were finalized. Finally, if we’re talking about the private sector, many charter schools are for-profit, and, as it turns out, for-profit charter schools have not panned out.
Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, Ohio state auditor Dave Yost announced an audit of several Ohio charter schools. Seventeen charter schools were shuttered in 2013, nine of them in Columbus, stranding students and eating up $1.6 million public money.
Maybe the real problem is that, according to the definition of socialism that Brenner borrowed from wikipedia, the Ohio General Assembly is a socialist institution. That is, if we don’t count the Republicans, who are a wholly-owned subsidiary of ALEC.