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Push to privatize schools puts children at risk

I believe in relationships. It's what I built my teaching focus around for 21 years and it is the lack of relationships that is hampering Congress today. I even love politics, but have never liked politics in education … it just seemed wrong. But the trend is to both politicize as well as privatize our children's education. The public seems to be falling for this hook, line and sinker.

Open season on public schools is in full swing. This trend is being perpetrated on all public education regardless of the success of a given district.

"How is it possible that this nation became so successful if its public schools, which enroll 90 percent of its children, have been consistently failing for the past generation or more?" (Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.)

By opening charter schools, offering vouchers and stacking boards of education with business-oriented individuals, we are limiting the options for creativity or autonomy, which the individual teacher brings to the equation.

"They are taking education, which ought to be in a different sphere where we're constantly concerned about raising quality, and they're applying a business metric: How do we cut costs?" (Ravitch, again.)

Who will profit from these changes? Certainly there are successful urban charters, but since they are publicly funded they need to be accountable and audited. However, many charters are for-profit, which means they are interested in the financial bottom line rather than the educational bottom line. That, coupled with less money for public schools, opens the door for private equity and inequality in education.

Stephanie Simon, writing for Reuters, reported in August about a private equity meeting in New York City, brainstorming ways to privatize the education market. As Ravitch states, "This is a new frontier and the private equity guys and the hedge fund guys are circling public education." Moving public education from the public sector to the private sector may not be the good investment some hoped. It renders education vulnerable to outsourcing and loss of local control. Money saved at the outset may be minds lost in the long run.

Relationships in education allow and encourage learning. It is really hard to have a relationship with a computer or corporation, or by long distance. Consequently, before we cheer charters, lay off more teachers and rearrange schedules just to make budgets work, maybe we should step back and consider the kids.

How do we deliver high-quality education reasonably and effectively? Perhaps we would be better served by identifying teachers who are change agents and include them in the conversation. Who better knows how to make the educational relationship work? Remember what Deborah Kenny said: "We are producing people, not products!"

Judy Malys, R.N., taught in East Aurora for 21 years.