Friday, February 22, 2008

Private Schools and Accountability

One of the frequently heard criticisms of private schools (or the private sector in general) is that there is a lack of accountability.

Today I was attended a focus group hosted by my high school alma mater. The school wanted to know how to reach alums, how to get them involved in the school, and, let's be honest, how to get them to donate money.

Now there is absolutely no way that someone would donate money to a school if he/she didn't learn anything there or if the overall experience wasn't a positive one. As such, a private school, if it is to survive in the long run, must provide a good education.

If a private school is unable to provide a good education, or at least one that is better than the free alternatives, it will cease to exist. And you can forget about alumni donations.

Now contrast this with public schools. Public school systems do not have to hustle for private donations. They will get funded regardless of whether they offer a decent education or not.

A public school can offer a subpar education and still survive. A private school that does not offer a decent education will disappear. A private school therefore is accountable for educational results while public schools are not.


Caledonication said...

"Public school systems do not have to hustle for private donations. They will get funded regardless of whether they offer a decent education or not."

To take it a step further. I would submit that some schools may actually profit by providing a substandard education, thus providing the justification for more money.

eric said...

Being a public school grad with kids in a private school, a few observations and thoughts:

1. Fund raising is part of the private school culture and for those of us new to private schools it takes some getting used, you would assume the private school environment includes more wealthy families and that a big tuition check would be enough, but there are many families in private schools that are strectching financially because they value education and have lost confidence in the public system. Thus fund raising is never ending to help those families and to continue improving the school. Agree, the private school has to show results or families will vote with their feet and pocket books.

2. Not sure if I totally agree with your premise on the public schools though. We certainly have tax payer revolts regarding higer taxes and lower student performance, and the referendum funding system our local public schools have used seems to provide an additional check by the electorate. With these refernda aren't we essentially voting as to whether we agree the schools deserve additional funding? Also, all those families that remove their students from local public schools (via private schools, home schools, open enrollment) reduce the amount of government money going to the public schools - thus these actions exercise some degree of accountability. Though these measures of accountability are not as direct (and thus not as efficient), they do function.

3. There are two main groups that need to be held accounatble. The staff/adminstrators of a school, and the students/families. It sure looks to me like the exodus from our public schools has been driven by the inability of the public school system to hold students/families accountable. Here I tend to agree with those who see the public school problems as an illustration of problems of the community at large. Fix those and you largely fix the schools.

4. And yes, you have led this horse to water ... I do believe expanded experimentation with vouchers makes sense. I also think instituting other competitive incentives within public schools could be helpful - unfortunately unions will obstruct.

5. The day teacher's unions look more like the AMA and BAR is when teachers get the respect and compensation they deserve. Looking and acting like a labor union won't get them there. So many of the teachers have advanced training and advanced degrees, but they don't seem to be organized to best employ it. BTW, we don't seem to have teachers unions in the private schools.

Conclusion: There already is some degree of school choice at work and it does perform a degree of accountability, expanding school choice would improve accountability and education to an extent. However, as long as major social problems in the community continue to come to school the schools will not function optimally. We can rag on the schools and each other forever, but until we figure out how to "fix" the community, we're just spinning our wheeels.

Denis Navratil said...

Eric, thanks for your comments. Regarding observation #2, you suggest that taxpayer revolts and referenda result in a degree of accountability on public schools. I would say that the effect is exceedingly small. I don't recall any taxpayer revolt actually resulting in reduced funding for public schools. And the annual referenda requests, while often quite large, are actually quite small as a percentage of the entire budget. And those who vote with their feet reduce the amount going to public schools, yes, but they also eliminate the need for the expenditure (ie no kid to teach, no need for money) at the same time. So the amount of accountability imposed on the public school system by voters is negligible compared to the accountability that parents can impose on private schools.

Regarding #3, excuses, excuses, excuses. Yes, of course there are larger problems that affect school children, but it is the job of the schools to at least improve the situation. Can you imagine other professions complaining the way so many teachers do. "Yes, my patient died, but jeez, he was sick. What was I supposed to do about it. If society was healthier, our medical system would be great!" Educators need to be held accountable for results, but too many of us are willing to let them off the hook by blaming parents and the larger society, but never the education establishment.

Anonymous said...

Your observations and assumptions are erroneous and slanted regarding this education issue, as are the list of right wing links you provide.

This is NOT the place for dialogue.

I actually conversed with Acton Institute leader Fr. Robert Sirico. You guys truly have gone where no man has gone before!

Anonymous said...

I can imagine a sales clek complaining, its awfully hard to sell something to a customer who's only intention is to steal something. Is that an excuse, I couldn't make the sale because the customer not only doesn't want to buy anything, but they want to steal instead. Is it a sales clerk's job to teach integrity to customers? What happens when the deviant remains in the store and disrupts other customers?

You may not care for many of those in the teaching profession, but it is not their job to be parents. Fundamental values and behavior expectations are prerequistes to attending school which parents are supposed to instill. The schools now feed many kids twice a day. They also shower several. Teachers are buying school suppplies and paying for field trips out of their own pockets. This is not their function any more than being the principle instiller of fundamental values. These problems come from the community and throwing them into an over-crowded classroom won't get them fixed. What's more, we can't kick the deviant customers out of the education shop, they're allowed to hang around and continue disrupting the others.

Anonymous said...

"Aparthied Nation", regarding the disparity of education in the US, written by Jonathon Kozol, would set the record straight on the subject.

Nemo said...

Anon, do you mean “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America”? Kozol is one of those Liberals that believes that spending equals performance. Kozol is largely wrong. School performance should be measured by academic achievement.

Anonymous said...

Kozol is one of those Liberals that believes that spending equals performance. Kozol is largely wrong. School performance should be measured by academic achievement.
5:37 AM

Funny thing about $$$ and schooling.

If $$$ means nothing, why then do wealthy folks spend $10,000.00 a year to send a kid to Prairie School and other such schools nationwide?

And, why do expensive private schools, that cost multi-jing, have small class sizes, which are unaffordable for public education.

People make up truth to believe in - visit Julian Thomas; then visit Prairie...

Apartheid Schooling in an object lesson...

Anonymous said...

Also, teachers at Catholic Schools MAY get a $25,000.00 salary WITH 20 years experience. THAT is exploitation, that teachers, for personal reasons, give in to.

But THAT is capitalism.

Nemo said...

Anon, you just proved my point with your response. MPS spent $13,014 per student in 2007-08. Clearly, MPS is not better Prairie School. RUSD spend $10,169 per student in 2006-07. You implied that RUSD was not as good as Prairie School. How could that be if they are spending more per student? Denis was absolutely right when he said, "They (public schools) will get funded regardless of whether they offer a decent education or not.”

As for your exploitation prattle, that’s the market. If the demand were higher, the cost (pay) would be higher. I would implore you to not stray into economic arguments until you get a passing grade in micro-economics. You’ll embarrass yourself less.

Anonymous said...

Human Chattel labour/wage market talk.

Thatis Evil.

No person spends $13,000.00 of thier own $$$ to send a kid to Racine Unified - but they do at Prairie...

Anonymous said...

As for your exploitation prattle, that’s the market.
1:46 PM

THAT is ideology made into structural practice under capitalism.

Market = Truth?

Obviously to you.

Nemo said...

Anonymous said...

"No person spends $13,000.00 of thier own $$$ to send a kid to Racine Unified..."

No, they spend someone else's, and therein lies the problem.

Nemo said...

Anonymous said...

"THAT is ideology made into structural practice under capitalism."

Markets are not constructs made by capitalism. Think of markets as choices. Choices for consumers exist in any ideology. Economic systems that embrace them flourish. Economic systems that restrict and fight them end up with killing fields (in addition to really bad schools).

Anonymous said...

I know what market theology is.

And market theology is the most sacred of tenents of free market libertarians like Milton Friedman.

Markets are CRTREATED. Who NEEDS most of the consumer crap that the global corporate transnationals pump out?

Right, no one.

These are creations, like the wage market.

Nemo said...

Anon, telling others what they need and don’t need is at the heart of totalitarianism (and Liberalism). Attributing the realities of markets to theology is just...well...stupid. It isn’t faith, it’s fact.