2011-06-12 "Public Schools Run By Private Companies: Let’s Try It in NJ, Says Christie" by Kristina C.
Generally when one hears the word “education” and “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie,” one doesn’t expect to hear anything very positive, given his equation of teachers as “welfare queens” and his disputing a recent report proclaiming that New Jersey has the highest graduation rate in the nation [http://www.care2.com/causes/education/blog/nj-has-nations-highest-hs-graduation-rate-aint-right-says-christie/]. So what kind of educational program might Christie refer to as beginning to “restore hope in communities”?
What he’s calling “transformation schools” that would be run by private companies. On Thursday, Christie proposed that private firms be hired to manage five chronically failing school districts. From the Star-Ledger [http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/06/nj_gov_christie_enter_national.html]:
“This pilot program will provide an innovative alternative for those children who need it most, bolstering our efforts to ensure opportunity for every child in our state,” the governor said. “This program will begin to restore hope in communities where failing schools deny children hope and opportunity.”
Districts wanting to participate in the five-year program would have to apply. If selected, they could either allow a private company to come in and manage a failing school or authorize a company to launch a new school.
The schools would report to the local school boards and get 90 percent of the per-student taxpayer money the traditional schools spend. The management companies would be responsible for the costs of any construction involved in creating new schools.
Christie made his proposal at Lanning Square Elementary School in Camden, one of the state’s most troubled school districts.
The pilot program still needs to be approved by New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Not surprisingly, the New Jersey Education Association teachers union is more than opposed to what amounts to a privatization of public schools, notes EdWeek [http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/10/35mct_njchristie.h30.html?r=2078199436]:
“This proposal is nothing more than an attempt to walk away from the state’s obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education to every student by handing over our students and our tax dollars to private companies,” NJEA president Barbara Keshishian said in a statement.
Calling the state’s school system the most successful in the country, she said Christie and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf had “long and deep connections to the private, for-profit education sector.”
Indeed. As the Star-Ledger points out, Cerf formerly led Edison Schools, now called Edison Learning, a for-profit “education management organization” for public schools. Cerf left the company in 2005. In 2001, Edison Schools won a contract to take over 20 failing schools in Philadelphia with promises of “greater academic achievement and a lower per pupil cost than what the state could provide,” but the results did not match “the pitch.” But according to one study, students at Edison Schools-run schools scored no better on standardized reading and math exams than their peers in other city schools did.
As Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, points out, having for-profit companies manage public schools is a “terrible idea,” as “their first obligation is to their stockholders and investors, not the students” and their parents.
Further, Christie himself has a few “connections” with for-profit education companies, says the Star-Ledger [http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/06/nj_gov_christie_enter_national.html]:
From 1999 to 2001, he was a registered lobbyist at a law firm that lobbied state government on behalf of Edison Schools, according to filings with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. While the firm, Dughi Hewit and Palatucci, was representing the company, Cerf was its general counsel.
The firm also represented Mosaica Education, a for-profit charter school operator, and the University of Phoenix, a for-profit online university. At the time, the firm listed two lobbyists, Christie and William Palatucci, a political ally of the governor who is a partner in the firm.
All of which leads one to wonder, if Christie’s interest in having private firms run NJ public schools isn’t only in the name of ensuring opportunities and an education for students in the state?
Is the Governor trying, in the words of a discussion at Newark Speaks [http://www.newarkspeaks.com/forum/showthread.php?t=12137], to take Jerseyans on the “road to Serfdom”?