A reader shared his response to the article praising the profit motive in education.

Hi Diane. I wrote the following reply to Tom Segal on their web page.

Eight years ago, I would have agreed with you on your perspective, Mr. Segal. Unfortunately, your efforts to paint the public education community as in dire need of the profit motive are profoundly misguided. I have spent the last 8 years teaching in public charters, which are nothing more than privatized public schools. My experience, and the data, show that they rarely perform any better and in 1/3 of the cases, perform worse than traditional public schools.

Your error lies in in your belief that the dynamics of a capitalistic market apply within the mandate of the public education sector. They simply do not. By law, schools must accept all students that walk through their doors. Name me one company that has that mandate. There simply isn’t one. A competitive market is based on choice. Choice by the vendor to offer the product and choice by the consumer to reject the product. At the end of the day, the vendor doesn’t have to sell to everyone and the consumer doesn’t have to buy anything (whether because they don’t want it or can’t afford it). In education, this is unacceptable. The entire basis of public education is anti-competitive by design, and with good reason. In competition, someone always loses out. When you are dealing with children, this is unacceptable. If education becomes for profit, we will end up with the same thing we have in health care–40 million people who are left with nothing while for profit care providers make enormous profits. For our country, this would be incredibly destructive.

There is also a huge difference between schools working with for profit vendors and schools themselves becoming for profit vendors. For profit vendors will do whatever it takes to maintain the highest profitability. Cut wages, eliminate less profitable products, close down entire production facilities, etc. This type of instability may work in a world where companies are dealing with widgets. However, introducing this type of volatility into the education world is extremely destructive. I have seen students suffer through the poor performance of their school, the subsequent closing, and their shuffling to yet another poorly performing school. This is not “market efficiency” that is necessary in education. It is instability introduced at the most vulnerable time in an adolescent’s life.

Lest you think that I’m simply ignorant of business, I should say that I earned an undergraduate integrative Business/Econ major and am currently earning my MBA. Over seven years ago, I charged into battle with the same cry of privatization and “for profit” motive you are espousing here. My direct experience showed me the folly of this type of thinking.

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to earn your credential and go and teach in the public education classroom for at least five years. I don’t believe anyone who has not actually taught in the public school has any right to authoritatively criticize it, especially from a perspective as potentially detrimental as introducing for profit motives into public education. I find it remarkable that people who have no education experience act as though they know what’s best for the education profession itself. No other profession would tolerate this type of behavior. Imagine if I would presume to criticize the methods general practitioners use to treat their patients. Imagine if I presumed to suggest sweeping changes to the investment banking world, having no experience at all as an IB. Even worse, imagine if I not only criticized it, but had billions of dollars to begin altering those professions and their economic structures. Yes, the “Market” might push me out after I had failed, but at what cost was I proven a failure? How many lives did I affect negatively? What types of damage may have been irrevocably done?

Children are not test subjects for the mega wealthy and for venture capitalists. If someone wants to bring change and “reform” to public education, they should start by getting deep experience in the classroom to learn first hand what the real challenges are. No one who hasn’t paid their dues in the “trenches” as a Private has any right to presume to take the title of General and to lead an army.