Helen Ladd and her husband Edward Fiske are distinguished observers of American Education. Ladd is a Professor of Economics at Duke University. Fiske was education editor of the anew York Times.

Together they describe a fork in the road for our nation’s public school system.

Will we continue towards free-market privatization or will we revitalize public education?

This is what they see ahead as the risks in the privatization agenda:

“First, it severs the connection between public schools and the civic purposes for which they were established and that justify the use of taxpayer dollars to fund them. Implicit in this vision is the notion that the benefits of education accrue first and foremost to individuals and that public benefits are simply the sum of private ones.

“Second, it rejects the notion of an education system. Those who view education primarily as a collection of independent schools serving private interests have few incentives to assure that multiple stakeholders — students, teachers, administrators, policy makers, the business community and others — work together through democratic institutions in pursuit of common goals.

“Third, the private education vision leaves little room for principles of social justice and the commitment to equal educational opportunity for all children. By emphasizing privatization and competition rather than community and cooperation, it trivializes the whole notion of “public” education. Nor does it take responsibility for addressing the special challenges that disadvantaged children bring with them when they walk through the schoolhouse door.

“Public schools in the U.S. have always operated at the intersection of two sets of legitimate rights: those of individuals, including parents, to pursue their own best interests and those of society as a whole to perpetuate democratic values and to promote collective prosperity.

“By and large Americans have found ways to strike a balance between these two objectives. Public schools have served as engines of upward mobility for millions of individuals, including waves of immigrants, while driving economic growth by providing an educated workforce. By emphasizing private interests almost entirely at the expense of public ones, the private vision, with millions of dollars behind it, threatens to undermine this historical balance.”