Many legislatures at the state and federal levels, claiming to be hell-bent on educational innovation, actually limit the people with the most educational experience. They thwart those who are the most knowledgeable about our students—the most committed to all children and their collective future. If they were sincere, they would increase funding for our public schools and decrease regulations, which stifle innovation that should be available to all our children. They should not turn education over to profiteers. When profit is the motive, the public good is not.
As bills authorizing charter schools make their way through various legislatures, I’m reminded of the negative consequences that the privatization of education can have on a society. A case in point is Cambodia, a small Southeast Asian country, which was scored on talent indicators such as education levels, vocational and technical skills, and the use of technology and social networks. It ranked 108 out of 118 countries overall, and last of the 13 nations in its region.
When I first worked in Cambodia in the 1990s, teachers had to moonlight selling cigarettes in nightclubs, or worse, so that they could survive on the small pay that they received. Many teachers got no pay at all. Cambodia’s economy and educational infrastructure had been devastated by the genocidal Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge—who allowed no education—and the assaults by U.S. B-52 bombers. Our bombers destroyed Buddhist pagodas, which provided education and literacy training. In the vacuum that followed the 1993 elections, Cambodia embarked on a program of privatizing state-owned enterprises. While this program did not officially include public education, it opened the door for every kind of entrepreneur to open a private (aka charter) school. These entrepreneurs came from everywhere. They came to make money. Education was not the priority. To the present day, funding for public education in Cambodia is inadequate and unfairly distributed; after-all, private schools had sprung up like mushrooms to relieve a corrupt government of its moral responsibility to provide universal education.
Worst of all is that this government dependency on unregulated private education has dramatically contributed to the bifurcation of Cambodian society into the haves and the have-nots—educating the haves, neglecting the have-nots. Further, the predominance of private schools has encouraged their students to migrate; creating a brain drain of many of Cambodia’s best and brightest.
What can charter schools do for America’s youth, her future? Nothing good!