The uncertain future of American public education

While academics and policymakers are debating whether education could be preserved as a public good in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, the business world has a different take on the issue.

For private equity investors in the United States, education is first and foremost a lucrative investment opportunity. It is merely a commodity that can be opportunely bought and sold in the growing educational marketplace. On 26 July, the Capital Roundtable (America's leading conference company for the middle-market private equity community) is organising a conference, "Private Equity Investing In For-Profit Education Companies", which will be devoted to this very issue.

According to the conference website, the situation is crystal clear:

"Education is now the second largest market in the U.S., valued at $1.3 trillion. So while an industry of this size will always be scrutinized by regulators, the most onerous recent changes are likely over, and investors should face an easier climate down the road. And while eventual passage is not guaranteed, several pieces of legislation favoring the for-profit industry have been proposed in Congress.

In the K-12 space, the federal "Race To The Top" initiative has enabled a growing level of privatization in the K-12 segment, and rewarding districts for embracing alternative models, technological advances, and locally-based criteria.

Schools in these states have more flexibility in how they spend federal funds to benefit students, which benefits for-profit companies focusing on high-quality programs and services."

Obama Administration’s “Race To The Top” programme – which has pledged a total of US$4.35 billion to advance education reform and innovation in American schools – is thus directly and openly linked to the advance of the educational marketplace, including various forms of education privatisation.

At the end of the day, it is all about how the federal funds could benefit business investors – not schools, students, families, or communities in need. It is about advantageous "market deals", "education transactions", and "adding value to education portfolio companies". It is not about preserving education as a public good. It is a clear example of an intensifying shift away from democratic public values and towards a market-driven vision of American education.

When a government agenda overlaps so faithfully with the interests of the business world, the future of American public education is indeed very uncertain. The protection of what remains public in American education is therefore more critical than ever.

 


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Iveta Silova

Iveta Silova is Professor and Director of the Center for the Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.  She holds a PhD in comparative education and political sociology from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Columbia University. Her research focuses on the study of globalization and post-socialist education transformations, including intersections between post-colonialism and post-socialism after the Cold War. Since 2008, Iveta has served as a co-editor of European Education: Issues and Studies.

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