For many school reform advocates, charter schools are a cornerstone of their plans for “fixing” American education. Just ignore the fact that many studies show that most students don’t learn any better in charters than they did in the public schools they left. And especially pay no attention to the many stories of financial mismanagement, or just plain corruption, by charter operators.
But the drive to privatize education is not unique to the US.
In Great Britain, the current government lead by Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing to convert all schools to “academies” by the year 2020.
According to a BBC FAQ on the subject, academies are “independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority”, operated by individuals, companies, or organizations. They are similar to American charter schools except that funding and supervision is at the federal level.
Why is this major change in British education policy happening?
The government argues academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers [principals in US schools] over pay, length of the school day and term times.
They have more freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum.
It says they have been shown to improve twice as fast as other state schools. Others dispute that.
Any of that sound familiar? Very much the same rationalizations are often made for American charter schools. And critics on the other of the issue point to many of the same problems with this concept in the US.
A series of MPs’ [Members of Parliament] committees have criticised the academies programme for a lack of oversight, in terms of finances and public accountability.
Teaching unions have long argued that “academisation” has been used as a way of privatising the school system, while the government says it is about introducing innovation.
Now private providers run large “chains” of schools, and some of these grew very fast – taking on more schools than they could cope with.
Of course there are many differences between British and US society, as well as our education policies. But it’s still interesting to watch, compare, and possibly learn from the process of privatizing K12 education across the pond.