Freeman

ANYTHING PEACEFUL

Profiting Off of the Children

Don’t be horrified that someone might make money improving education

APRIL 03, 2014 by CATHY REISENWITZ

Writing at Salon, David Sirota is horrified that capitalists are supposedly making money off school choice initiatives. Amazon and Microsoft prompted the horror by contributing to a recent campaign to expand school choice in Seattle. Sirota is convinced that the companies are giving because “lucrative education technology contracts” are “much easier to land in privately run charter schools because such schools are often uninhibited by public schools’ procurement rules and standards requiring a demonstrable educational need for technology.”

Last year Microsoft alone raked in $77 billion in revenue. Seattle’s public school system is set to spend $6 million on tech upgrades. Bill Gates alone spent $2 million on the initiative. In no universe does the math work out that Gates and Amazon are promoting school choice to make money.

What’s much more likely is that these companies are sick and tired of the public education monopoly’s horrifying results—especially for poor and minority students.

School choice programs consistently produce similar or better results for much less money.

Voucher programs offer significantly higher levels of high-school graduation and college matriculation, with private schools achieving better results at about half the cost per pupil.

A 2009 review of the global research literature found that every study to measure efficiency in education returned a statistically significant positive result for markets.

Perhaps that’s why polling data show strong support for vouchers among Latino voters. In fact, a large number of minority families are entering charter school lotteries and more than 500,000 students are on charter waiting lists nationally. Even President Obama likes the concept of school choice. He’s spoken well of charter schools while spending millions in federal funds to expand them in minority communities.

The problem of public education money misspent on technology is a serious one, and Sirota is right to make an issue of it. But Sirota’s distrust of the profit motive causes him to miss the solution. Rather than use arcane procurement rules to attempt to force schools to spend wisely, simply look at expenditures versus results—you know, like Microsoft and Amazon do. School choice means that schools that waste money on useless toys will lose students, while smart-spending schools will gain them.

Rather than an attempt to grab “lucrative” contracts, it’s much more likely that Microsoft and Amazon are applying what they have learned in the marketplace, that competition and choice spur innovation, which improves products and services. They want to apply those forces to education. If only critics like Sirota could do the same.

ABOUT

CATHY REISENWITZ

Cathy Reisenwitz is an associate at Young Voices and editor-in-chief of Sex and the State. She will be speaking at the FEE summer seminar "Are Markets Just? Exploring the Social Significance of a Free Economy."

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