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EDUCATION REPORT – May 9, 2002: Privatization of Public Schools - 2002-05-08

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Last month, a state committee voted to give control of forty-two public schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to seven private companies, organizations and universities. The committee acted because students in these schools are failing to learn required skills. The privatization of public schools in Philadelphia is the largest such action anywhere in the United States.

Several private education companies receive money to operate public schools. Such a company works to improve education. It also seeks to earn a profit. The company decides what will be taught. It trains teachers. It buys books, supplies and equipment. Some experts say schools operated by private companies provide more interesting and effective subject material. They also say parents have more influence on these schools than on traditional public schools operated by local public officials.

The Pennsylvania committee named Edison Schools Incorporated to control twenty failing schools in Philadelphia. Edison is the largest for-profit operator of public schools in the United States. The company began in Nineteen-Ninety-Five with four schools. Now it operates more than one-hundred-thirty schools in more than twenty states from Pennsylvania to California.

The Pennsylvania state committee gave control of other failing public schools to universities, non-profit organizations, and other companies. The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University will control a total of eight schools. A for-profit company called Chancellor Beacon Academies will operate five schools. A non-profit organization called Foundations Incorporated will operate four schools. Two other companies will control the remaining schools.

The amount of responsibility the companies will have has not been decided. It must be negotiated with the state committee, labor unions representing teachers and parents of children in the schools. However, state officials believe the companies will make major changes in the failing schools.

Many experts believe that private companies operating public schools can improve education for students. However, some students in Philadelphia protested the action. They say it is undemocratic for a company that makes a profit to operate a public school.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.