K-12 Education for Sale - Buying and Selling Kids' Futures

The for-profit assault on public education is real - and growing.

It's a deft turn of phrase, "school choice" - until you scratch the surface and discover that it is a marketing ploy. Simply put, the tug-of-war between public and private interests is, at its core, about money, placing the interests of the few over the needs of the many.

The battle to control the fate of America's K-12 education market is not new - but the profit potential is higher. A 2014 article in The Nation outlined how venture capitalists and for-profit firms are "salivating over the exploding $700 billion+ market in public education."

For 6 days in late January, National School Choice Week, "the largest series of education-related events in U.S. history," held more than 16,000 separate events across 50 states, a 45 percent increase over 2015. Celebrity firepower included former Cosby child star Keshia Knight Pulliam Hartwell, Vivica A. Fox, Louis Gossett, Jr., Kathie Lee Gifford, and other celebrity "champions for choice."

It's critical to kids' futures to look beyond the celebrity haze and see "National School Choice Week" for what it truly is, a profit-driven wolf in sheep's clothing that stands to erode our nation's public schools. Read "Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice" to shake off any lingering stardust.

This is bait-and-switch in its finest hour - and it's time to see, without veneer, the bill of goods truly being put before us. When K-12 education is bought and sold, it is our nation's poorest students and school districts that pay the price.

Ironically, school "choice" reduces options for many of our nation's poorest youth, forcing cuts in programs and personnel and weakening infrastructure. It siphons already reduced funds away from the primary system of education and uses limited public taxpayer dollars to fund private, for-profit schools.

Deep-pocketed proponents of privatization are intensifying the assault. In early January, the Walton Family Foundation announced a $1 billion cash infusion to the charter sector over five years. In mid-January, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings announced his $100 million education foundation, another windfall likely to bankroll the charter industry.

Private charter schools - able to enroll selectively, and often not held to the same accountability standards required of public schools - risk re-segregating schools. Many private charter schools not equipped to serve special populations, including students with disabilities, simply choose not to enroll them.

Research indicates that private charter schools are hit-or-miss enterprises; some perform well, others poorly. In cases where students are demographically similar, research tells us that public schools achieve the same or better results as private schools.

There is no silver bullet for hard-won education reform. As research professor Diane Ravitch notes, an ad hoc mix of private charters "will not end the poverty at the root of low academic performance or transform our nation's schools into a high-performing system."

So let's strip the veneer and tackle reform honestly. When America delivers on the promise of a high-quality public education, each and every child gains the chance to pursue the American Dream.

David A. Pickler, J.D., is president of the American Public Education Foundation, a past president of the National School Boards Association, and Vice-Chair of a new Standards Recommendation Committee for Mathematics and English Language Arts formed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and other state officials.