Schools are controlled by the government, but they serve specific communities with niche needs, says Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Is there a way that education be publicly funded but privately managed?
Public education struggles with two conflicting facts. First, public schools are small craft organizations that require close teamwork and constant adaptation to the unpredictable development of students. Second, they are government agencies always subject to constraints imposed through politics and legal processes.
In the more than half-century since Brown v. Board of Education, the second set of facts has dominated the first. Public schools have been subject to court orders about how particular students must be educated; federal and state regulations that dictate how money is used, students are grouped, and teachers work; and labor contracts that force schools to employ teachers who are poorly matched to the needs of students and the strengths of other teachers.
School leadership, personal responsibility, and accountability have been driven out of schools, especially in big cities where local politics adds to the burden of regulation. This is not, as some have claimed, inevitable when adults educate other people’s children. Private schools govern themselves, attract like-minded faculty members and parents, and can turn on a dime when students’ needs change.