Should for-profit companies run public schools? An entrepreneur and a principal weigh in.

Steven Wilson & George Wood:

Resolved: For-profit companies shouldn’t run public schools.
Wilson: The irony! Here we are, in the temple of entrepreneurialism, debating a proposal to continue to deny our public schools–our most troubled institution–that greatest of American strengths, private sector innovation. The results are entirely predictable: An inefficient, outdated education system that consumes ever-increasing resources and posts flat or declining academic results. Worse still, in many inner cities, the public schools not only betray our shared ideals. They are our national shame. Systematically, callously, year after year, they fail millions of children, especially the urban poor. How can there be equal opportunity without universal access to a high quality education? Private action in public education should be welcomed, not decried. Let’s engage the talents of private sector in reinventing the schools.
Wood: Not so fast, my friend. Let’s look at a couple of your suppositions before we go on, beginning with the claim that our public schools are our most troubled institution. Really? Checked out the health care system lately? How about Congress? And before you credit the American private sector with too much innovative power let us not forget Enron and General Motors to name just a couple of instructive examples.
Of course schools could be better; I’ve spent the past 25 years working inside of them to do just that. With fewer resources than any CEO would accept, my school and thousands like it are doing a terrific job for every kid that walks through the door. We do something the private sector would never dream of doing: with no control over the funds we have, the materials we are given, or the outcomes that are dictated to us, we do our job and enjoy the highest level of trust of any institution in this country (see the 5/22/06 Zogby poll).