Shanker Cautions Against Privatization

Speaking out against the privatization of public schools, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, addressed an audience of approximately 70 people last night at the Graduate School of Education.

"There is no evidence that privatization will bring you anything that's superior," he said.

Shanker cited discontent with the current educational system and the decline in American student's test scores compared with those of students in other countries as the major factors leading to the drive for privatization. He characterized the attitude of the movement as follows: "Because we're falling behind, let's try something radically different that no one has ever tried before."

However, Shanker warned against jumping into privatizing schools without understanding the potential consequences. "I wouldn't just say let's role the dice and maybe this will work," he said.

"The privatization argument is not well thought out," he added.


Shanker said that his own research did not demonstrate any reason to believe that privatization would improve the state of public schools.

"Private school youngsters, if you look at raw results, show they're just slightly ahead," he said. He said that if three percent of children in a public school write well, for example, children in a private school would do roughly one percent better.

Instead of looking towards new methods of dubious efficacy, Shanker suggested that we look towards systems in other countries that have been shown to work. "If we were business people, we would look at the competition and try to see what they're doing that we're not," he said.

Shanker pointed to the regional standards that countries such as France and Germany have as one of the reasons their students fare better scholastically than American students. "[Regional standards] work in other countries, and we don't have such a system," he said.

These standards let students recognize the "clear consequences for success in the future," Shanker said, and--unlike the American system--do not offer an arbitrary measure of success.

Other educational issues Shanker discussed included charter schools. He said that although he originally believed the chartering of schools "would bring out all sorts of creativity," lack of regulations will force a return to outmoded methods of teaching.

The event was sponsored under the Banner of Harvard Education, a forum that frequently discusses controversial topics in education.