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Henry Levin of the Center for Privatization Receives $1 Million from Pew and Ford Foundations


Henry Levin of the Center for Privatization Receives $1 Million from Pew and Ford Foundations

Professor Henry Levin

Henry Levin, the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education and the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education (NCSPE) has received $1 million from the Pew and Ford foundations to study and comment on the broader issues of privatization- home schooling, school contracting, and tuition tax credits-and to build a "Partnership Project" for the dissemination of information to "knowledge dissemination organizations"-public policy organizations, community organizations, government agencies, and membership organizations in education.

The goal of NCSPE is to provide an independent, non-partisan source of analysis and information on privatization in education. NCSPE develops programs to carry out research, evaluation, conferences, publications, and dissemination on a full range of issues regarding privatization of education from pre-school to higher education and covering both national and international initiatives.

The Pew Foundation Grant of $ 500,000: Broader Issues of Privatization

The Pew Foundation was interested in the many new developments that have taken shape in the privatization movement and funded NCSPE with $500,000. When NCSPE was first established in 1999, most of the public discussion focused on educational vouchers, largely because of the controversies over the Cleveland and Milwaukee voucher plans. Now Pew was interested in Levin's plan to study tuition tax credits, home schooling, and school contracting.

According to Levin, "tuition tax credit (TTC) plans and their expansion nationally, especially if the Supreme Court rejects vouchers for religious schools, require deep analysis of tuition tax credits and their consequences. This is made especially challenging because different provisions within TTCs auger for different results, and the results are less transparent than with vouchers."

On the issue of home schooling, Levin says that the U.S. Department of Education has estimated that there are about 850,000 students in the U.S who are home-schooled and that the movement is growing. The advent of charter schools has also created vehicles for funding and educational support for home schoolers with public funds, according to Levin. NCSPE intends to initiate studies that provide analysis of home schooling with respect to the four criteria used by NCSPE in all privatization: freedom of choice, productive efficiency, equity, and social cohesion.

Levin maintains that since the inception of NCSPE, school contracting with for profit, education management organization (EMOs) has increased substantially. He admits that school contracting has not been studied or evaluated extensively and wants to analyze the contents of private contracts in terms of how the interests of the different stakeholders are considered.

He says charter schools are a form of privatization because they represent a quasi-private (private boards and considerable autonomy from public accountability), market approach to improving education, and they are increasingly drawing on for-profit organizations to operate the schools. Levin says, "What's missing are overall studies by organizations that take a non-partisan view and attempt to evaluate charter school consequences in a balanced way over a long period." He sees NCSPE carrying out a comprehensive review of the impacts of charter schools on equity, and particularly in terms of racial and social stratification. Second, he says, "there are serious issues about the cost reimbursement formulas and practices where charter schools are short-changed in some states and situations and treated overly-generously in others." He wants to undertake extensive fieldwork to link costs to educational services of charter schools in assessing reimbursement rates.

The Ford Foundation Grant of $500,000: Community Engagement

The Ford Foundation grant of $500,000 will be supporting an innovative approach to community engagement and dissemination of information regarding educational privatization. According to Levin, "Although several forms of educational privatization have been established and proposed for expansion, it is clear that these issues are not well-understood by the electorate, educational professionals, or communities affected by them."

Levin calls the initiative the "Partnership Project." It aims to inform the public on educational privatization issues by establishing partnerships with civic, educational, and government organizations and the media to develop custom designed strategies that will inform stakeholders. "It will represent," Levin says, "an innovative and efficient approach by drawing on the strengths of the partnership organizations. More specifically, it builds on the capacity of the NCSPE to prepare non-partisan and balanced information in appropriate formats and the capacity of communities, membership organizations, government entities, and the media to disseminate that information to their audiences."

Levin describes NCSPE as a "knowledge production organization." It produces new knowledge on its chosen topics but this approach is limited because it is supply-oriented. "That is," he says, "NCSPE supplies information that we believe is needed in order to make good decisions on educational privatization but it is in competition with the partisan voices of dozens of other groups, most with greater resources to get their messages out." What Levin intends to do is partner with "knowledge dissemination groups," which include diverse entities such as legislatures, educational professional organizations, taxpayer groups and the media.

Levin says, "Although some of them have a limited capacity to provide analyses on particular topics, few have sophisticated research staff or access to consultants that can address issues as complex as educational privatization or can evaluate statistical reports and legislation on the subject."

Levin wants to strengthen both types of organizations by building on strength through partnerships. With this strategy, NCSPE will be able to leverage its effectiveness in informing stakeholders and gain community engagement through partnerships.

An example of Levin's partnership project is the work that NCSPE is doing with American Association of School Administrators. "They are curious," says Levin, "to know how superintendents look at privatization. What experiences they've had, has it been positive, would they consider privatization in any number of areas? We've agreed to do a study with them in which we're going to put together a survey. We'll get the data, analyze it, write joint publications, and share the analysis at their national meetings."

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