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Little Applause for Idea of Privatizing Control Over Some City Public Schools

The Bloomberg administration's tentative plans to give private agencies more control over some public schools was met with cautious criticism on October 5, 2006, from education experts and advocates, who recalled failures of similar proposals in the past and called for additional public input.  The plans, which Department of Education representatives emphasized were in very early stages, could involve formalizing the role of private agencies that are currently involved in running small schools, and may include bringing in new groups, including for-profit agencies.

Supporters and critics of the idea said there is little evidence to prove that private agencies are worse at running schools than public agencies -'" and little evidence they are better. Some critics drew on examples of other cities that have put public schools into the hands of for-profit private agencies.

"They've never made a profit. Not only have they not made a profit, they almost went belly up," Professor Luis Huerta, said, referring to cases of for-profit agencies that have managed schools in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago. "Any time you start to devolve public authority to private interest, the interest of the public good may not be the priority of for-profit private companies."

Another education researcher at Columbia University, Jeffrey Henig, said he wondered about the transparency of other school operations under the plan.  "They're right to worry about if they'll have good information about what's going on in these schools: how you treat kids, how do you maintain open admissions, how do you do a whole range of things that are difficult to monitor when you've got a private agency," he said. "A mix of options can be helpful for a public sector that's trying to solve a tough problem, but here are genuine and legitimate concerns about democratic accountability."

This article appeared in the October 6, 2006 edition of The New York Sun.

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