Privately Owned Prisons and Private Schools

Walter L. Bell, Ph.D.

There is a movement within many circles that we need private schools such as Charter Schools which are really financed with public monies.  Whether or not we will have schools financed by the infamous Koch Brothers and other Billionaires, I have no idea, but to charge a poor family to send their children to a private school rather than a public school will be a repudiation to the idea that all children have a right to a public education paid by all the citizens of the United States.  The issue at present is that by changing our model from public and private education we can get and retain only the best teachers in the classroom.   By comparison, we have moved from state owned prisons to privately owned prisons so that we can get and retain the best criminal population for life.  For example we now have many inmates who were given long sentences for smoking marijuana,  and, since a prison is such a fine institution for training career criminals, we now have young men who were sent prison for a relatively minor offense that they are now career criminals with lifetime tenure.

So we now have a choice of public schools which include tenure after about three years in many states, with the idea that it is almost impossible to fire an inept teacher because of the cost of lawsuits.  I have been a member of an Oregon Education Association which dealt with teachers who were in the process of being fired.  As professional teachers, we took the task seriously because no one wants to work with an inept teacher.  I also know that if one gets the reputation of being skilled in  working with students with behavioral or learning problems guess who gets these students.  The lawsuit in the State of California is claiming that poorer students get inferior teachers which really has no basis for its claim.  The problem is that if one has a record of working with students from the lower classes of our society your success means that you get only these students.  The decision for this practice lies with the administrators and department chairman and with the years within the school district.  The class size for students with special problems does not diminish because if you are successful your reward is more of the same.  We had a physics teacher in the high school where I taught who not only got the more academically advanced students but did not provide any class time to help his class with their homework or classwork.  These students would come to my Mathematics Learning Center which was a self paced class, with students from Algebra II through Calculus, and ask me to help them with their physics homework.  I always told them to ask their physics teacher for help because that was part of his job and not my job.

Recently I read a review of a book by a Harvard graduate, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Education,  that the only way to get the best teachers was to use interview techniques so that only the persons who passed his interview gauntlet would be chosen for a job.  He did not believe in Tenure because with his interview technics there would no need for tenure because his methods of interviewing would guarantee success in the classroom.  I have my doubts about his system because the best measure of success is whether these teachers can maintain an orderly learning atmosphere in a classroom where the students challenge everything you do until you get the reputation that you are there to teach and they are there to learn.  No interview can predict success until a teacher is able to project a  sense of  humour with a sense of seriousness and will not tolerate disruptions which have nothing to do with the learning process.