What is Education Privatization?

Education privatization refers to greater involvement of private actors in public education, the introduction of ideas, practices, and values of the for-profit sector into public schools, and the primary pursuit of individual benefits via public education.

Education privatization is a hard phenomenon to define because it has many possible forms, constantly evolves, and looks different from place to place. Education privatization sometimes refers to greater involvement of private actors in public education systems. These actors include parents, religious institutions, businesses, and any other non-government organizations. They may take on new or expanded responsibilities for funding, governing, or delivering education, among other possibilities.

Education privatization may also refer to new policies and practices in public schools and districts that reflect the ideas and values of the for-profit sector. Popular initiatives include creating markets in education, emphasizing job-related skills in the curriculum, and measuring and ranking schools, and there are many others.

These changes lead to another kind of education privatization: the idea that public schooling is primarily for creating individual benefits rather than for the public good.

While not new, the COVID-19 pandemic created the conditions for education privatization to grow and flourish. Research from Canada and across the globe demonstrates that education privatization recreates and worsens social inequalities.

The title of this image is Privatization and Public Education. To the left of the title is a cartoon drawing of the face of the person who shared the information in the image, Sue Winton. To the right of the title is a statement that policies are not neutral and the questions: who are the winners and who are the losers of policy?

The main image is divided into five sections. The first section answers the question: what is education privatization? It identifies two examples of exogenous privatization: shifting responsibilities to private actors and businesses profiting off education. This section also lists four kinds of endogenous privatization: 1) creating markets; 2) New Public Management; 3) performance measurement; and 4) school rankings. Finally, this section identifies private over collective benefits as a kind of education privatization.

The second section of the image identifies policies that are privatizing public education and exacerbating inequalities. These policies include those that encourage funding from private actors, including school fundraising; student fees; international students’ tuition; and schools competing for grants. It also identifies policies that are privatizing public education through the creation of markets, such as charter schools, e-learning, public funding of private schools, and specialized programs. Many of these schools and programs do not accept every student and segregate students.

The third section identifies two pathways to privatization: scaling up over time and following a catastrophe when it is easier to pass policies due to a sense of urgency.
The fourth section identifies five aspects of the public school ideal: free; accessible to everyone; offers all students equal chances to benefit; decisions made in public; and prioritize collective benefits.
The final section is a list of four things people can do recommit to public education. First, stay informed. Second, join public dialogues. Third, question policies. And fourth, believe in the public school ideal.