I recently had a middle school student request a letter of recommendation for the University School (http://www.us.edu/page). I looked up the tuition that this school charges and the services it provides, and several questions came to me.
In what industries do public institutions and service providers have to compete with private institutions? What are the effects of this competition? Who derives the most benefit from this struggle? I instinctively tend to think of competition as good, but in the field of education, I’ve noticed several drawbacks to the public/private struggle to maintain a simultaneously large and capable student body.
Of course, competition has existed for a long time at the university level. Now I am now finding that it exists also at the high school level, and even beyond that. That such competition would affect the way a private school works and markets itself never surprised me, but I never realized how much a public school would alter its policies to compete with private schools.
I also never realized how different in nature the policy changes could be. For instance, in the Cleveland area, I know of multiple schools that are trying to implement the International Baccalaureate programme. This goal is laudable, though not without its drawbacks. Yet I think that such a programme is rightfully and generally accepted as a beneficial thing for students.
Yet other changes are more dubious. For instance, some schools no longer allow students to receive a grade of zero for work that they do not do. Instead, they receive some arbitrary percentage, usually around 50%. Is this measure truly designed to help students achieve, or is it there to lower the number of failing students in a public school so that statistically the public institution appears as effective and prestigious as its private counterpart?
In the end, what are the right things for public schools to do when faced with private competition? In this day and age, are public learning institutions doomed to be inferior to private competitors? Or have public schools and universities always been in second place, and I’ve simply been blind to it?