The role of the private sector in education: A conversation with Terry Mazany

Joyce Budnik ‘15

Joyce Budnik ‘15

Joyce Budnik ‘15

Education in the US is stagnating. Compared with the 34 industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), American teens in 2012 were below average in math and about average in reading and science measured by the PISA international assessments. While educational outcomes have not shown improvements, the education budget keeps rising. Are American students getting more stupid, requiring more resources to remain at the same level?

This past Monday, Terry Mazany, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and CEO of Chicago Community Trust shared his experience supporting the public sector in a conversation with Booth Ed members organized by BoothED (the Booth Education Group). His experience is unique, because he has not only worked in the public sector as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, but  also as CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, investing more than $50 million to improve the public education in Chicago.

Mazany shared his view on the main challenges of reforming public education:

First, it is a priority to increase the quality of the teachers by attracting the most able candidates. He argues that there is a mismatch between the number of graduate teachers and the positions required, creating unemployment, worse labor conditions and pushing down salaries. If teaching colleges were made more selective, we could raise the bar for the teacher candidate pool. Not only would we have better selected and trained teachers to lead our nation’s future, but also we would be raising the profession’s prestige, creating a virtuous cycle that attracts even more talented candidates.

Second, Mazany believes the funding system need to be reformed to promote equity and inclusivity. Currently, district schools receive funding based on property tax, and as a result lower income districts only have access to schools with lower per pupil budgets. Setting a ceiling for the per pupil funding for wealthier school districts and redistributing the rest of the property tax to support underprivileged districts would attenuate this problem and create equal access to properly funded schools.

Last, Mazany shared that today the ed space faces an ideological struggle between two theories: One view promotes a competitive model, wherein parents are responsible for choosing their children’s education in the marketplace of schools. The other sees education as a common good which should be collectively provided by a strong public school district.  

Terry Mazany

Terry Mazany

Following this logic, believers of the first view argue that one possible solution is to allow the private sector to enter the public school space. The theory goes that competition for resources will generate the incentives to manage and run the schools more efficiently than the public sector could (an idea that you might have heard elsewhere at Booth). Charter schools - publicly funded schools with more autonomy in exchange for accountability for producing certain results, are a response to such claims. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who believe that the solution rests in helping the public sector by strengthening the school district, and that the role of the private sector should be to help achieve this goal.

As with most ideological problems, there may not be a straightforward answer. Yet privatization advocates and public schools advocates share one trait: they both hope to provide more opportunities for our children to learn and develop.

  • Author, Joyce Budnik, BoothEd co chair