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Can you be for-profit and for K-12 students?

By Michael B. Horn
October 18th, 2013

How do for-profits factor into K-12 education?

for-profit-educationAcross industries such as health care, clean energy and even space exploration, private enterprise plays an accepted and critical role. Yet when it comes to education, many view for-profit providers with distrust. Although there is no shortage of negative opinions on for-profit education providers, there has been a lack of real conversation about the complex and complicated role they do, can and should play in improving American education.

These factors formed the impetus behind Private Enterprise and Public Education (Teachers College Press, Aug. 2013). Surveying the good and the bad of for-profits at all levels of education, including K-12, this book facilitates a thoughtful conversation around for-profits to bring balance to the discussions around their role in education. Ultimately it concludes that, given sensible policies and quality control mechanisms, policymakers can and should leverage the power of for-profit innovation and investment to better serve more students.

At a time when the educational status quo is defined by tight budgets, disappointing outcomes, high remediation rates and rising expectations, it would serve the American education system well to relax the reflexive criticism of for-profits and instead ask whether, when, and how for-profit providers can promote quality and cost-effectiveness to create a student-centered learning environment for children. The book excerpt below highlights three key conclusions drawn by comparing the corporate structures of nonprofits versus for-profits.

Excerpt: For-Profits vs. Nonprofits: Key Myths and Realities

The role of for-profit companies in public education—education financed by the government—has attracted increased scrutiny over the past few years. Several for-profit universities have attracted significant negative attention over the past few years for questionable marketing practices around recruiting students and for what some government officials and others perceive as low graduation rates.

(Next page: Three myths and realities)