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Public or Private: Marketisation, Parental Choice and Competition

Non-government schools are a feature of many, though not most, countries. The principal argument for their establishment is that parents should be able to choose what school they send their children to. A principal reason in some countries is religious: large numbers of independent schools in Australia are faith-based and they receive government funds. But that is not so in all countries where faith-based independent schools exist. In Australia, the U.S. and the U.K., as Ian Wilkinson and colleagues report (A History of State Aid to Non-Government Schools in Australia, Educational Transformations Pty Ltd, September 2006), independent schools have been established to bypass the government funded schools which are considered to be not providing the education which the parents consider appropriate.

When independent schools are entirely funded by parents the argument can involve comparisons of educational achievement but that is largely a matter for individuals until it impacts of government policies about funding. In Australia since the late 1980’s increasing funding has been provided by the Commonwealth Government for such schools. In the U.S. movements to establish charter schools have attracted attention because of assertions that their students’ achievement is better. In the U.K. under the Blair Labour Government academies – privately run but government supported schools – were established.

The private school sector has expanded to serve a constituency well beyond those seeking faith-based education. The substantial government funding of independent schools in Australia has led to a drifting away from government schools by students from higher socio-economic levels, leaving government schools with the more difficult education tasks of teaching all other children including those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, a task for which they are receiving fewer resources.

The point which must never be lost sight of in this argument is that average educational achievement levels are significantly influenced by the performance of those children who come from less advantaged backgrounds. The debate about the “education gap” is a debate about the distribution of resources within society. Establishing independent schools does not address the education gap in any way. Surveys of achievement internationally show no gain from independent schools when the data is controlled for student’s socio-economic background.

The OECD Report on the PISA Science results for 2006 (PISA 2006 ‘Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World’: Executive summary, p 8) reports, for instance, “On average across the OECD, students in private schools outperformed students in public schools in 21 countries, while public schools outperformed private ones in four countries. The picture changed, however, when the socio-economic background of students and schools was taken into account. Public schools then had an advantage of 12 score points over private schools, on average across OECD countries. That said, private schools may still pose an attractive alternative for parents looking to maximise the benefits for their children, including those benefits that are conferred to students through the socio-economic level of schools’ intake.”

School Reform in the USA

(A significant debt is owed in the preparation of this section to the writings of Trevor Cobbold of Save Our Schools and especially, in respect of the US, to Diane Ravitch’s writings.)

In the USA, over the 25 years from 1980 to 2005 spending per student increased by 73 per cent, the student-to-teacher ratio in schools declined by 18 per cent and tens of thousands of initiatives were launched aiming to improve quality of education. However, actual student outcomes stayed almost the same. Michael Barber & Mona Mourshed have analysed that based on PISA results in their report, How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top (McKinsey & Company, London, 2007)

The substantial “reforms” in the USA since 1980 have emphasised responsibility of the individual to achieve personal advancement consistent with one of the main themes of American life. Private is believed to better than public, where there are problems with the education system, government involvement is considered to exacerbate those problems. So, provide choice. Diane Ravitch points out in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: how testing and choice are undermining education (Basic Books, New York, 2010) that, “Choice actually arose as a result of Brown vs the Board of Education as a way for States which resisted desegregation to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court’s judgement [in Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954].”

Vouchers given to students by government to subsidize the cost of the child’s schooling at the school of their choice were asserted to stimulate emergence of a wide variety of schools to meet the demand, increased competition would mean more flexible public systems and teacher’s salaries would be responsive to market forces. Neoclassical economics advocate Milton Friedman was an advocate; President Regan supported them. Studies of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), which began in 1990 shows they have not produced statistically significant differences from public schools! This was, or should have been, a major blow to advocates of vouchers in Australia and elsewhere. The Milwaukee Program has long been held up by voucher advocates as a beacon for school improvement. A further report in early 2011 shows similar results to earlier studies as Trevor Cobbold has pointed out.

Charter schools funded by government, run by private entities and able to attract private funding, are claimed by some to be a solution to the “unsatisfactory” government run public schools. But a study by Jack Buckley & Mark Schneider, (Charter Schools Hope or Hype, Princeton University Press) published in 2007 shows that charter-school students are not outperforming students in traditional public schools.  The research examined school data going back more than a decade and conducted scores of interviews with parents, students, and teachers.

As Barber and Mourshed noted, “The quality of charter-school education varies widely from school to school, parent enthusiasm for charter schools starts out strong but fades over time.” While charter schools may meet the most basic test of sound public policy the evidence suggests they all too often fall short of advocates’ claims. This has been known for some time and was reported by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in 2003 and others.

Professor of Economics at University of Chicago Steven D Levitt studied the “open enrolment” system at 32 popular schools in the Chicago Public Schools, which involves choosing students by lottery for kindergarten and first grade places, in 2000 and 2001. Students’ educational outcomes were followed for up to five years and assessed through such metrics as standardized test scores, grade retention and special education placement, as reported by Julie Berry Cullen & Brian A. Jacob (‘Is Gaining Access to Selective Elementary Schools Gaining Ground? Evidence From Randomized Lotteries’, NBER Working Paper No. 13443 September 2007). Attending a higher quality school) did not systematically confer any evident academic benefits on the lottery winners.  “Better” schools tend to attract “better” kids, kids with strong families and good academic backgrounds. Best inputs leads to best outputs.

The charter schools with the most impressive results are the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools which aim to teach “academics”, self-discipline and good behaviour. They have longer days, some Saturday classes and three weeks of summer school – 60% more time in school than a regular public school. Students, parents and teachers sign a contract agreeing to fulfil certain specific responsibilities. Pedagogy and curriculum are left to individual school leaders. “KIPP has demonstrated that youngsters from some of the toughest neighbourhoods in the nation can succeed in a safe and structured environment, if they have supportive parents are willing to work hard, spend long days at schools, and comply with the school’s expectations. The contrast is with regular public schools that must accept everyone who applies, including the students who leave KIPP schools.

Private foundations have significantly funded some public charter schools. The Gates Foundation previously supported a trial of small schools but later acknowledged the results to be “disappointing”. Gates Foundation officials say educators have long been stumped when asked to define effective teaching, an often herd and erroneous assertion based on such things as the fact that effective teaching depends on a number of factors and is not something analogous to a cake recipe.

Diane Ravitch has called the private funding of public schools by wealthy private foundations the “BillionaireBoy’s Club”. “There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people [who] “have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state”.

The obsession with the notion that public schools are a failure is shown dramatically by the film “Waiting for Superman”. Made by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) the film, reviewed by Diane Ravitch (‘The Myth of Charter Schools’, New York Review of Books November 11, 2010) tells the story of five children who enter a lottery to win a place in a charter school; four of them seek to escape the public schools, four of them are African American or Hispanic and live in poor neighbourhoods. The film promotes the view that the only way to overcome all the “problems”, is to expand the charter school community.

As Ravitch says stridently, the message of this film is clear: American public education fails because so many teachers are bad and their jobs are protected by unions which are too powerful. If bad teachers were fired and good teachers paid more students’ test scores would be higher. “It is not globalization or deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices that bear responsibility: it’s the public schools, their teachers, and their unions.”The film and the trailer promoting it contain some deliberate lies such as doctors and lawyers lose their jobs or are suspended for inappropriate conduct at several thousand times the rate of failing teachers, as revealed by Leonie Haimson. One can ask why embrace a lottery system to get students from economically and socially more advantaged segments of society an opportunity to attend well-funded schools?

One of the major reports from the 2009 PISA studies, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States, summarised the situation in the United States, pointing to the substantial disparities relating to the way in which schools are funded.

The Report pointed to a system of school finance in the United States that allows wealthy people to form a school taxing district with other wealthy people who, collectively, are able to pay very low tax rates and produce very large tax revenues, enabling these wealthy people to hire the best teachers in the state for their children and to surround their children with other children from other wealthy families, thereby creating overwhelming educational advantages for their children. At the other end of the spectrum, poor families, who cannot afford the homes that are available in the communities that are home to wealthy people, end up paying very high tax rates but raising very little revenue.

While the best-resourced school districts get buildings that are richly equipped with advanced science laboratories, sophisticated equipment, elaborate theatres, Olympic-sized swimming pools and advanced computer-based graphics labs, as well as teachers who majored in the subjects they teach at some of the most elite colleges in the country, the schools serving the poor must content themselves with old and worn school buildings and some of the least competent teachers in the state. In between are many gradations of educational opportunity, each calibrated to a different socio-economic segment of the population.

The Report concluded that in the United States, there is both housing segregation and school segregation caused by income disparities and by local control of school finance. The results are the same as can be seen in the other countries studied where one or the other of these two kinds of segregation are practiced. It is noteworthy that Canada had a similar system of school financing to that in the United States, but it has been abandoning that system in recent years by shifting funding entirely or almost entirely to the province level. Provinces now provide block grants based on numbers of students; categorical grants used either to fund particular programmatic needs (e.g. special education) or to help districts meet specific challenges in providing basic services (e.g. more remote districts need more funds for transportation); and equalisation funding, which is used in the districts that retain some local funding to equalise the poorer districts.

For the United States, following the lead of its neighbour to the north and gradually changing the system of school finance and organisation to abandon local financing of education would be, of course, a very complex matter involving tax, education and housing policy, housing values, race relations, local control vs. state control and much more. No one should, and few would, underestimate the difficulties involved. But is hard to see how the United States can succeed in matching the performance of the world’s highest-performing countries unless it levels the playing field for its students in the way that almost all of its competitors have already done.

There seems to be substantial difficulty on the part of those directing education reform in the US to accepting that the way that reforms have been driven in the past are entirely inappropriate.

An outstanding Presidential Address, ‘Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence’, presented to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management in November 2011 by Professor Helen F. Ladd of the Sanford School of Public Policy and Duke University shows unequivocally that not only are there large disparities facing the educational achievement of children in poverty but those disparities have been increasing and now greatly exceed the differences between the achievement levels of white and African American children. Ladd refers to the study of math and reading scores as assessed by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) program over a 55 year period by Sean Reardon. The differences are revealed also by the NAEP scores for the students of individual states. Notable is the difference between scores for Massachusetts and California students, the former due most likely to “aggressive and comprehensive education reform” instituted in 1998 and the latter proably to the continually limited spending by California. Students from many of the southern states of the US such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Georgia score poorly compared with students from Maryland, New Hampshire, Minnesota and New Jersey.

Ladd appropriate points out that a similar situation is revealed by the studies for PISA: even in countries whose students achieve an average score which is relatively high, such as Finland and Korea, the scores of those from poor backgrounds “fall far short of their more advantaged counterparts”. However, the students from disadvantaged backgrounds in those countries perform better than poor students from the US, reflecting the commitment to education in those countries. The percentage of students living in low economic, cultural and social status (an OECD measure) is more than 2 1/2 times that of Finland and Canada.

Not surprisingly, Ladd argues that the No Child Left Behind program has not and cannot improve educational outcomes because it does not address the root causes of the low achievement. Provision of early childhood programs, health clinics and social services as well as after school and summer programs will likely make a difference: they do in other countries. For instance Ontario in Canada and Finland both make substantial efforts to provide extra assistance to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ladd points out that schools can indeed be held accountable but only for those things which they have control over such as a safe and supportive school environment which promotes respect amongst students and teachers and for delivering a coherent curriculum.

Another set of studies which complement those cited by Ladd have been carried out by Professor Ingrid Schoon from the Institute of Education at the University of London and Professor Barbarba Maughan from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London (reported in ‘Family hardship, family instability, and cognitive development’, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 20 April 2011). They studied data collected for the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a survey of 18,819 babies born between September 2000 and January 2002 into 18,553 families living in the UK. The considered various measures of family stability as well as poverty. Analysis of the data show persistent poverty is the crucial factor undermining children’s cognitive development.

School Reform in the United Kingdom – The Blair Government

Tony Blair’s Labour government built on the foundations laid by Margaret Thatcher: it used three new instruments of change in the school system (as described by Richard Hatcher in ‘New Labour, Old Britain : the education business’, Le Monde diplomatique May 2005, quoting Ken Jones, Education in Britain, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2003). An office for standards in education (Ofsted) was established to carry out school inspections, a teacher training agency responsible for overseeing the initial and continuing education of teachers was set up and the private sector was brought in to run some schools.

Government relied on companies and business entrepreneurs, acting in both for-profit and non-profit roles, from teaching systems and curriculum to management. Introducing performance-related pay for teachers resulted in contracts awarded to a number of companies to devise criteria for assessing teachers’ effectiveness, to employ consultants to train head teachers in assessing their staff and to assess the head teachers to make sure they are doing so correctly.

Services to schools including school meals, maintenance of schools and core education services, many of which used to be provided by local education authorities, were privatised. Setting up of specialist schools sponsored by a grant was encouraged.  The government also encouraged the establishment of academies to be run by business entrepreneurs, churches or voluntary bodies. These new state secondary schools in socially disadvantaged areas were funded directly by the government and set up under private school legislation so that they fell outside the legislative framework that governs other state-maintained schools. Sponsors (on a non-profit basis) were required to pay 20% of the capital costs of the school and the government provided the rest of the cost of building the school. Ownership of the land and buildings of the existing state school, formerly the property of the local council, was transferred to the new academy.

The new school governing body controlled the school, including appointment and promotion of teachers. Schools deemed by the relevant authority to be failing were required to invite bids from private companies to run them. Faith-based organisations have been offered increased opportunity to run academies.

Ofsted reported for 2008-2009 that improvements were being made in the teaching of personal, social, health and economic education and in school management and leadership.

Initiatives of the Cameron Coalition Government 2010-11

Following the general election in Britain in May 2010, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary of the new Coalition Government announced that 500 secondary schools and 1,700 primary schools will have “the freedom of city academy status by the summer”. Gove was reported Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt,  (‘Coalition’s schools plan to create 2,000 more academies’, The Guardian, 25 May 2010) as “convinced that experience from the relatively small range of existing academies shows they raise standards, promote social justice and can give working-class parents greater choice” and of the view that, “… successful city academies can take over failing schools”. Application to become academies would be available to all schools judged outstanding by Ofsted. A commitment by the Conservative party to maintain government payments to trust funds for the poorest children was abandoned “once the party’s much-vaunted efficiency plans failed to produce the promised savings.

As “Save Our Schools” Convenor Trevor Cobbold points out, this proposal is based on the Swedish system where a variety of different developments led to varying degrees of privatisation of schools. Analysis of those reforms  found the first-order short-term effect is too small to yield lasting positive effects.” That claim is fallacious as shown by several analyses including that by Anders Böhlmark & Mikael Lindahl (‘Does School Privatization Improve Educational Achievement? Evidence from Sweden’s Voucher Reform’, IZA Discussion Paper 3691, 2008).

Minister Gove has also praised the school system in Alberta though misunderstanding the nature of the changes there and pledged to adopt the tests used by Shanghai-China, assuming that it is that which has led to the significantly high performance its students in PISA 2009, so ignoring a number of important features and emerging trends.

Independent schools and parental involvement

Some of the argument for independent schools is that parents can have greater involvement than they would in a government school. The question is to what extent and in respect of what aspects of the school’s operation parents ought to be involved in. This is true whether or not parents are encouraged to make choices about the school which their child attends.

Former assistant head teacher of a London secondary school, Oli de Boton, said it well in ‘Keeping parent power fair’ (The Guardian 24 February 2010). “It is well established that parental involvement in a child’s education is crucial in determining academic and wider success. Schools that listen to and engage parents through regular contact, anonymous surveys and effective consultation reap the benefits in terms of their performance. And as politicians here and around the world have highlighted, there is always scope for staff to be more responsive. The 2004 World Development Report concludes that better information sharing and more decentralisation are ways to achieve this. In education, as in almost all walks of life, the era of “the professional knows best” has certainly come to an end.”

Allowing significant parental involvement gives the opportunity for privileging some interests over others. Those eager to get a place at the School Board or Council table may not be knowledgeable about education or schools or about effective governance, not least the importance of determining the role of the board or council vis-a-vis the school principal and teachers. But the move to privatisation of schools makes assumptions about the capacity of parents to make judgements and to participate and most of all, assumes that choice itself will act as a stimulus to schools to improve their performance. What ‘marketisation’ has done is further entrench difference and leave public schools to cope with those children whose parents cannot afford the fees of private schools. One of the outcomes can be setting standards for public schools at a lower level than is done for the independent schools.

What is clear is that a large independent school sector increases inequalities through the ability of parents from high socioeconomic backgrounds with higher educational qualifications and advantaged economic circumstances make more choices than parents from low socioeconomic situations. Well resourced independent schools attract teachers who are more highly qualified and are retained longer on the staff. Their facilities are significantly better than those funded solely by government. In the U.S. especially, parents making choices about which school their children might attend are unlikely to choose schools with significant numbers of students from ‘minority’ backgrounds.

The substantial support of private schools has exacerbated the distinctions in society, as was seen in New Zealand. When ‘marketisation’ was introduced the outcome was a reinforcement of previously existing social, economic and ethnic distinctions, as shown by Hugh Lauder & David Hughes et al (Trading in Futures Why Markets in education don’t Work, Open University Press, Buckingham, 1999). A similar situation occurs in the US where executives ‘headhunted’ by leading businesses promoting economic growth in certain States and Districts seek out schools which they believe will deliver superior outcomes for their children and favour schools that do not include children from minority groups since they consider such schools will deliver poor outcomes. The result is increased segregation and poorer performance by children from minority groups.

Concluding Comments

Education is a community responsibility precisely because the whole community benefits profoundly. The benefits are first of all public and only secondarily private. Accordingly the funding should be public and not private. The benefits are intrinsic, they improve the quality of one’s own life. They are civic in that they improve the life of the community including the benefits, especially from investment in early childhood education, of reductions in crime, reductions in unwanted pregnancies, increase in the status of women, increase in the self confidence of every person who engages in it; not least decrease in the rate of population growth which flows on to reductions in the ecological footprint, to use current jargon. And there are economic benefits including increases in productivity, decreases in unemployment, and ultimately economic activity generally (not necessarily just growth).

The usual assumption is that because the benefits are to the community and that therefore the costs should be borne by the community through taxes distributed by governments, governments should also manage the education system intervening to achieve their desired outcomes. After all, if the government pays, what else would one expect. But the justification for government involvement is not whether or not they pay, but whether or not they have the capacity to undertake the task! There are too many instances of government involvement which demonstrates that they do not have the capacity for day to day management. In almost anything other than tax collection (though not in framing tax regimes and legislation)! Governments should ensure that the best management practices are employed to achieve the community benefit. And that is not just readying students for employment.

The same argument and criteria apply to private involvement. There is no intrinsic evidence to support the proposition that independent schools achieve greater outcomes. Where differences in educational achievement have been demonstrated they are due very substantially to the higher levels of pre-school education and greater family well being – including a different home environment and greater access to home study resources enjoyed by students at independent  schools – as well as factors like lower teacher: student ratios which of course do have an impact on educational outcomes. But then, what else would one expect?

The provision by the Australian Commonwealth Government of substantial sums of money on top of the considerable amounts already available to private schools is perpetuating a huge gap in achievement within the population between economically and socially advantaged and disadvantaged and doing nothing to provide greater access to better opportunities for the latter. That increasing gap and its contribution to economic disadvantage in later life is correlated with overall inequities and with higher crime rates, lower employment rates, poorer health and thus greater net costs to the economy. Countries with lower levels of inequality perform significantly better in terms of costs for health, education and levels of crime and, except in unusual economic circumstances, better in employment levels.

How can the contribution of substantial taxpayer money to independent schools in Australia be justified? Why do governments in the USA together with wealthy foundations pour money into charter schools. Even allowing for the advantages delivered by socioeconomic backgrounds the achievement at the end of schooling, as judged by tests for such things as entry to university, hardly discriminates in favour of independent schools.

If overall improvement in educational outcomes is to be achieved then poverty has to be addressed; most particularly it has to be addressed by special support programs from early childhood on directed to children from disadvantaged situations. Independent schools, parent choice and encouraging competition between schools only serve those children already advantaged and they do not do that very well!

An OECD study by Sietske Waslander of the University of Tiburg in the Netherlands and colleagues, ‘Markets in Education – An Analytical Review of Empirical Research on Market Mechanisms in Education’ (OECD Education Working Papers No. 52), released October 2010, analyses the empirical research on market mechanisms in education. These mechanisms, which include voucher programs and charter schools, were intended to encourage competition and increase parental choice and thereby lead to improved student achievement. The analysis concludes that most previous reviews found small effects, if there were any at all. What the mechanisms mean in practice depends on local contexts: they are dependent on parental choice behaviour and action by schools involved.

Multiple goals including educational quality, efficiency, freedom of choice and social cohesion influence the decision. Quality and equality are the most often studied. Quality is most often reduced to test scores for reading and mathematics. Equality is most often reduced to indicators of segregation such as  socioeconomic background and ethnicity.

Contrary to the assumptions, decisions by parents as to what school their children will attend are most strongly influenced by the composition of the school and parents are very likely to choose schools within travelling distance. Schools don’t really compete: the characteristics of the local situation are important.

Waslander’s study also points out that “the notion of local hierarchy of schools helps explain both demand and supply side of the market”. Position in the hierarchy is influenced by the student population: in some areas a school with white pupils from socioeconomically advantaged background will rank higher irrespective of educational achievement. In other words, choice seeks schools with students who have a background like the person making the choice.

“The vast majority of parents are satisfied with a school that does not perform well and do not leave or bypass that school. The implication is that an important correction mechanism does not work in education markets as it does in other markets.” On the supply side “schools cannot, will not, or just do not grow easily when increasing numbers of parents and pupils wish to attend.” Public agencies are often responsible for school buildings and the allocation of space, providing excess capacity in schools is expensive and often hard to justify. So a popular school may have insufficient space and so does not get more if there are schools with excess space. Alternatively, schools may wish to improve their status in the local hierarchy by selecting pupils.

So preexisting characteristics are reinforced. This is precisely what the marketisation study in New Zealand found. Choice may also be exercised by decisions about where to live based on general perceptions of the nature of the schools in the area and their possession of desired features. Schools can’t respond rapidly to demand changes and often seek to protect their status, especially if pupils are fee paying and revenue is a critical factor.

The review concludes that general findings point to the need for a nuanced and qualified discussion about “market mechanisms in education”.

All we are left with are complaints at the end of the day from those promoting independent schools about the possible threat to the democratic right of parents to decide where to send their children to school, the assertion that objection to that amounts to a refusal to allow them to be concerned for the best education for their children and accusations that opposing continuation of the present system amounts to promoting the politics of envy! The cost, which in the end is borne by the community at large, is a poorer level of education for children from disadvantaged backgrounds: large classes, fewer resources, less well-qualified teachers, higher turnover, more unproductive concerns with non-education issues and a poorer understanding of and tolerance toward difference. These features continue on to successive generations and contribute to everything from attitudes to change to parenting.

What can we expect in the future from these school systems in Australia, the UK and the US when decisions are made and funds provided with little regard for the educational outcomes but principally to further entrench existing privilege? To brand claims that funding should be reformed as no more than class envy, as have the Opposition political parties in Australia, is simply disingenuous.

The fact remains that the substantial evidence shows that independent schools cannot claim to produce higher educational outcomes than government schools once the socioeconomic background of the students, and the differences in funding levels, are taken into account. Schools in poorer areas of the US produce students with poorer outcomes, they are less well funded, a point strongly made by the report from OECD on the Lessons for the US from the PISA 2009 studies. The program ‘Race to the Top’ which supports Charter Schools supports greater opportunities for children from wealthier backgrounds.

Whilst there are numerous outstanding scholarly studies in the United States of education systems, of learning and related areas of knowledge, relating these to each other seems to evade those with influence. When the new Mayor of New York, Bill De Blasio took office, he pledged to provide universal pre-school for 4-year olds to be funded by increasing the taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year by about half a percentage point. Early childhood education is fundamental to educational achievement, especially for children from less advantaged backgrounds. New York Governor Cuomo affirmed theoretical support but no financial commitment.

De Blasio also was faced with approving a number of applications for new charter schools submitted by Eva Moskowitz who runs the city’s largest charter chain. De Blasio approved only 36 of the 45 applications: refusals  were based on criteria such as co-location of elementary school and high school, construction demands, dislocation of schools serving students with disabilities and so on. His decision was attacked by the Murdoch controlled press who accused De Blasio of closing charter schools, evicting poor minority children, destroying their dreams for the future, and their chance to escape failing public schools. De Blasio was the victim of a smear campaign. Diane Ravitch reported, “The Rupert Murdoch press and the TV talk shows have been filled with tales of de Blasio’s crimes against children. This media blitz may be due in part to the fact that Success Academy pays at least $500,000 a year to Knickerbocker, a high-powered public relations firm in D.C., run by Anita Dunn, who served as President Obama’s director of communication in 2009.”

But De Blasio’s initiative is progressing. As the New York Times reported 1 September 2014, “Mr. de Blasio’s dogged lobbying worked. He lost the tax, but he got $300 million in state financing for prekindergarten anyway. And he won his other initiative: citywide after-school programs for more than 70,000 middle-school children.”

The issues of public and private schools in Australia are discussed here.