Saturday, October 1, 2011

Profit and Quality

The discussion on the profit on education has taken much of the debate, though far from being the explanation for our problems, much less solving them. I think it's an important issue that should be discussed. But we should banish the fantasy that the elimination or ratification of profit, resolve the problems of our educational system.

In a previous article I referred to profit from a more personal perspective, expressing my dismay over the pervasiveness of the spirit of profit between us.Now I want to do so from a technical perspective and propose. The discussion on the profit, separate from the discussion on quality, means not only putting the cart before the horse, but the wagon passing over the horse.

Because of time and space, I will only refer to the issue of profit in school education, since the context is quite different in higher education, where prohibited by law, and what has been lacking is the will to enforce and monitor compliance legal standards, even if there are issues pending to define, as the subject of profit in vocational education.

In school education, however, profit is not only permitted, but was deliberately used by the State to convene private actors to invest in education, and so quickly and substantially improve educational coverage and full-day schooling in Chile. It is then called a public policy that corporations and big business, but also and significantly to teachers and other professionals to create, maintain and support to schools throughout Chile.

Could the State now repent and change that policy, deciding that there can be no private schools administered under the incentive to profit by it? Absolutely, but it probably means that the state should take over this change, buying or expropriating private schools, or compensating the owners. Technically, the State would be taking away an acquired right and in justice, that can not be free. And as we know, the quality of education is not determined by who runs the school and whether for profit or not, so we would find a huge public spending, without any compensation in terms of quality (worth reading aexcellent academic work that shows how the hard data helped gain coverage, but has had no impact on the quality and, instead, do to increase social segregation).

I think there's a way of solving more practical, feasible and efficient, if we include the variable quality. Of course, this is a difficult concept to define, but some progress, let's assume for the purposes of the distribution of public resources, quality means the student results in national tests (hopefully more complete than the current SIMCE taken more frequently), the results of the teachers in the teacher evaluation process and some indicators associated with the facility management (enrollment, attendance, budget execution, parental involvement).

These results should then be weighted on the basis of context and vulnerability index of the students, so as not to compare apples and oranges and ensuring that there is no selection in the accessibility and maintenance of students in schools. These indicators can construct an algorithm that delivers a score for each school, say, 1 to 100. Sounds complicated, but is not as difficult as it seems.

So far we have talked about the quality, let us now return to profit. My proposal here is simple:
  • If as a result of this algorithm, a school receives 70 points or less (for example), then the holder can not remove utilities, and any eventual surplus must be reinvested in the school to improve its future performance.
  • If the result is between 70 and 80 points, the holder can withdraw a limited percentage of profits (say for example, up to 10% of the surplus).
  • If the school gets results between 80 and 90, the owner can remove a higher percentage (in our example, 20 percent of the surplus).
  • If the school gets more than 90 points, the holder can withdraw surplus without limit, it is doing an excellent job.
By contrast, if a school gets consistently less than 60 points (say, for three consecutive or five non-consecutive), can be operated by the Ministry of Education and required to develop specific actions for improvement. And if the school gets less than 50 points consistently, or does not improve after ministerial intervention, the authorities should be forced to close, remove the "decree cooperative" to the holder and offer alternatives to students.

Of course, this is a general initial description of a policy that would require much refinement and work. Nor is it a final or only solution, and requires to be accompanied by other policies if we want to achieve the necessary levels of quality education in the XXI century, among others, invest more heavily in preschool, school subsidies increase, improve selection and training of teachers, support substantive changes in policy management in schools, restructuring the vocational secondary education, strengthening public institutions, etc.. But I think it could be a possible and practical in the short term to maintain joint provision in education, a true role of guarantor for the state, and a stronger focus on quality.


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