Figure 1

A sign in the schools in Piscataway, New Jersey, depicts the letters "B.A.U." with a red line running through them. The superintendent says it means, "No more ‘Business As Usual’."[1]

American public education is undergoing a transformation. In areas as dissimilar as pupil transportation and foreign language instruction, administrators are making greater use of private sector providers to promote excellence in every part of the learning environment. Ideas dismissed as radical just a few years ago are now helping public school officials better serve their students, as American educators are changing the way they deliver educational services.

Figure 2

Why has this come about?

Pressure to improve academic performance has prompted many administrators to explore new administrative approaches. The problem is not how much money is spent on education but how well that money is spent. Inefficient allocation of resources plagues public schools, and too many expenditures fail to reach the classroom. Consider that:

  • Only about half of all public school employees are teachers (See Figure 1). Out of 4.5 million school staff employed in 1990 by the nation's public schools, just 2.4 million were teachers.[2]

  • Public schools operate with five times more noninstructional personnel per student than parochial schools.[3]

  • Between 1960 and 1984, the number of nonclassroom instructional personnel in America's public school system grew by 400 percent, nearly seven times the rate of growth of classroom teachers.[4]

  • Noninstructional and support activities total 42 percent of public education spending.[5]

Though schools often suffer from a scarcity of education resources, the crisis in education is not due to a lack of funding. Americans spent $16 billion on K-12 public education in 1960; $96 billion in 1980; and over $200 billion in 1990, which represents an inflation-adjusted increase of 300 percent in 30 years with only minor changes in enrollment[6] (See Figure 2). During the decade of the 1980' alone, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending in public schools increased 37 percent.[7]

Recognizing the need to restructure operations, school administrators are changing their approach to providing education. The transformation now underway has the potential to improve efficiency and increase accountability. This guide presents school administrators with a survey of public school practices that involve private sector providers. Whenever possible, the guide includes case studies to illustrate the advantages and drawbacks of various management strategies.

Rather than providing a blueprint for school management, educators are presented with a number of options for providing quality, cost-effective services to students in their communities. A resource list at the back of this study will help the reader obtain additional information about the services discussed.[8]

A Special Note on Charter Schools

Charter school organizers may be particularly interested in pursuing public-private partnerships which can provide a variety of education services with little or no start-up costs. As of mid-1993, charter school legislation, which allows some public schools to operate exempt from certain state and local regulations, had been approved in at least seven states, with more states considering the idea.[8] Michigan has recently expanded its charter school program dramatically. The flexibility of charter schools facilitates the use of many of the innovative management approaches presented here.