Across the nation, schools and communities are looking at new ways to deliver education to students. Charter-school legislation, which enables public schools to innovate free from many state and local regulations, has been passed by twelve states, with many more considering the idea.1 Districts in at least five states have contracted with private, for-profit companies to manage their public schools. And a handful of public schools are experimenting with distance learning where a computer network links teachers to students who study in their homes.
This willingness to look for innovative solutions to our nation's education woes comes just at a time when more students than ever before are entering our public schools. Not only do these reforms hold out the promise of a better education system for the next generation of school children, they may also go a long way toward alleviating the budgetary burden that such enrollment growth can bring.
Student enrollment in the K-12 public schools is on the rise. The U.S. Department of Education projects that the number of students in school will grow 12 percent between 1994 and 2004, from roughly 44 million students to almost 50 million.2 With the surge in student enrollment will come an increase in the demand for teachers. Assuming no change in class size, to keep pace with enrollment, public schools will have to hire 300,000 additional teachers by the year 2004 above the 2.5 million currently employed.
Meanwhile, state and local governments are trying to find ways to cut the cost of government services as budgets become more strained and resistance to higher taxes remains strong. Voter-approval rates of all municipal-bond issues, including education, have fallen sharply during the 1990s compared to the 1980s (see Figure 1). Approval ratings for education bonds in recent years hover around 50 or 60 percent, as taxpayers express reluctance to spend more money on schools.3
Against this backdrop, a new way of delivering education is taking root: private-practice teaching. Not only does private-practice teaching have the potential to transform the way education is delivered, it may also transform the careers of teachers.