Contracting for Knowledge

Evelyn Peter-Lawshé, owner of Language and Reading Arts Center, a private, for-profit education business, provides additional options for parents seeking the best education for their children.

Across America, people are looking for ways to improve education. Innovations such as charter schools and education tax credits are making it easier for parents to obtain the best education possible for their children.

Entrepreneurial freedom is an appealing choice for private-practice teachers who enjoy taking risks and reaping the rewards of independence.

One option, often overlooked, could unlock the door to educational improvement in Michigan. This option is private-practice teaching.

Who Are Private-Practice Teachers?

Private-practice teachers are professional educators who provide their services to schools or other institutions on a contract basis. Just as many private-practice physicians negotiate contracts with firms to treat patients, private-practice teachers negotiate contracts with schools to teach a specified subject(s) to students.

How Does Private Practice Benefit Teachers?

Many teachers feel restricted and unable to teach to the best of their ability because of state mandates or their district’s bureaucratic rules and management. Private-practice teaching allows teachers to work in a more flexible, dynamic atmosphere, and work as either the owners of their own practice or as employees of a private firm.

Private-practice teachers are not confined to working for a school district. Although many private-practice teachers are contracted by schools for teaching remedial classes, foreign languages, art, science, or music, many also contract with parents to tutor students. Still others are hired by schools to teach adult education or teacher training courses. Private-practice teachers have a myriad of options.

Entrepreneurial freedom is an appealing choice for private-practice teachers who enjoy taking risks and reaping the rewards of independence. Many teachers may believe they would be better off negotiating their own terms of employment rather than being subject to a contract negotiated for them by a labor union.

How Does Private Practice Benefit Schools?

Accountability is the first thing that a school gains when it contracts out for private-practice teachers. Such a contract, unless otherwise stipulated, may be renewed or terminated at any time. The contract is for a specific service provided to specific recipients under specific circumstances. These contracts make it very easy for a school to determine whether or not a teacher is performing adequately, and therefore whether to terminate or renew the contract. The private-practice option empowers schools to retain the best teachers and get rid of bad ones.

Small schools which do not offer the curriculum choices of large schools may find it particularly advantageous to contract with private-practice educators. Classes such as art, music, foreign languages and some sciences are among the courses that private-practice teachers could provide.

Conventional educators typically operate under the protection of tenure and collective bargaining. Private-practice teaching, on the other hand, is largely an unprotected endeavor. Private teachers must compete in an open market. This provides powerful incentives to educate students with the same excellence that marks other highly successful, competitive industries.

Private-practice educators stay in business by providing an attractive service at a cost that reflects market demand. Competitors are not only other private-practice teachers, but also educators who work directly for a school. The effect of this competition is to increase opportunities for students (more specialized teachers per student) while employing teachers who may offer less costly services than do their public school peers (thus freeing up money for other education endeavors).

Contracting for instructors helps administrators control staff levels. If a course is highly specialized, the cost of hiring one full-time instructor may be prohibitive. In this situation, a private-practice teacher could be hired for as little or as much time required, and the waste incurred by hiring a full-time instructor is avoided. It also creates opportunities for the kids who now enjoy greater options.

Why Don't Michigan Schools Use the Private-Practice Option More Often?

Unfortunately, Michigan school boards have enumerated powers which permit contracts for instruction only under certain, very limited circumstances. This vastly diminishes the power of Michigan schools to reap the benefits of outsourcing instructional staff.

Copies of Teacher Inc.: A Private-Practice Option for Educators are available for $5.00 post paid by contacting the Mackinac Center. Educators can receive one copy free.

However, Michigan is home to the highly successful Reading and Language Arts Centers (R-LAC) headed by educational entrepreneur, Evelyn Peter-Lawshé. Started in 1991, R-LAC operates three southeast Michigan centers located in Bloomfield Hills, Shelby Township, and Livonia. R-LAC also plans to establish a new office in Chicago. Currently, R-LAC employs 8 full-time and 40 part-time employees and tutors. In 1994, Peter-Lawshé started a nonprofit division of her business. The Reading and Language Arts Institute helps children whose parents simply can not otherwise afford to fund their education outside government schools.

R-LAC tutors approximately 800 students annually. R-LAC’s superior teacher instruction program is also widely recognized among public school districts which contract with the company to train their teachers in both standard and special education.

R-LAC has successfully provided quality education and teacher training on a contract basis. If the state of Michigan would allow the outsourcing of instructional staff, the Great Lakes State could make private education companies the rule instead of the exception.

Editor’s Note: To contact the Reading and Language Arts Center, call 1-800-Read-211.