Researchers are aware — although they rarely acknowledge it — that certain factors operate behind the scenes to make the public-school model often a negative for both teachers as well as the academic achievement of students.
Public-school and private-school models, of course, are quite different. The former is highly bureaucratic and rule-bound — and quite naturally so, as the political authorities to which public school systems and their administrators answer want to minimize discretion as to whether or not the laws and regulations they have promulgated are obeyed.
The private-school model, on the other hand, is market-based. To continue to exist at all, private-sector schools must attract, win and keep the allegiance of parents — which primarily means providing the quality education services that parents desire for their children.
Thus, the forms of control in the two models fundamentally differ. As researchers John Chubb and Terry Moe extensively documented in their 1990 Brookings Institution book, Politics, Markets and America’s Public Schools, public schools are controlled through the public authority that democratic politics grants to the winners of its periodic election contests. As the losers in those contests are obligated to accept and finance the winners’ policies, even when they oppose them, democracy becomes essentially a contest for the right to coerce electoral minorities.
Public authority is also behind private, market-based education, but it provides a framework and operates at a remove and with a far lighter touch. All that is required for markets to operate is for governments to have established a legal framework that recognizes property rights and permits individuals to enter into agreements and exchanges as those individuals see fit.
Consequently, in the private sector, whoever owns and runs a school decides what will be taught, how much they’ll charge and virtually everything else regarding how education will be supplied. Then, families assess what is offered, the reputations of the school and its teachers, the costs involved, and choose whether to patronize this particular vendor of education services or not.
Under this model, no one can be forced to attend a private school, nor can anyone force a private school to teach certain courses, hire certain teachers or support certain causes or ideologies.
As the coercive element that is the foundation of public schools is absent in private education, all participants must achieve their goals through their voluntary relations with others.
In such a context, the key to the success of each is having skills and professionalism to offer that other people want.
That’s why principals in private-sector education, by and large, are so much more respectful of their teachers — who, after all, are the magic ingredient that make their schools succeed.
For similar reasons, teachers reciprocate — quite aware that intelligent, respectful principals are themselves in too-scarce supply.
Thus, market-based education generally aligns the most significant incentives for schools, teachers, parents and students alike behind the goal of quality education. That common alignment of incentives is something that public education — continually buffeted by ever-shifting political winds and the demands of politically potent interest-groups — can only rarely achieve, if ever.
And so this is why private-school teachers, by and large, have significantly higher morale and job satisfaction than do their colleagues who find themselves working in the public schools.