Private Lessons


In 1985, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law requiring all children in grades K–5 to study a foreign language. Many of the state's rural school districts couldn't easily afford to hire a certified teacher who specialized in foreign-language instruction. In the Raleigh area, the Wake County Public Schools figured a way around the problem: They hired Dialogos International, a private firm, to teach French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.

Increasingly, school districts that can't afford to hire a full-time staff member to teach special education, foreign languages, or other specialized courses are contracting with education entrepreneurs. These private-practice educators inexpensively market education services both to schools and to industry.

The Wake County school board estimates the annual cost of a contract with a Dialogos teacher is 30 percent to 50 percent less than the salary of a certified teacher. And because the language classes are considered "enrichment" courses outside the regular curriculum, the local teachers' union has not opposed the arrangement. State law requires a certified teacher to remain in the classroom at all times.

That restriction, common in other states, hasn't stifled the demand for private-practice educators. Berlitz, the language-instruction company, is contracting to teach languages in public schools. And in Milwaukee, McDonald Research contracts with the city's public schools to provide "mentors"—trained researchers—who teach science.

Teachers' unions have tolerated the use of noncertified private-practice teachers as supplements to, not replacements for, their own members. But private practice does let skilled professionals who want to teach enter the classroom without having to spend two years at an education school getting certified.

Chris Yelich, founder of the American Association of Educators in Private Practice, says private-practice teaching offers school districts flexibility and accountability. "If schools are not happy with the result, the contract is not renewed," she says. "These teachers live or die by the results they provide."