Heidi Schauble describes her disheartening experience as a student at the University of Washington at Bothell, when she signed up for an education policy course and found that her instructors worked for the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CPRE). CPRE is a major advocate of the “portfolio” model for school districts, wherein the school board treats its schools like a stock portfolio, keeping the good ones and getting rid of the bad ones. It advocates on behalf of charter schools. Schauble refers to CPRE as an “anti-public education think tank.” It might be more accurate to call it an advocacy group, not a think tank.

The amazing aspect of this article is that the author had sufficient information to question what she was taught and to know that she was getting a one-sided presentation.

Here is an excerpt. It is worth reading in full:

As a UW student, who signed up for the only “Education Policy” elective offered in my program, I learned first-hand how CRPE views public education, and witnessed first-hand how they conduct their own classroom.

Robin Lake and Bethany Grove, the co-instructors of the CRPE course, presented the argument that business models were more equitable and efficient than traditional public schools, and that the only way to reform education was to dismantle it and replace it with charters that will constantly open and close according to their “results”. The goal was never “better schools overall”. The goal was the ability to close “bad” schools.

These instructors argued the education system is supposed to have mixed results, to compare outcomes (test scores), and shut down “ineffective” schools; they argue that it is good to create a continuous, responsive cycle for “improvement”. They argue that public institutions are too bureaucratic, too slow to change and adapt to the 21st century. Their goal is to privatize public education.

Robin and Bethany, the instructors of the CRPE course, blamed teachers, parents and students in the process of demonizing public education. They didn’t mention the factors of poverty or low school funding, nor did they mention budget cuts or how since Federal education policies from No Child Left Behind, and every version since then, drain resources from public education. According to Robin and Bethany, “money doesn’t make a difference and we need to stop throwing it at education”. When have we ever done this?

That quarter, we read from business models how shutting down and “starting from a clean slate” was the best way to turn around failing businesses. We did not read a single piece of educational literature that did not come directly out of CRPE. I was shocked..

I don’t doubt that these two upper middle class white women care a great deal about children like theirs. I do doubt CRPE’s ability to question their unwavering faith in Neo-Liberal Market reform.

How material is taught is just as important as the curriculum itself. Does the instructor value debate as a tool of learning? Or is repetition of subject material the leading indicator of learning?

I recall watching “Waiting for Superman” in previous classes. This video is a popular marketing tool for Charter Reformers. One of the central arguments of the video, is that students are currently taught as passive recipients of knowledge. Where the teacher is the ultimate authority and attempts to “dump” knowledge; rather that teaching students to engage with material.

If the fundamental argument of Charter reformers is that you can break up the “bureaucracy” and “monopoly” of public ed so that teachers are able to engage with students; why are their reformers teaching in the very authoritarian style they critique?