Opinion
Education Opinion

Hitching Free Market Ideology to Online Learning

By Justin Reich — May 01, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Several weeks ago, Chris Lehmann tweeted from the Ed Innovation Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, “Educators - if you don’t see that there is a billion dollar industry wanting to take over schools using tech as the Trojan Horse, wake up.”

If I were to have one quibble with the metaphor, it would be this: the free marketeers are not hiding inside the horse, ready to jump out only after they are let in the gates of schools. They are riding right on top of the horse, shouting “Hey, this is a great horse! Let me tell you how we plan to use this horse to advance our free-market ideology in the education sector.” The guy riding on the horse then starts reading Education Reform for the Digital Era, the most recent release of the Fordham Institute.

My summary of the free market argument for reforming educational systems to allow more online learning (as I’ve gleaned from the report) looks something like this:

The market is the most efficient system in the world for generating and distributing high quality goods and services. Education is no different than any other sector of society--it provides a service for which people pay money. In the U.S., however, 14,000 school districts have a local, state-run monopoly over education, and the leaders of these systems have little incentive to innovate and improve and great incentives to restrict any efforts to disrupt their monopoly. We should replace this system with markets where students and parents can choose their schools, their classes, their teachers, and anything else they want. Students will leave crummy schools, which will shrivel and die, and the remaining schools will compete for these students by becoming progressively more innovative and effective. Charter schools, (which advocates now sometimes call "choice schools"), were a first step in this agenda because they, in theory, allowed students to choose among a variety of options, and the competition among choices would force better outcomes from any schools that survived within the system. Even more important to free market advocates are "vouchers." Basically, rather than funding schools, municipalities should be funding kids. Give every kid her per-pupil-expenditure for the year, and let her spend it however she wants. If she wants to buy a slot in the public school, great. If she wants to buy a spot in the charter school, great. If she's rich, and she wants to add another $10,000 and buy a spot in the local private school, that's fine. And if she wants to buy a "seat" in any online course or school in the world, that's fine, too. Overtime, the most high value learning opportunities will compete successfully and the weakest will disappear. In a brick and mortar schooling world, this competition was always imagined to be between schools. Online learning provides free-market advocates the chance to take their model to a new level: This competition can shift from the school level to the course level. Why force students to purchase all their classes from one school? Why not let them buy Algebra II from Khan Academy, Spanish I from Rosetta Stone, and P.E. from their local charter school? To make this vision of learning possible, the key policy action is to stop funding schools and start funding kids. If a kid really needs a human connection, and he wants to buy a spot in his local, public school, then that's great. If he wants to learn from the best lecturers in the world, then let him enroll in massive online courses led by a newly created group of mega-stars of education. Let each kid spend their per-pupil-expenditure on any learning experiences that he or she deems satisfactory. Quality control will happen by students voting with their feet. The other key policy actions all have to do with removing barriers to entry into this newly emerging market. Remove all requirements for teacher certification, since we don't know what makes a good online teacher. Remove class size restrictions, since big classes taught by the mega-stars might be better than small classes taught by average teachers. Restrict the power of teachers unions and school boards to protect their local monopolies. Let anyone--public, private, parochial, non-profit, for-profit, whoever--compete for student's dollars in an online marketplace.

This is a radical re-imagining of what it means to participate in schooling. Networked technologies have transformed numerous sectors of our economy over the last decade: business, journalism, politics, and even our own identities. Should education be next? If so, is the direction to go?

Later this week, I’ll have some thoughts on this model, and some questions that I wish the Fordham Report had done a better job answering.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP