My Experience as a Student with the Center on Reinventing Public Education


Last week, I opened my Facebook page to an article which explained how the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), an anti-public education think tank nestled within UW Bothell, is making waves nationally.

I wasn’t surprised.

As a UW Bothell student in the Masters of Policy Studies program, 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 Betheny Gross, 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 raised concerns over issues of equity and standardization. They dismissed my concerns as being unsupported, non- issues or able to be solved by Charter Reform. At the end of the quarter we were asked to present one of our final two projects. Most of my colleagues chose to regurgitate the arguments made in class readings (some to save their grade, others because it was the first Ed policy class they took and the only information they had to draw from). I took a moderate stance on a paper that briefly included issues within high stakes exams and the need for multiple measures of intelligence.

I would have been open to any form of critical feedback, both positive and negative. The only response I received; however, was “Nice try but it will never work on a national scale”. Then, I saw a week later how my grade was negatively impacted by my substantiated and researched views. I received the lowest possible grade accepted by my program. No feedback on my work except for “Nice try…”. I was stunned. I did the work. Education Policy was my specialization.

I bring up this anecdote because it highlights a significant learning opportunity in my graduate education. I care much less about grades, than I do feedback. And that was the problem.

I realized the way these instructors defined democratic participation (both in educational reforms and the way they conducted their classroom), was by offering choices created by “experts”; rather than increasing the participation of stakeholders. Their evaluation methods also reflected the disproportionate value they placed on “absorbed information”, not ability to think critically, find information, interpret information and disseminate it to my colleagues within the framework of the course. They didn’t engage with competing perspectives and grade a body of work. They rated students according to their worldview.

I question why a research based program, UW Bothell, is allowing lecturers from a think tank intent on dismantling public education, to teach future educators and policy makers.

There was limited oversight or accountability for how they chose to deliver information. They had full control over grading practices, were not hired on as professors, assistant professors or lectures. They were given a title of “instructor” and allowed to teach without observation of a faculty member. We were given office hours for the Director of the MAPS program and a survey at the end of the quarter. There was no other oversight to prevent them from retaliating against students. I’ve taken classes by people in the pro- charter camp before. But they conducted themselves as professionals capable of entertaining competing perspectives, provided critical feedback and graded based on quality of work and participation.

All of the students from that class are working in our education now. We are making decisions that impact the lives of students and families across the state and nation. Some of us had exposure to enough competing perspectives to challenge the idea that public dollars should be taken away from schools and given to a private marketplace. Some didn’t. So as I read about how they are shaping the educational landscape nationally, I really understand how their views as course instructors have shaped the perspectives, and educational outcomes of professionals working in our own backyard.

Taking the course taught by CRPE’s researchers was one of the most eye opening learning opportunities I have ever had. Comparing their research methods, ideologies and classroom culture to the courses I took to earn my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I was struck by their narrow views and how they wouldn’t entertain any views outside of their own.

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?

-Heidi Schauble

8 thoughts on “My Experience as a Student with the Center on Reinventing Public Education

  1. I heartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. I have said repeatedly that CRPE’s and Robin Lake’s political efforts to promote charter schools, particularly during Washington charter school election campaigns, have no place within our public university system. Let them house their institute in a private for-profit university, preferably a failing one like ITT Tech.
    I see above that the Center receives funding from corporate institutions. But what public monies and/or resources are used to support their political work? And, more specifically given DeVos’s latest efforts to cut federal educational spending, does CRPE receive any subsidies or grants from the federal government, and will such monies be reduced or increased in the upcoming federal budget?
    Jon Holdaway

  2. I sure would like to hear the response from the admin to this question:

    “I question why a research based program, UW Bothell, is allowing lecturers from a think tank intent on dismantling public education, to teach future educators and policy makers.”

  3. I hope that you have given this very specific feedback to the University. Any college course must present students with a wide spectrum of views, research, and arguments. In this course students were offered one narrative. The University should not legitimize this course. The fact that your paper received no feedback other than “nice try, but no, you brought in research that was not our own to make a conclusion we do not agree with,” should be immediately sent to a multitude of the University’s academic chairs.

  4. The CRPE is funded by large foundations with no interest in anything other than market based education with vouchers; specifically The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation.

    If you want to study educational policy, I would recommend almost any place that is not funded by grants from billionaires.

    I appreciate your account. You could do a service to others by doing several posts about the course requirements, texts if any, and so on. The University of Washington is functioning as a shell for this whole operaation and as a shill by giving the two teachers access to students for course credits.

    1. Good reccomendation. Where can these unspoiled bastions of education be found?
      I don’t know of any that have not been touched by the octupus arms of those organizations! Ms.Schauble has her master’s in the field already. She didn’t have a choice at the time. It was the ONLY course offered in her program that fit the elective slot she had to fill. It is my opinion that she was robbed of her time and tuition, as well as the education she was supposed to receive that term. It’s a shame she was retaliated against by being given an abysmal grade, when her marks had consistently been very high in every other class throughout her college career.

      As a teacher, if I had been in attendance when they went over this idea that teachers are “dumping” education into our students, and that we do not engage with our students and they do not engage with the material, I’d have kindly marched them into any number of public school classrooms where the teachers engage with students in more ways than their tiny little minds could imagine. They have NO. IDEA. how hard my collegues and peers work to open the minds of our students. It’s not always easy. They are used to being passive. They are fed hours and hours of screen time every day and they do not learn things the same way my kids did. They have to be taught to THINK. It’s a challenge. But it’s worth it, and it’s happening all over the country in schools where the administration trusts their staff and allows them to do their jobs.

      Fortunately for her, and for us, she knows her stuff. She knew what she was experiencing was not education. It was brainwashing. I second that motion-this needs to go to the highest levels of the UW and any other educational institution who are being hornswoggled by these two fakes.

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