The De-Schooling Scenarios: (1) Free Market Rules

The De-Schooling Scenarios: (1) Free Market Rules


Two of the six scenarios -- Free Market Rules and Free Learning Rules envision the dissolution of formal education under the pressure of “free market” or “free learning” forces respectively. This post briefly describes the Free Market Rules scenario, which can be summarized as “business wins; efficiency works.” The related worldview of education goes like this:

  • Education is a business, thus the market is the main force of change.
  • Education’s main commodity is information/knowledge transmission.
  • Education delivery is currently riddled with inefficiencies -- high labor costs, redundant offerings, excessive overhead.
  • The Internet has made the cost of delivering education so cheap that education will have to change drastically or see other providers beat them in the marketplace.
  • Thus the drive to cut costs will come to rule higher education policy and have a strong influence in K-12 education policy.

Free Market Rules advocates - edupreneurs, business-oriented policy makers and thought leaders - tend to believe that American education is headed for a major makeover driven by the twin forces of business and efficiency. In 1997, management guru Peter Drucker declared that universities were “relics” which would be gone in 30 years. (Only 17 more years to go!) World-renowed futurist Alvin Toffler has advocated that we “blow up” the existing education system and start over. Or no need to blow up the system; just wait and let market forces drive education in the same direction as the newspaper industry. After all, who can resist college for $99 a month?

Free Market Rules advocates include a lot of prominent people and get a lot of mainstream media press play. Their ideas currently have a lot of influence and are causing a lot of damage, particularly in the NCLB, standardized test-infested K-12 education environment. However, their notions of education are woefully simplistic, and their vision of free market change in the extreme is ultimately fanciful. More on that in a later post.

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