A trenchant analysis of how public education is being destroyed in overt and deceptive ways—and how to fight back
"There's no more time for tinkering around the edges." —Betsy DeVos, 2018 "Rethink School" tour
Betsy DeVos may be the most prominent face of the push to dismantle public education, but she is in fact part of a large movement that's been steadily gaining power and notching progress for decades—amassing funds, honing their messaging, and crafting policies. While support for public education today is stronger than ever, the movement to save our schools remains fragmented, variable, and voluntary. Meanwhile, those set on destroying this beloved institution are unified, patient, and well-resourced.
In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, co-hosts of the popular education podcast Have You Heard, lay out the increasingly potent network of conservative elected officials, advocacy groups, funders, and think tanks that have aligned behind a radical vision to unmake public education. They describe the dogma underpinning the work of the dismantlers and how it fits into the current political context, giving readers an up-close look at the policies—school vouchers, the war on teachers' unions, tax credit scholarships, virtual schools, and more—driving the movement's agenda. Finally they look forward, surveying the world the dismantlers threaten to build.
As teachers from coast to coast mobilize with renewed vigor, this smart, essential book sounds an alarm, one that should incite a public reckoning on behalf of the millions of families served by the American educational system—and many more who stand to suffer from its unmaking.
Schneider (Beyond Test Scores) and Berkshire, cohosts of the podcast Have You Heard, deliver a thorough expos of the war on public education. They identify U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as the face of a push toward "consumer-driven" education, and place this campaign within the larger context of "efforts by the radical right to fundamentally alter the American political system." Detailing the rise of charter schools, Schneider and Berkshire show how vouchers and tax-credit scholarships divert public funds to private, religiously affiliated institutions. They document numerous fraud cases related to charter schools, and point out that exemptions from federal and state regulations and antidiscrimination laws allow these schools to keep out poor, underprepared, disabled, and special needs students. The authors also describe how bipartisan attacks on teachers' unions have contributed to a rise in the "gig economy" model of for-profit school chains that give teachers "meager" health benefits and encourage them to apply for unemployment in the summer. Though somewhat vague on how to roll back these alarming trends, Schneider and Berkshire make a persuasive case that public education is under serious threat. Parents, teachers, and progressive policy makers will learn much from this well-documented account.