Instrumentalist Perspectives on the "Public" in Public Education: Incentives and Purposes

Christopher Lubienski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent structural reforms of education highlight an emerging recognition of the difference between "public education" and "public schools," Traditional perspectives emphasized ownership, governance, processes, and other institutional criteria in assessing the public nature of schooling. Yet many theorists and reformers now call for a focus on the effects of schools as instruments for serving consumer preferences - A perspective referred to here as instrumentalism. This analysis draws from the implementation of reform policies in one state to examine both the politics and political economy of instrumentalist approaches to public education. Attempts to expand the definition of public education to include independent providers are shown to change the incentive structures that define the public- and private-good effects of schooling. Consequently, the analysis suggests that efforts to elevate private-good aspects of education place schools in marketized environments, negating some of the public-good aspects of education, while diminishing broader forms of control over schooling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-502
Number of pages25
JournalEducational Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Choice
  • Public
  • Reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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