Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, made headlines a few weeks ago when his most recent purchase came to light. Although the info was spread across regular news sites, those of us in education are perhaps even more interested. According to an article by Vox, Hastings purchased 2,100 acres of land in Colorado that will be used solely as an educator and teacher retreat center, called Retreat Land at Lone Rock.
A Retreat Sounds Amazing … but Why?
The land is in Park County, about 40 miles southwest of Denver. It is surrounded by lush forest, wildlife, and solitude—a retreat center’s ideal spot. Evidently, Hastings and his wife have visited the area for the past few years and found a property they thought would be a top fit for their next venture in education reform. Hastings isn’t new to education. He already invested money in a math-teaching program, Dreambox Learning, as well as given millions of dollars to charter schools . He also pledged $100 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to be focused on education.
But the questions arise: why Hastings, why teachers, and possibly the most curious … why a retreat center? Hastings’ contributions to education, as well as those of other tech moguls, isn’t new, but questionably misplaced. According to the Vox article, Hastings has contributed to what some call an education reform movement. This movement aims to increase testing, place even more accountability on teachers, and is a proponent of more charter schools. The American Federation of Teachers also questions privatization of education and the use of individual wealth from billionaires.
Does Private Money Help Education?
Other moguls have and continue to attempt to change education with their private wealth, including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Overall, many of the reforms instilled by these tech giants haven’t necessarily been beneficial, and very little research has been done to track students’ educational results. In fact, an article by CNBC has Gates quoted as saying that overall, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s attempt at education reform has not yielded the results they were aiming for.
One study from Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research did study Hastings Dreambox tech and students’ subsequent math scores. The results concluded that it was difficult to truly attribute better math scores to the software, rather than the teacher.
What are the Retreat Details?
Details are nil—Amy Dee, a former Netflix real estate executive, stated in an email that she is not ready to share any specific details at the moment and to reach out near the end of the year or early next year. Various articles, however, have stated that the retreat center will be used for teachers, principals, and nonprofit heads and will be available to both public school and charter schools. It will house about 30 teachers at a time and is set to open in the spring of 2021. According to an original permit application for the center, the property will have cabins, meeting rooms, a spa with hot tubs and saunas, a lodge with a wine cellar and yoga deck, as well as trails on the property.
Is this the Best Use of Money?
Overall, it’s rumored that Hastings has spent more than $20 million so far on the project. But this prompts the question, will the retreat center really help education and teachers? Could that money be better spent elsewhere, by perhaps donating it to local school districts without any strings attached? As an educator myself, I wonder if teachers from private schools or nonprofits will be included and if teachers of all levels, including the oft-forgotten early childhood sector, will also be able to visit the center.
Don’t get me wrong. I truly believe that teachers, possibly more so than most other professionals, deserve a retreat, spa included. But if teachers were actually part of the conversations, would they choose to put that private $20 million into a retreat center, or would they have it invested somewhere else?
Attempts at education reform somehow rarely seem to consider teachers’ voices and ideas, and we won’t be able to see any benefits from this center until at least six months from now, when it opens. Best case scenario—teachers come back feeling temporarily refreshed, more informed with professional development tailored specifically to their needs, and (fingers-crossed) some sort of grant that can be used in each and every one of their schools (this is simply my own pipe dream).
Worst case scenario? Teachers come back feeling temporarily refreshed. But they wonder if the weekend and all of its amenities directly and positively affect their students. This thought often echoes in teachers’ minds whenever education reform is mentioned.
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