15 Chapter 15: The 1980s and Beyond

This chapter introduces students to what has become the nationalization of public schooling in the United States. While the federal government has no constitutional authority over public education, its power and influence over schooling has reached a pinnacle in contemporary America. The 1980s also represents a counter reaction to a variety of developments in the 1960s and 1970s including, but not limited to court decisions related to school prayer, multiculturalism and multicultural curriculua, and many of the legislative reforms implemented to enhance civil rights since Brown v. Board. While Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter limited their involvement in the public school arena, changes took place beginning in the Reagan Era that greatly impacted public schooling, the remnants of which are still being felt today.


Learning Objectives

Upon completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Comprehend the purposes for and objectives of major legislative reforms during the 1980s-2000s.
  • Consider the implications of federal education policy as part of globalization.
  • Articulate how the report, A Nation at Risk, created the perception of crisis in American schooling.
  • Examine the intent behind and the results of A Nation at Risk.
  • Articulate how A Nation at Risk contributed to the eventual passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002.
  • Examine the George H. W. Bush’s involvement in the creation of the National Council on Education Standards and Testing.
  • Examine President Bill Clinton’s Goals 2000, which was part of the Educate America Act.
  • Examine the privatization of public education movement whose roots developed in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Understand how privatization is facilitated by the No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race-to-the-Top program, which was part of his The American Recovery and Reinvestments Act of 2009.
  • Comprehend the changes in and requirements developed in No Child Left Behind.
  • Articulate how No Child Left Behind modified the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
  • Articulate legal challenges to No Child Left Behind’s mandates.
  • Understand the ideological battles that have reemerged over the curriculum and the textbook adoption process.
  • Normatively and critically, evaluate and assess these contemporary developments in federal education policy and considerations about the future of education policy in America.
  • Review and articulate the political nature of public schooling in America and why it is inherently reflective of broader ideological conflict.


Part 2, Chapter 15 Preface to Readings


Based on the growing federal presence in education historically, perhaps it was inevitable that education would become essentially nationalized, a development that would have perplexed not only the American Founders, but also the common school reformers of the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, from a constitutional perspective, public schooling continues to remain a responsibility of individual states; however, the federal government has been able to achieve indirectly in school reform what it could not achieve directly as will be discussed more thoroughly later. President Jimmy Carter signed into law on October 17, 1979 an act to create the federal Department of Education. Congressional justifications for creating this new Department are outlined in the following general findings, which include the broader goals of ensuring educational opportunity, coordination of intergovernmental policies, safeguarding state jurisdiction over schools, and supporting parental involvement.

  1. Education is fundamental to the development of individual citizens and the progress of the Nation;
  2. There is a continuing need to ensure equal access for all Americans to educational opportunities of a high quality, and such educational opportunities should not be denied because of race, creed, color, national origin, or sex;
  3. Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and States, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role;
  4. In our Federal system, the primary public responsibility for education is reserved respectively to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States;
  5. The American people benefit from a diversity of educational settings, including public and private schools, libraries, museums and other institutions, the workplace, the community, and the home;
  6. The importance of education is increasing as new technologies and alternative approaches to traditional education are considered, as society becomes more complex, and as equal opportunities in education and employment are promoted;
  7. There is a need for improvement in the management and coordination of Federal education programs to support more effectively State, local, and private institutions, students, and parents in carrying out their educational responsibilities;
  8. The dispersion of education programs across a large number of Federal agencies has led to fragmented, duplicative, and often inconsistent Federal policies relating to education;
  9. Presidential and public consideration of issues relating to Federal education programs is hindered by the present organizational position of education programs in the executive branch of the Government; and
  10. There is no single, full-time, Federal education official directly accountable to the President, the Congress, and the people (Public Law 96-88).

In addition to the growing federal presence in public schooling throughout the twentieth century, President Carter’s decision to create this department was largely a result of the support that he received during his 1976 presidential campaign from teachers, particularly the National Education Association. In return for their financial support and political canvassing, Carter agreed to pursue the creation of a federal Department of Education on their behalf. Carter’s decision also illustrates what can be viewed as the culmination of an evolving federal presence in education policy. By further nationalizing or centralizing authority over public education, the federal government could now go beyond a piecemeal approach and assert a larger federal presence in directing education policy. Following World War II, the national discourse related to schooling increasingly became connected to America’s competiveness in a global market, which justified a shift in federal-state relations over the goals of education. Finally, this new cabinet-level department, teachers soon realized, increasingly served as a means of carrying out a variety of ideological goals, including those deemed harmful by the teaching profession.

Federal Departments are Difficult to Eliminate, but they can become a Means to Pursue Ideological Goals

Just thirteen months after creating the new DOE, Carter lost his reelection to Ronald Reagan. President Reagan’s election to the White House marked the beginning of a new conservative era in American politics. Having experienced the upheavals of the 1960s, the war in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, the recent oil embargo and Iranian hostage crisis, Americans were persuaded that Reagan could restore stability in America. “Economic problems heightened the appeal of lower taxes, reduced government regulation, and cuts in social spending to spur business investment,” according to Foner (2012, 1025). Reagan won just under fifty-one percent of the popular vote, but he enjoyed an Electoral College landslide of 489 votes to Carter’s 49. The turmoil of the previous two decades made President Reagan’s anti-government campaign slogans look appealing to many voters, and one of the goals he pursued was the abolishment of the federal Department of Education. While he was unsuccessful in abolishing the Department, Reagan found ways to utilize it for his own ideological purposes.

Reagan’s Largest Coalitions: Neo-Liberals and Neo-Conservatives

President Reagan’s base included two large groups who were interested in privatizing public education for different reasons. For example, neo-liberals consisted of a coalition of free-market advocates who supported replacing public control over schools with private, for-profit management. The assumptions of this group included the idea that subjecting public schools to the “laws” of the market would result in greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and their ability to increase academic achievement. It is not just schools that neo-liberals want to privatize; they desire to transfer a number of public functions over to the private sector and since the 1980s, they have done this in a number of areas. Sometimes referred to paradoxically as libertarian conservatives, this group emerged during the 1950s and expressed opposition toward and the intentions of abolishing New Deal social programs. Indeed, they looked upon Johnson’s Great Society programs similarly. They were opposed to “big” government, taxes, and regulation, and unions, and they saw political opportunities in Reagan’s election to the White House. As Foner asserts, “many businessmen who desired to pursue their economic fortunes…found intellectual reinforcement in the writings of the young economist Milton Friedman,” who “identified the free market as the necessary foundation for individual liberty.” Illustrating his libertarian ideology, Friedman advocated the “turning over to the private sector virtually all government functions and the repeal of minimum wage laws, the graduated income tax, and the Social Security System” (2012, 928-929). As will be shown later, Friedman’s thinking has dramatically impacted the contemporary neo-liberal movement to privatize public schools.

Neo-conservatives largely consisted of traditionalists and evangelicals. The traditionalists included “a group of intellectuals who charged that the 1960s had produced a decline in moral standards and respect for authority,” according to Foner. This group came “to believe that even well-intentioned government social programs did more harm than good.” They also sought to return America’s foreign policy to a focus on the Cold War. As Foner asserts, “conservative ‘think tanks’ created during the 1970s, like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, refined and spread these ideas” (2012, 1025-1026). Another neoconservative group, the Religious Right, consisted of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists who “were challenged by the secular and material concerns of American society,” as described by Foner. Despite declining membership in other Christian denominations, “evangelical Protestantism flourished,” according to Foner. “Some observers” of this period “spoke of a Third Great Awakening (like those of the 1740s and early nineteenth century).” Foner makes the following conclusions about the Religious Right:

Evangelical Christians had become more and more alienated from a culture that seemed to them to trivialize religion and promote immorality. They demanded the reversal of Supreme Court decisions banning prayer in public schools, protecting pornography as free speech, and legalizing abortion. Although it spoke of restoring traditional values, the Religious Right proved remarkably adept at using modern technology, including mass mailings and televised religious programming, to raise funds for their crusade and spread their message. In 1979, Jerry Falwell, a Virginia minister, created the self-styled Moral Majority, devoted to waging a ‘war against sin’ and electing ‘pro-life, pro-family, pro-America’ candidates to office. Falwell identified supporters of abortion rights, easy divorce, and ‘military unpreparedness’ as the forces of Satan, who sought to undermine God’s ‘special plans for this great, free country of ours’” (2012, 1026).

Several examples help explain this view. First, while America has always been a diverse country, it was not until the 1950s that America came face-to-face with its diversity, which started to be recognized in mainstream media, political policies, and in schooling. In other words, Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Movement hurled issues onto the national scene that were previously suppressed. Desegregation and integration of schools, along with busing issues, and the abolishment of Jim Crow laws throughout the South opened up new opportunities for minorities. While African Americans largely identified themselves as Christians, the Civil Rights Movement ruptured the myth of American exceptionalism, the ideas of which were based on dominant White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture. In other words, WASP culture had always been the equated with what it meant to be “American.”

Second, the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision in Engel v. Vitale is especially important in understanding the subsequent Religious Right’s. The Court ruled in this case that directed prayer in public schools is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the state (public schools and their employees) from endorsing or favoring religion. When a state policy or regulation directs its public school teachers to lead classes in prayer, including nondenominational, voluntary prayers, these policies at the very least present the perception that government is endorsing religion. Indeed, the constitutional principle supporting the separation of church and state was not new. However, throughout much of our history, the moral values taught in the public schools were often based on or connected to Protestant Christianity. Moreover, it was not until 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education that the Court made the separation of church and state applicable to the states through a jurisprudential process known as incorporation. Prior to incorporation, the separation of church and state doctrine applied only to the federal government. In Engel v. Vitale, the Court endorsed this doctrine as it applied to public schools. While children have always been able to pray in schools, so long as doing so does not interfere with the learning environment, the Religious Right expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the Court’s decision in Engel and claimed that God was being taken out of America’s public schools. The Supreme Court did not view this decision as harmful to religious rights, which they considered to be protected by the Constitution. Rather, they viewed the separation of church and state much like the Founders did, which is to say that separation is intended to protect religious freedoms from government intrusion.

Third, regarding pornography and obscenities, these forms of free expression, while they do not enjoy absolute constitutional protection, provide examples of how the principles of liberty and a society’s moral values can clash. After the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the Court expanded protections for pornography as free speech or expression. Of course, what feeds this controversy is that pornography and obscenity are subjective; what one considers acceptable or unacceptable varies over time and among individuals. The Court often finds itself trying to balance liberty with community standards, which are often in flux. Nevertheless, the Court’s broadening protections for pornography convinced leaders of the Religious Right that America was becoming licentious. In addition, their anxieties were heightened by the Court’s 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which expanded constitutional protections for women seeking abortions. The Religious Right responded to this decision with moral outrage, and it provided them with another weapon in their arsenal of grievances and justified their becoming political active in their battle to redeem America’s moral compass.

Finally, because they viewed America as a moral superior in global affairs, they supported a strong military to enhance America’s (and Christianity’s) standing in the world. Not only should America spread democracy, it should also spread the values supported by the Religious Right. To Falwell and his followers, America and Christianity became virtually synonymous, and while the Religious Right would battle the sources of evil at home, it was acceptable to support military preparedness to fight evil abroad.

While both groups ideologies presented a paradox; namely, the merger of libertarian, free-market supporters with highly conservative moralists, they came together during the Reagan years in order to provide mutual support for these agendas. The desires of both groups were given a boost with the publication of the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk. This 71-page report, according to Elizabeth DeBray, “provided the political will to reform schools,” and the “Standards-Based Reform (SBR) [movement] provided the means to do it.” The Standards-Based Reform “emerged in response to… A Nation at Risk” and became “embodied” years later in the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” Act. While SBR had been around for several years as primarily a state issue, it “provided new theories about ‘systemic’ reform, which emphasized renewing academic focus in schools, holding teachers accountable for educational outcomes, measured by students’ academic achievement, and aligning teacher preparation wand pedagogical practice with content standards, curriculum, classroom practice, and performance standards” (2006, xi). Furthermore, A Nation at Risk was the creation of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a commission created by Reagan in 1981 and given the task of addressing the perceived problems of educational decline. According to Urban and Wagoner, “In a very real sense, the report was sensational. It peppered with references to the United States as a competitor in the new world economy. The rivals the report referred to were not the Communist nations, who had been the target of the post-Sputnik subject matter reform movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, but rather contemporary American political allies such as Japan, Korea, and Germany” (2009, 402).

Powers Not Delegated Yet ‘Necessary and Proper’?

Decades ago, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the popular phrase, “All politics is local,” with the implication that a congressperson’s actions were fundamentally understood through the lens of local constituent politics. This clearly remains true today; however, due in large part to the federal government’s growing participation in and authority over policy domains that were once considered primarily state and local responsibilities, many issues that were once local have become national in scope. Public schooling, for example, long a matter of local and state sovereignty, has transformed into a significant forte of national policy significance. It is true that states still exercise ultimate constitutional authority over education, but due to the federal government’s ability to impose funded and unfunded mandates (No Child Left Behind is significantly underfunded); the federal government has been able to significantly influence education policy over the past decade. Viewed as a fundamental component in maintaining global competiveness, public education has transcended traditional state boundaries, and it is now effectively an area of policy firmly rooted in the nadir of the federal government. Despite the fact that education is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, “so long as states accept federal funding, Congress can do pretty much as it pleases with education –even establish a national curriculum and a national exam,” as James Ryan has aptly concluded in his The Tenth Amendment and Other Paper Tigers (2004, 42). Because it is now perceived with greater magnitude by its being connected with globalization, education is no longer left solely to the caprice of state and local authorities. By supporting greater federal involvement in education including, but not limited to, placing conditions (or mandates) on receiving federal funds, states’ rights advocates have inadvertently strengthened decades of constitutional jurisprudence that favors federal power.

Peruse the Congressional Record leading up to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001 (renamed No Child Left Behind), and you will notice that the congressional debates are replete with hyperbolic language describing America’s education system as a disaster in search of a corresponding national response. The perception of imminent crisis is analogous to the hysteria following the launching of Sputnik in 1957. However, while the perception of crisis in the earlier case was used to legitimize federal funding for science and math programs in our nation’s public schools, perceptions that are more recent have warranted increased federal influence over curriculum and assessments while also opening the door to privatization. No Child Left Behind passed as a bi-partisan reauthorization. The vote totals, obtained by the House and Senate are illustrated by govtrack.us. The resulting votes are shown in the table below. Support for the bill was overwhelming, with 225 Republicans and 242 Democrats voting in favor of passage. The bill took less than one year to work out the differences between the two chambers, and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002.

House of Representatives (107th Congress)

Totals Republican Democrat Independent
Aye 381 (88%) 182 198 1
No 41 (9%) 33 6 2
Not Voting 12 (3%) 5 7 0
Required Simple Majority [original] source: house.gov

Table – Senate (107th Congress)

Totals Republican Democrat Independent
Aye 87 (87%) 43 44 0
No 10 (10%) 6 3 1
Not Voting 3 (3%) 1 2 0
Required Simple Majority [original] source: senate.gov

Developing the perception that America’s schools were in crisis, A Nation at Risk justified a top-down, punitive approach to school reform. This approach included holding schools, teachers, and students accountable for passing a plethora of standardized tests given annually in math and reading in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. The law also requires states to test English language learners for oral, written, and reading proficiency in English each year. By specifically tying federal funds to standardized assessments, standardized curricula, and accountability measures, along with requiring states and state education agencies to devote extraordinary resources toward fulfilling these mandates through oversight, America’s public schools are being governed by the federal government like never before.

This latest response to our educational “crisis” illustrates what has become a century-old pattern of relying on our public schools to solve a myriad of social and economic problems. As William Reese has argued, “schools have become multipurpose institutions, which is why they are so easy to criticize and forever in need of reform” (2007, 217). However, unlike many of the reforms advocated throughout the history of American schooling, the newest reform serves to undermine our public school systems. While preparing students for the workforce has always been an expectation of public schools, the latest crisis is significantly framed by globalization and privatization discourse, i.e., competition, consumer choice, commodification, outsourcing, and efficiency.

Indeed, public schools have always been expected to prepare students for the workforce. Nevertheless, contemporary goals focusing on preparing children to compete globally are significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which include the evolving nationalization of our public schools and the simultaneous loss of local authority and discretion over fundamental matters related to student learning. The discourse and the educational reforms that have evolved from it illustrate the underlying belief that, if the U.S. is going to maintain economic superiority, public schooling must become a national responsibility designed to meet the edicts of federal lawmakers whose objectives are significantly driven (and influenced) by economic interests that transcend parochial state and local governance. The further schooling moves in this direction, the more blurred our focus becomes on the individual abilities of students. This penchant for increased centralization of public schooling is not only driven by economic interests, it is also preventing teachers from exercising their professional judgment and informed discretion when deciding what is educationally best for their students. In other words, the professionals who work with and know significantly much more about their students’ learning abilities and the educational challenges they face, are feeling defeated by and alienated from the a teaching profession that is becoming more and more standardized and scripted.

Informed by recent scholarship we now have a better understanding of the harmful consequences of policies like No Child Left Behind, including the acute focus on standardized testing and teaching to the test, uniform curricula that have little or no connection to an increasingly diverse student population, and the punitive nature of the law on students, teachers, and administrators. What is often lost in our national discourse is a deeper and fundamentally relevant issue –our need to more fully understand the complexity of learning and the circumstances under which learning occurs including, but not limited to, individual student development and learning styles, student-teacher relationships, innovative teaching methods, how to foster student creativity and imagination, and how classroom and school environments can facilitate learning with these considerations in mind. Not only do we need to reverse the trend of standardization, centralization, and top-down mandates, many have argued that we must empower teachers by giving them the professional space they need to respond to the distinct educational needs and learning styles of their students.

How Contemporary Federal Involvement in Public Education is Different

Reflecting on the nature of federalism in 1969, political scientist Daniel Elazar aptly concluded that in federal systems of government, “crisis compels centralization” (1969, 51). Particularly since the Great Depression, we have increasingly looked to or relied upon the federal government to address problems states could not solve or refused to solve. Due in part to the Constitution’s interpretive malleability, federal involvement in state and local matters has rarely resulted from inviolable constitutional authority, but has more often been the outcome of intergovernmental politics. Historically, the federal government’s involvement in education has been oblique and infrequent, yet always present. Federal involvement in education during the late eighteenth century was generally limited to token encouragement expressed in land ordinances and grants of federal lands. During the nineteenth century, direct federal involvement emerged at the end of the Civil War in the temporary creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau and subsequent federal funding of agricultural and mechanical colleges with the passage of the Morrill Acts. Aside from a few other intermittent federal policies, including funding for vocational education in the early twentieth century, temporary New Deal educational programs, and funding for school lunches during Truman’s Administration, it wasn’t until the passage of the 1958 Defense of Education Act and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act that we witnessed sweeping federal responses that provided federal funds to public schools. This new massive federal funding resulted in a transformation of authority over public schooling. However, even these legislative reforms essentially preserved states’ constitutional authority and responsibility over public education. As Patrick McGuinn asserts, “The policy image at the heart of the ESEA regime continued to view public education as the appropriate domain of states and localities and to accept that public schools, on the whole, were functioning well.” Notwithstanding this new federal role, which remained circumscribed by “ensuring procedural compliance with [ESEA’s] equity programs” (2005, 48), the legislation clearly established an important precedent related to federal funding for public education, not to mention the public’s considerably higher expectations of our national government’s ability to solve education problems at the local level by equalizing funding. While opposition to these substantial legislative measures existed, the issue of federal funding for education remained largely bipartisan and supportive of the long-standing idea that education should remain a public responsibility (Guthrie, 1968, 306). States and local school districts continued to exercise considerable discretion over curriculum, assessments, and teacher certification.

Despite signs that achievement gaps were improving during the 1980s (Tyack and Cuban, 1995, 28), increased political partisanship in Washington during Reagan’s administration resulted in a new political coalition with education reform on its agenda. As Berliner and Biddle have shown, the report contributed to the perception that American schools were in crisis. Moreover, the authors of the report, who were primarily from the corporate world declared, “American students never excelled in international comparisons of student achievement and that this failure reflected systematic weaknesses in our schools and lack of talent and motivation among American educators.” After it was discovered that most of the report’s claims were uncorroborated “or appeared in the form of simplistic, misleading generalizations,” it became clear that A Nation at Risk served as a pretense for a larger political agenda intended to discredit public schools and their teachers. For several years thereafter, the perception of crisis continued to be fed, and “it is small wonder,” according to Berliner and Biddle, “that many Americans have come to believe that education in our country is…in a deplorable state” (1995, 3). According to Madaus and others, “the authors of A Nation at Risk built…a façade using correlations between the test scores of recent graduates and indices of productivity to connect education to an alleged loss of competitiveness” (2009, 25). Seen in this light, the passage of A Nation at Risk was not only irresponsible, but also it undermined the public’s confidence in America’s schools. The report generated a perception of crisis that justified federal involvement once again, but this time groups who had an interest in privatizing public schools were empowered to move ahead. Privatization was popular among neoliberals who hoped to remove government control over schools while increasing government subsidies for corporate control and replace them with for-profit investments. Privatization was popular among neoconservatives who sought to use government vouchers and school choice plans to increase enrollments in private religious schools.

Additional research obtained from Gallop polling has helped explain why “crisis” campaigns contribute to the public’s negative opinions about schooling broadly while a majority of individuals view their own public schools positively. According to Tyack and Cuban, public polls have shown that, “parents who have children in public school tend to rate public education much more highly than the average respondent, and furthermore, that those polled have a higher opinion of local schools than they do of schools in general” (1995, 31). What this tells us, according to Tyack and Cuban, is that the public has expressed “growing cynicism about institutions in general.” This variation represents a rational response if we consider the broader pessimism about schooling generated by politicians and by mainstream media (1995, 30). The Gallop Poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappan in 2010 confirms this pattern (Bushaw and Lopez, 13-14). Indeed, some schools are in crisis. Just read Jonathan Kozol’s Shame of the Nation, among other works, to understand this fact. However, it is also important to understand how crises are publically constructed and selectively utilized for agenda setting (as the hysteria over the launching of Sputnik revealed.

The Growing Congressional Consensus Around No Child Left Behind

Elizabeth DeBray has shown how an unusual patchwork of interest groups and congressional Democrats and Republicans contributed to the eventual passage of No Child Left Behind (2006, 10, 125). Interestingly, supporters of the law included Republicans who heretofore favored eliminating the federal Department of Education. Despite the neo-liberal penchant for small government, it is noteworthy that the implementation of NCLB went well beyond the goal of funding equalization established in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Not only did it preserve federal funding of public education, but it also mandated for the first time standardized state assessments and curricula, while imposing punitive consequences on schools that failed to show measured improvement, otherwise known as annual yearly progress. Realizing that they lacked enough support to dismantle the federal Department of Education, and because enough Democrats were willing to concede to greater accountability measures, the Republican majority in Congress was not insensitive to the fact that having increased the power of the Department of Education they could work from within to exact greater influence over education policy. Republicans John Boehner in the House and Judd Gregg in the Senate, for instance, were not aloof to the fact that NCLB augmented their ability to privatize public schools (DeBray, 2006, 96). Based on the negotiations over NCLB neoconservatives were placated by the expectation that they would have greater influence over curricula (Bartlett, et al, 2002, 6) not to mention the likely benefit of public funds going to private religious schools. Republican supporters of NCLB, aware that they could not garner enough support to fund private school vouchers outright, were successful in “getting supplemental services in place” that included among its options, services provided by private, faith-based, and for-profit tutoring services when public schools failed to meet the law’s mandates related to annual yearly progress. This opened up the possibility for additional “privatization measures in future reauthorizations,” according to DeBray (2006, 96).

Since global competitiveness transcends competing ideological agendas today, perhaps we should not be surprised that the same centralizing predilections mentioned by Elazar above have been applied to or imposed upon America’s public schools as they are increasingly viewed by politicians and the media as reaching near calamity in their failure to keep America competitive. Moreover, while Elazar’s research focused on the expansion of and rationalization for increased federal power during times of adversity, recent politics reveal a relatively new paradox: the expansion of a federal role in education policy, including greater control over curriculum and assessments and a simultaneous de-legitimization of education as a public responsibility. In other words, the scope of federal power has now extended beyond funding education in the pursuit of equality by its adoption of “a top-down, one-size-fits-all federal reform” (DeBray, 2006, 102) approach, while also establishing a pretext for privatizing public schools. The privatization discourse prevalent in American politics emerged during the 1980s and has subsequently gained strength. Due to the political nature of passing No Child Left Behind, a set of disparate actions, or perhaps ambiguities, were set into motion: the law clearly centralized (and increasingly nationalizes) education policy in the U.S. by imposing federal mandates on states to implement standardized curricula and assessments while privatizing many supplemental education services. In fact, this appears to be a burgeoning development among a variety of policy areas set into motion during the 1980s and institutionalized during the mid-1990s. In other words, since critics of federal programs have discovered that it is extremely difficult to acquire enough political support to end national programs that provide a variety of social benefits to a broad-based constituency, they have implemented legislative reforms from within in hopes of nullifying program missions and setting them up for failure, justifying subsequent attempts to privatize “failing” schools. Understanding the political conflict surrounding the development of No Child Left Behind gives new meaning to what Morris Fiorina once asserted in his analysis of Congress: “Public policy emerges from the system almost as an afterthought. The shape of policy is a by-product of the way the system operates, rather than a consciously directed effort to deal with social and economic problems” (Fiorina, 1989, 68). Today, there appears to be a broadly determined strategy that grew from the outset of a somewhat inchoate strategy to weaken the effectiveness of federal programs and more broadly today with public schools.

As Public Institutions that Infuse Knowledge, Schools Remain Sites of Political Conflict

Our public schools have always served as sites of moral, economic, political, religious and social conflict. Common schooling was born in conflict, and as a public institution, perhaps this conflict is inevitable. It should be no surprise then that contemporary debates over public education continue to reflect our deepest ideological differences. However, the current responses to public education reform are unique because they have resulted in the implementation of policies that undermine learning, teaching, the teaching profession, and the public nature of schooling. The results are often manifested in policies that reveal too little understanding of or appreciation for what best promotes genuine student learning. While educational improvements should always be a goal of any society, it is unfortunate that we increasingly look to our schools to solve so many of our social and economic problems. This has resulted in deflecting our attention away from many of the root causes of and appropriate responses to social problems that all too often result in misdirected approaches, ill-conceived policies, and band-aid approaches. Politicians have too often used the issue of public schooling and school reform to deflect responsibility in solving our broader problems, and they avoid blame for problems that are viewed as out of their control. For example, how often are federal officials held accountable by the electorate over problems that are attributed to public schools? If only teachers, administrators, and school boards would do what we expect of them, according to the political rhetoric, our global competitiveness, general wealth and happiness, graduation rates, academic advancement, comparative economic advantage, and achievement gaps would be resolved. Alternatively, we would go a long way in solving academic achievement and closing educational gaps by addressing the broader structural issues that institutionalize and perpetuate poverty and inequality. Increasing the number of families who enjoy greater socioeconomic status, for example, would significantly improve academic achievement. While many politicians are truly concerned about public education, blaming our public schools has become an electoral win-win situation for politicians as they increasingly divert their responsibility for solving the nation’s problems by blaming America’s schools. As Tyack and Cuban have elucidated in their historical study of school reform, the nation’s perception toward schooling often “shift[s]… from panacea to scapegoat” (1995, 14). It is much more electorally viable to blame schools for society’s problems and to campaign for reforms that often end up being little more than band-aid approaches to complex problems.

The politicization of public school reform at the national level has resulted in schooling being viewed as a monolithically flawed enterprise pivoting on the verge of collapse, a vast crisis in need of momentous reform. Again, serious problems do exist, but what is often lost in the national rhetoric is that our education problems vary immensely in their local complexity. In other words, the perception often shaped by our national discourse over public education oversimplifies the complexity of problems that should more often be approached by teachers and school officials who have developed a better understanding of the unique needs of their students, their communities, and their schools. While schools face similar problems, what is equally true is that problems related to academic achievement can be best addressed in ways that are exclusively and more appropriately handled within local contexts for purposes of addressing the educational needs of individual students. Addressing problems experienced in schools is much different from addressing unemployment or inflation.

A response that focuses solely on standardized testing cannot only be emasculating to students and teachers, but it also thwarts our ability to better understand that which is most uniquely human: the complexity of cognition, imagination, emotion, creativity, and student understanding. These phenomena are best understood through the constantly developing social interactions among teachers and students.

An important federal role in education is easily justified when that role is focused on issues of funding, equity, and the protection of constitutional rights and liberties. These issues clearly affect learning, but they are nonetheless external from or only indirectly related to student cognition and learning. Understanding these specific policymaking roles has been lost in the morass of federal, state, and local policies and regulations that all too often serve as a patchwork of incremental reforms addressing parochial problems superficially and uniformly with little or no effect, or in some cases, making problems worse. Much of what contributes to educational problems in my opinion is a result of our repeated failure to ask the right questions, often resulting in an array of irresponsible and ineffective reforms. Why would we think that we could improve student learning by relying extensively on standardized tests that tell us little more than the factual information students have memorized or how well they have learned test-taking strategies? Uniform curricula produced generically without knowledge of the cultural, socio-economic, and intellectual variety present in most classrooms will not contribute to substantive learning. Those who are responsible for these reforms assume that all children learn uniformly without regard to their socio-cultural complexity. Policymakers fail to recognize or choose to ignore that learning is multifaceted and often difficult to discern. Richard Rothstein’s research confirms this by asserting that, rather than comparing the test scores of black and white students to determine an achievement gap, for example, it is more accurate to use “criterion-referenced terms” by focusing on the level of “proficiency” experienced within each group. In his thorough analysis, Rothstein explicates the conclusions made in the Colman report; namely, “the economic, educational, and cultural characteristics of families have powerful effects on learning, effects that even great schools cannot obliterate, on average.” Comparative analyses used to evaluate assessments are often fraught with problems since they are often unable to account for the multiple and complex ways that learning occurs (Rothstein, 2004, 14-17, 37-47).

However, beyond comparative analysis of achievement gaps and criterion-referenced assessments, Rothstein’s more fundamental point is related to how social, cultural, and class differences among children more acutely influence their academic achievement or lack thereof. These issues go beyond the comparison of groups and should include a focus on understanding individual students who are distinctly situated. Rothstein’s analysis includes what most of us would consider as rather simple assumptions related to underachievement, but nonetheless tend to be ignored in our national discourse about schooling. He reminds us that it is important to understand the difficulties children may have as a result of vision and hearing problems that often go undetected in children from poorer backgrounds, as well as a lack of dental care, higher exposure to lead paint, higher instances of asthma, lack of pediatric care and sufficient nutrition, as well as the effects of experiencing frequent transiency, and the multiple ways in which children’s homes function (or fail to function) and respond to educational development (Rothstein, 2004, 15-17, 37-47, and Lederman, 2006, 429-431). How are standardized assessments and retaliatory consequences for “failure” on a standardized test going to address these structural, cultural, and family variations? Having witnessed the damaging effects of No Child Left Behind over the past eight years, Diane Ravitch, a long-time supporter of the kinds of reforms that led to the law’s passage and implementation, now identifies NCLB as “a system of institutionalized fraud.” Moreover, the situation is only becoming worse under President Obama’s administration since he is contributing to rather than withdrawing from NCLB. The purposes behind “Race-to-the-Top” only exacerbate existing problems that are “antithetical to the fundamental idea of American education,” according to Ravitch (Gonzalez and Goodman, 2010).

The most problematic nature of NCLB is its supporters’ assumption that uniformity, standardization, centralization, and punitive measures can compel learning and decrease achievement gaps. Conjecture by federal policymakers that all children learn uniformly in all respects reveals a lack of understanding of the complexity of the learning process and the various demographic differences among children in a diverse society, including cultural, language, and ability differences. To conclude that all children learn alike and are best served by uniform tests is faulty and outright perilous. Reflecting on these emerging trends in 1995, Linda Darling-Hammond declared that our understanding of American schooling “requires a paradigm shift.” She reasoned that the time had come for us to consider restructuring our public schools from hierarchical, factory model institutions where teachers, treated as semi-skilled assembly line workers, process students for their slots in society, to professional communities where student success is supported by the collaborative efforts of knowledgeable teachers who are organized to address the needs of diverse learners. Today’s schools were designed when the goal of education was not to educate all students well but to process a great many efficiently (Darling-Hammond, 1995, 153). No Child Left Behind has exasperated the social efficiency model described by Darling-Hammond.

Despite the advice to decentralize control over schooling and to engender schools that are more personable and learning experiences for students, Congress adopted a cursory approach in 2002 by institutionalizing new federal mandates for standardized assessments, curricula, and abrasive accountability measures. One of the consequences of NCLB appear to signify a novel approach intended to assimilate an increasingly diverse society into adopting a marketization paradigm for education –a renewed interest in and a new approach to strengthening an already powerful and deeply-rooted cultural ethos. Policies like NCLB have relegated virtually every educational problem to a concern for national economic competitiveness. Interpreting problems in this manner often result in narrowly tailored and ineffective remedies because they create an undercurrent of reform driven by a single stream that eschews the multiple tributaries that otherwise become desiccated.

Demanding Uniformity in an Individualistic and Pluralistic Culture: Testing as an End in Itself Diminishes Democratic Forms of Education

Despite the fact that public education was never intended to be democratic, the term democracy is frequently used by educational scholars today, particularly within social foundations programs. What is often meant by democratic education is analogous to developing existential forms of active and engaging education, including educational experiences that contribute to one’s intellectual growth and democratic well-being; actualizing students’ potential by empowering them from within. What I have in mind is very similar to what Amy Gutmann refers to as “cultivating democratic virtues” in students and developing intrinsic appetites to function democratically outside the classroom and beyond graduation (Gutmann, 1987, 303). In a multicultural society, we have increasingly adopted the idea in academia that, in order for us to reach our democratic ideals outside schools we must develop democratic virtues and democratically fulfilling experiences for students in our schools with the hope that they can accentuate constructive forms of democratic citizenship as adults. In addition, if democracy is a goal of education, we must respect diversity by acknowledging that equity can only be realized contextually rather than demanding uniformity. This relatively modern understanding of education illustrates a schism between many academicians and policy makers over the incompatible purposes and often conflicting expectations they have for our schools.

Undoubtedly, from the moment common schools materialized in the nineteenth century we have habitually viewed schools as social institutions responsible for tempering our individualistic culture and its diverse inhabitants. Rather than celebrating our ethnically rich diversity and the equally valuable contributions that have resulted from this diversity, we have routinely utilized our schools to cultivate a narrowly defined standard image of what it meant or means to be an American. This tendency toward uniformity is not only undemocratic, but it is also “untenable from any moral and political perspective that would treat individuals as civic equals,” as Amy Gutmann asserts in her criticism of traditional curricula that failed to recognize the contributions of individuals who were not part of the dominant group (Gutmann, 1987, 303). The tendency to construct a standard conception of citizenship from an otherwise diverse society began nearly two centuries ago when the Whigs, described by Daniel Howe as “redeemers of society,” (1979, 35) viewed it as their moral obligation to establish common schools, effectively responding to the democratizing forces under way during the Jacksonian period. Assimilation has since been the goal of common schooling and the metaphorical melting pot was the anticipated consequence. Beyond the movement toward nationalization of education, little has changed as we continue to pursue new assimilatory reforms imposed by distant policymakers who view students as an amalgamated mass ready to be processed.

Just days after President Bush signed NCLB into law an aide to Senator Patty Murray of Washington explained the Senator’s apprehension over the law’s excessive testing requirements: “You’re really focusing on something other than teaching and learning, and [testing] not only becomes a measure, it becomes an end in itself” (DeBray, 2006, 100). Just over a year after the law’s implementation, the National Academy of Sciences President, Bruce Alberts, clearly understood the politics behind standardized testing when he opined, “Everyone wants accountability but it’s easier to test for facts than understanding” (Wood, 2004, 41). Madaus accurately described the past decade by asserting that testing “is now woven into the fabric of our nation’s culture and psyche,” which is evidenced by the fact that even “the valuation of homes in a community can increase or decrease based on these rankings” (2009, 4-5). Standardized testing is contributing to a false sense of achievement where it is assumed to exist, and it is focusing on the process of schooling over substantive learning.

Over the past decade, a number of research studies have emerged focusing on the negative consequences of relying extensively on standardized testing resulting in what has become a new cliché: “teaching to the test.” With “nearly 30 million students” required to “take a minimum of sixteen state tests before graduating…kindergarten,” according to Madaus (1) is it no wonder that teachers are spending most of their time preparing students for those tests? Standardized tests come with numerous problems including, but not limited to, their reliability, their limits in telling us what students learn, and the ethical dilemmas they create when they become the principal instruments used to determine students’ future opportunities.

While acknowledging their limited utility, standardized assessments provide us with extremely limited information about what students learn. Nichols and Berliner describe these tests as “one-dimensional” in their “assessment of learning,” and isolated “from the curriculum.” Furthermore, this kind of assessment “drives…teaching,” and it “is inauthentic [and] context independent,” and “inflexible.” They differentiate this “summative” approach to testing with a “formative” approach described as “multidimensional [and] integrated into the curriculum,” providing a more “authentic…context [that is] embedded [and] flexible.” The former approach is used as an “assessment of learning,” while the latter approach is used as an “assessment for learning” (their emphasis). They cite an explanation of formative assessment by Paul Black that is worth excerpting here. Formative assessment is not designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence. An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback, by teachers, and by their pupils in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs (Nichols and Berliner, 2007, 184-188, and Black et al, 2002).

The primary purpose of any kind of assessment is to provide substantive feedback to teachers and students, not in retaliatory ways that are often counter-intuitive, but as information that can be judiciously maximized by those who are engaged in the genuine development of learning. Not only is it important for us to understand student learning comprehensively, but also it is important to provide teachers with the holistic information they need to appropriately respond to the unique learning styles of their students. Primary focus on standardized test scores limits our ability to discern students’ broader knowledge and understanding or the educational challenges they face. Tests that ask only factual information institutionalize an educational process that is superficial, expressionless, intellectually illegitimate, and unethical. Reactionary approaches to student learning that rely on punishments and rewards to effect performance are akin to relying on so-called objective methods used in the natural sciences to understand human behavior. Students’ intellectual development is undetermined during their school years as standardized tests situate them as objects to be acted upon, manipulated, and sorted.

George Wood, a former principal and director of The Forum for Education and Democracy, directs our attention to “the fallacy of confusing measuring our schools with improving them.” For instance, according to Wood, “the goal has become simply higher test scores, with no evidence that these scores translate into post-school success.” Rather, “there is abundant reason to believe that the skills needed to do well on these tests at best reflect a shallow kind of learning and at worst indicate only a better ability to take tests” (35). This begs the question: if we are truly concerned about student learning, why are we relying significantly on standardized tests and disregarding greater focus on multiple forms of assessment that can help us identify a variety of intelligences? Should efficiency and the ability to repeat facts on a test be given priority over respecting the complexity of human understanding? “Real standards,” according to Deborah Meier, “depend…on the exercise of…judgment” while acknowledging its “fallibility.” Part of being a professional requires enjoying the space necessary to make informed decisions, often in collaboration with colleagues, while also realizing that those decisions may be mistaken. When mistakes in judgment occur or misinterpretation takes place, the response should not be to eliminate the ability to exercise discretion, but to facilitate the opportunity for professionals to learn from their own mistakes or misinterpretations, which contributes to their becoming skilled in their profession. Like learning, teaching is always developing; it is never realized once and for all. Teaching is a practice that must respond to and interact with a constantly changing backdrop of inimitable and continuously developing learners. Policies like No Child Left Behind redefine teaching by diminishing its innovative potential and turn it into a sterile, bureaucratic, and unfulfilling process fine-tuned for test-taking efficiency. Teaching is being streamlined from the top-down because policymakers mistakenly assume that learning and achievement can be mass-produced. “Our knowledge of what to listen for and how to recognize the array of misunderstandings that might lie behind a child’s errors,” according to Meier, “calls for interpretation that is informed by trained judgment.” The formidable art of “good teaching,” she adds, “begins when we can answer the questions our students are really trying to ask us, if only they knew how to do so” (Meier, 2002, 197). Likewise, Berliner and Biddle support “bottom-up strategies” that invest teachers and students in education. Why inhibit the ability of professionals to make thoughtful and intelligent decisions regarding the students who they interact with on a daily basis? By decentralizing decision-making, “school improvement becomes a continuing process, not a one-time attempt to boost test scores…” By respecting and trusting their capacities to respond to students’ individualized needs and interests, teachers “feel empowered, and responsible [and] high-quality leadership can develop” (1995, 338).

In a society experiencing greater diversity, it is more important than ever to realize how culture plays a significant role in shaping children’s school experiences, making standardized assessments all the more problematic as they tend to be culturally biased. Therefore, relying on standardized assessments in making conclusions about student achievement (or lack of achievement) make it all the more difficult for teachers to respond appropriately to the unique learning styles and cognitive abilities of their students. Rote memorization and test preparation skills can easily inhibit creativity and imagination, not to mention the fact that this kind of educational focus is teacher-centered, less dynamic, and assimilatory.

Prepackaged curricula and standardized testing runs counter to current research being conducted in educational neuroscience. For example, according to Hinton and others, “Contemporary researchers agree that human development involves a dynamic interplay of nature and nurture” as students “are both shaped by and shaping our environment.” Teaching to the test denies minority students, as well as those in the dominant group, a more active role in shaping the larger culture. Standardized assessments contribute to rote and drill learning that impose identical learning experiences and uniform expectations for students as they conform to standard methods of test preparation and memorization of facts. In order for students to shape their culture they require space for novelty, room to exercise their imaginations and opportunities to make use of their creative capacities; otherwise, they become hostage to an educational system that is concerned more about the process of transmitting a narrowly-defined culture set of cultural facts rather than a challenging and substantive commitment to critical normative analysis and meaningful understanding. Therefore, the focus in education should rely less on test scores and more on cognitive understanding and the role culture plays in that process. As students interact with their environment, according to Hinton and others, “these experiences actually shape the physical structure of the brain,” highlighting the developmental quality of learning” through interactions. “Skill theory,” according to Hinton, “underscores the need for dynamic developmental approaches in the study of learning [and] recognizes that proficiency can be reached through multiple developmental pathways.” Furthermore, “since abilities develop over time, school should focus on the process of learning rather than on performance.” Advocates of standardized assessments too often assume a simple linear route from ignorance to understanding when that path is realistically much more circuitous. Multiple factors contribute to learning (or the lack of learning) that cannot be gleaned from standardized tests. “A school culture focused on nurturing learning rather than judging performance,” according to Hinton, will be much more responsive to the incredibly complex nature of learning that, “is shaped by a synergy of biology and experience,” as well as “emotions” and “language” (Hinton, Miyamoto, and Della-Chiesa, 2008, 87). As Berliner and Biddle have argued, many people still mistakenly assume that intelligence is relatively fixed at a young age. Taking this for granted contributed to the development of so-called cultural deprivation programs intended to develop cultural capital, which is important, but the positive effects of programs like Head Start often become lost in a sea of standardized assessments that begin in kindergarten and continue through high school. Intelligence is “quite dynamic and continues to be affected by environmental factors, particularly by access to high-quality schooling, according to Berliner and Biddle” (1995, 48).

Providing No Space for Multiple Intelligences Hinders Educational Opportunities

It is illustrative that an increase in the number of books and articles published by academicians focusing on caring, empathy, and aesthetics in education have proliferated over the past two decades. This trend appears to be a response to the nihilistic nature of school reform that began in the 1980s. The contemporary restructuring of our schools is driven primarily by the instrumental demands of the business community and its pursuit of global competitiveness, and the resulting emphasis on and correlation of testing data with national economic growth and productivity has made schooling indifferent to students’ creative and imaginative potential. As classrooms turn into test preparation centers, we are diminishing the space students need to realize their creative interests and abilities. Classrooms and teaching are becoming more regimented. Not only are we preventing educators from augmenting the art of teaching, we are also structurally reforming schools in ways that inhibit our ability to recognize the imaginative capacities of students. As Gradgrind often asserts in Charles Dickens’s novel, Hard Times, “What I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else” (Dickens, 2001, 1). We are denying educational experiences that could significantly contribute to students’ intellectual growth. The process of schooling increasingly obscures intellectual growth and educational well-being, and teaching is becoming anesthetized while learning is increasingly stultified and instrumentally driven. The focus on testing and teaching to the test leaves fewer opportunities to recognize, let alone focus on, students’ multiple intelligences, which are more likely to be understood through multiple methods of teaching and assessment.

In addition, we are doing students a disservice when we allow courses that are not part of the high-stakes regiment to be dropped from the curriculum. This minimizes opportunities for students to acquire greater intellectual depth and breadth. Since schools, teachers, and students are working under threat of punishment, there is little incentive for schools to offer the kinds of courses that enhance intellectual curiosity, creative thinking and critical analysis. Rather than liberating our students intellectually, we have forced them to succumb to a set of educational reforms that objectify learning and position education as a mere means to an end while thwarting their comprehensive abilities. Thus, a high school diploma is less likely today to signify a student’s creative potential than to reflect his or her ability to take standardized tests. What I have asserted elsewhere appears to be applicable to our contemporary focus on standardization; namely, “difference is suppressed in favor of uniformity and novelty is diminished in favor of predictability” (Dotts, 2005, 307).

As opposed to standardized, high-stakes testing, formative assessments are much more effective in helping teachers “identify learning needs, giving feedback, and tailoring teaching strategies to meet student needs,” according to Hinton and others. “It promotes higher levels of student achievement and greater equity of student outcomes.” Standardized assessments, on the other hand, provide little feedback that can be utilized by teachers in addressing students’ academic challenges. “Formative assessment can support students’ sense of competence because it provides scaffolding throughout the learning process that promotes success” (Hinton, Miyamoto, and Della-Chiesa, 2008, 92). Formative assessments are advantageous to students and teachers because they substantively contribute to learning, understanding, and the identification of unique problems. The extensive use of standardized tests illustrates a lack of appreciation for the complex nature of teaching and learning.

Let Us Not Forget the Purpose of Educators

There is no doubt that a perfect test would alleviate the complex nature of learning. As Deborah Meier asserts, our focus on testing is driven by the following assumptions among policymakers: “The more objective the ‘standards,’ the more distant and scientific the results; the more universal the population tested, the less negotiable the consequences and the less room for argument, excuses, flexibility, bias, and compromise.” If only we could reach a point, Meier sarcastically explains, where schooling could be “more like the merciless but efficient and effective market-place –with test scores standing in for the bottom line” Meier, 2002, 191). As if we expect Adam Smith’s invisible hand to somehow play an important role in the competition for knowledge, we increasingly extract from the learning process the social component developed by student-teacher and student-student interaction other than what is instrumentally necessary to obtain the end goal; namely, the productive output identified on standard assessments.

Even if our primary goal is focused on remaining globally competitive, we must question educational reforms that diminish the potential for creative learning environments. Teachers and students must be given extensive opportunities to enhance individualized learning and assessments of that learning that can best be developed and implemented by teachers exercising their professional discretion applicable to their students. According to Boote, “Professional discretion…is descriptive and normative, individual and social.” It is considered “adequate…when [a] teacher has the ability to make professional judgments and the capacity to act on those judgments.” Indeed, this requires us to develop “policies that best support their work” (Boote, 2006, 461-478). As professionals who have devoted a number of years training to be effective teachers, it is to our own detriment as a society if we do not utilize the expertise they bring to classrooms. Ignoring the important social relationships that must develop among students and their teachers “has frightful side effects,” according to Meier. “For the young to be adrift in a world in which those who know them best are told that they do not know them at all undermines what growing up most requires: faith in adults and respect for their expertise.” As Meier further asserts, what is most troubling, “is that in the name of objectivity and science –two worthy ideas –the testing enterprise has led teachers and parents to distrust their own ability to see and observe their own children. In fact, objectivity and science start with such observation” (Meier, 2002, 198). Standardized tests are objective in the sense that every student has the same opportunity to take the same tests, but do we really want to focus on “objectivity” if our goals include improving academic achievement? Trying to maintain objectivity is insensitive to the unique capacities of students and it reduces teaching to a mere supervisory role intended to guarantee the functionality of the test-taking apparatus.

The Existing Privatization Network

Educational Management Organizations

A variety of privatization schemes have been advanced over the past several decades, which rests generally on the idea that the best way to improve academic achievement is to subject schooling to the free market (Friedman, 1962). However, since the public has consistently exhibited a high level of support for public schools, privatization advocates since Friedman realized that they needed to develop a new strategy: to work within (rather than from without) the existing institutional structure of public schooling in order to advance their goals, in my opinion. While this strategy preserves the ultimate authority governments exercise over public school systems, it drastically diminishes public control over schools. In other words, governments continue to fund schools, but they relinquish much of their oversight to private companies based on the argument that the latter can more effectively and efficiently deliver educational services. (Chubb and Moe, 1990) Neoliberals tend to frame their ideas within a market ideology by publically emphasizing freedom and choice while shrouding profitmaking motives. Whether school choice, vouchers, or other configuration, neoliberal reforms are often presented as the freedom to experiment in order to improve schools. However, research studies have shown that the academic performance of students in charter schools operated by for-profit and non-profit educational management organizations (EMOs) is similar to the academic results in traditional public schools. For example, according to its 2010-2011 annual report, the National Education Policy Center “estimated that only 52 percent of all public schools…in the U.S. met AYP,” compared to “51.4 percent of for-profit EMOs and 56.4 percent of non-profit EMOs” respectively. This data also shows that 27.4 percent of online schools managed by EMOs met AYP. (Miron et al 2012, ii-iv, 21-22)

What the supporters of privatization often overlook and what tends to be lost in the extant literature on privatization is the extent to which the business community has shaped public schooling since the end of the nineteenth century, and they rarely if ever point to the number of problems that have been engendered as a result of this influence. For instance, philanthropists and northern industrialists were extremely influential in maintaining segregated education in the South following the Civil War, and at the turn of the twentieth century, administrative progressives were successful in transferring many of the techniques of production and efficiency to their consolidation of urban schools districts. In fact, the school reforms during the first half-of the twentieth century paralleled business practices to such an extent that it has long been referred to by educational historians as the age of scientific management and social efficiency (Tyack and Cuban 1995; Kliebard 1995; and Spring 2014), and students increasingly referred to as human capital.

As part of the broader libertarian assault on government, neoconservative and neoliberal groups today are assailing public schools from within and from without. They are attempting to siphon students from public schools into private religious institutions through the use of vouchers and educational tax credits and into charter schools that are operated by educational management organizations (EMOs). EMOs operating public charter schools are often situated within the already existing institutional landscape and therefore, they can make profits (or fees) without having to invest the amount of capital that would otherwise be required in a completely new and separate startup school. Educational management organizations are private companies that contract with state and local governments in order to operate portions of (or entire) public charter schools. Nearly all state charter laws require that groups applying for charters be non-profit organizations. However, EMOs utilize the existing public school framework in order to obtain government subsidies (profits) through contracts signed by a charter’s governing board and the management company. The “non-profit” EMOs, however, charge a fee for operating charter schools, in essence maintaining a profit. These fees generally average between “10 to 15 percent of revenues,” according to Miron. (Miron 2007, 478) States still maintain ultimate authority over the charters that they approve, but the governing boards that oversee charters have the flexibility to hire for-profit or non-profit businesses to operate charter schools in multiple states. While charter schools were initially created to enhance “genuine site-based decision making,” and thereby remove school board governance, unelected state-wide governing boards have been created to oversee charter compliance (Vergari 2007, 19) Therefore, this arrangement has resulted in replacing elected school boards, one of the most democratically cherished forms of American local governance, with unelected state appointees who often have ties with groups that are financing charter school legislation and educational management organizations including, but not limited to, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Democrats for Education Reform (DEER), and Chiefs for Change, just to name a few. Furthermore, while charter schools must adhere to state academic standards and testing requirements, they are permitted much more flexibility in establishing pedagogy and curriculum compared to traditional public schools. (Vergari 2007, 19) Founded in 1973, ALEC is one of the largest and most effective organizations working behind the scenes to privatize a variety of public functions including schools. Its broadly stated goals include the advancement of a neo-liberal agenda, and its membership includes state and federal legislators and businesspersons who share these commitments. According to its website, ALEC highlights its founding principles as “a nonpartisan (my emphasis) membership association for conservative state lawmakers who share…a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” (http://www.alec.org/about-alec/history/)

As Kumarshiro argues, “Regulation that reflects a social-welfare system, such as tax redistribution” for the poor gets framed as interference with the market, “whereas regulation that benefits” for-profit companies is embraced as governmental investment. (Kumarshiro 2012, 42) Likewise, citing Alex Molnar’s work, Saltman concludes that, “educational privatization almost always involves not only the upward redistribution of wealth but the redistribution of control over schooling.” (Saltman 2000, 11) Unable to abolish the public schools, many of the newer privatization schemes are finding value in operating educational management organizations with little or no risk and with guaranteed sources of funding. “In terms of public-school governance,” according to Kumarshiro, traditional public “neighborhood schools are increasingly required to become more centralized in their governance, more monitored in their performance on standardized tests,” dependent on smaller budgets, “and even more regulated in their curriculum and instruction,” while “charter schools” enjoy relatively “more autonomy and flexibility in how they operate and account for allocated resources.” (Kumarshiro 2012, 42)

The Center for Media and Democracy has identified a total of 139 ALEC bills to date that relate to public education. Out of these, 31 became law. “Just seven states did not have an ALEC education bill introduced in 2013. Among other things, these bills would siphon taxpayer money from the public education system to benefit for-profit schools, including the ‘Great Schools Tax Credit Act,’ introduced in 10 states.” (http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed)

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that this tax credit is “a school choice option,” sometimes referred to as a “scholarship,” which serves as an “alternative to vouchers.” These credits are public funds that are given to “families so their kids can attend private schools.” Furthermore, according to the Post, these tax credits are “structured” in ways to circumvent “state constitutional prohibitions against using public dollars for religious schools.” Several of the “schools that qualify to accept vouchers aren’t regulated and teach things we know aren’t true, such the creationist notion that humans co-existed with dinosaurs,” and many also are not required to administer standardized tests that public schools are required to give for accountability purposes.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/28/welfare-for-the-rich-private-school-tax-credit-programs-expanding/

Georgia has implemented a tax credit program that enables parents to “ use…public money…for tuition at more than 100 private schools that refuse to enroll gay, lesbian or bisexual students,” according to the New York Times. The Georgia tax credit

allow individuals and corporations to receive state tax credits for thousands of dollars in donations to nonprofit groups that, in turn, give the money to private schools. The scholarships are often aimed at public school children from low-income families who cannot afford private school. The tax credit scholarships were conceived in Arizona in 1997 and now run in 11 states, gaining strength each year among people aligned with the school choice movement. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/education/georgia-backed-scholarships-benefit-schools-barring-gays.html?_r=0)

Despite a number of lawsuits that have been filed, the Georgia tax credit “program is intended to avoid conflicts between church and state because the money is collected and distributed by nonprofit organizations.” Since this program was implemented in 2008, “$170 million in tax credits have been given to people who donated to the nonprofit organizations that funnel money to private schools.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/education/georgia-backed-scholarships-benefit-schools-barring-gays.html?_r=0) The American Legislative Exchange Council is responsible for crafting a variety of the model bills that have been implemented in a number of states, and while supporters claim that the tax credits assist a number of need-based populations, “the tax credit scholarship eligibility requirements and data on poverty mean that middle class families will benefit most,” according to Dannin. (http://truth-out.org/news/item/18904-public-education-in-the-crosshairs-alecs-private-scholarship-tax-credits)

Figure 1 Tax Credit (Scholarships)


Likewise, according to Ryan, these “credits or deductions are given directly to families, the families must first pay for the tuition and then seek reimbursement, a process that would likely exclude many of the poor families that voucher supporters would like to target.” (Ryan, 2010, 234).

Venture Philanthropy

Kumashiro has distinguished between historical forms of philanthropy and contemporary venture-like philanthropy. In other words, “Unlike traditional philanthropy, which sought to…‘give back’ to society, venture philanthropy parallels venture capitalism with the goal of investing capital in ways that earn more.” In addition, “venture philanthropy…operates under different incorporation laws” that provide tax shelter[s] for…financial investments,” and venture “philanthropists…are now getting significantly involved in goal setting, decision making, and evaluating progress and outcomes to ensure that their priorities are met.” Clearly, this direct legislative involvement “allows them to more directly and substantially impact public policy, particularly in a climate where their financial aid is so desperately needed.” (Kumashiro 2012, 69-70) A number of venture philanthropists exist including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the former John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundations, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Newer foundations include the Charles Koch Foundation, among others. According to Kumashiro, these “conservative foundations…target funding to organizations like ALEC that aggressively lobby…state legislatures and Congress,” and they “engage effectively in media campaigns” in order to increase support for its model legislation. The fact that many state legislators are also members of ALEC only increases the chances for success. This “conservative movement has emerged,” according to Kumashiro, “as an interconnected web of organizations with aligned missions and coordinated strategies, often facilitated by shared board members” of larger “Philanthropy” and “Business Roundtables.” (Kumashiro 2012, 65-67)

We are witnessing something akin to the old “iron triangle” that used to serve as a political metaphor describing the interconnectedness between congressional committees, executive agencies, and interest groups. I’ve come to think of the new relationship described above as “privatization squared,” wherein the following four interconnected groups, as shown in the following figure, work in tandem in order to change the landscape of public education.

One of the best known neoliberal groups is the American Legislative Exchange Council. A sampling of the extensive network and influence this organization enjoys is illustrated in the diagram below.

ALEC Board Members and Sample of Network


Additional ALEC Network and Sample of Policy Areas


Many conservative foundations involved in venture philanthropy provide funds to neoliberal organizations involved in legislative advocacy at all levels of government, but particularly at the state level with regard to education policy. State legislators are often members of groups like ALEC and therefore share many of their goals. Entrepreneurs seeking to make profits (or fees) have created a number of educational management organizations that are funded with state tax dollars. Legislatures friendly to such groups and the goals they are pursuing have facilitated the implementation of neo-liberal policies, sometimes by overcoming considerable obstacles, such as in Georgia when the state Supreme Court initially ruled its former Charter School Commission unconstitutional. This ruling prompted an extremely well funded campaign by neo-liberal groups including but not limited to the Walden family and many other out-of-state organizations to advocate and eventually obtain approval for including a state constitutional amendment on Georgia’s 2012 ballot creating a Charter School Commission. This has resulted in deeply institutionalizing the intricate web of relationships I have identified above as “privatization squared.” By creating an institutional structure that facilitates the relationship between neoliberal groups, legislators that serve as members of these groups, for-profit and “non-profit” educational organizations, and conservative philanthropists who are increasingly funding privatization schemes, we are witnessing the creation of an educational industrial complex.

Figure 4 Four groups involved in privatization


Samples of liberal and conservative think tanks

Samples of Liberal Think Tanks

Samples of Conservative Think Tanks

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities The Heritage Foundation
Center for American Progress American Enterprise Institute
Center for Progressive Reform Hoover Institution
Demos Freedom House
Economic Policy Institute The Cato Institute
Public Citizen Hudson Institute
The Roosevelt Institution Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
Center for Economic and Policy Research Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Institute for Policy Studies The Discovery Institute
Rockridge Institute National Center for Policy Analysis

“The whole point of corporatization,” according to Noam Chomsky, is “to remove the public from making decisions over their own fate, to limit the public arena, to control opinion, to make sure that the fundamental decisions that determine how the world is going to be run…are not in the hands of the public, but rather in the hands of highly concentrated [and unaccountable] private power.” (2004) Democratizing education and educational governance has been an uphill battle since the late nineteenth century, and the current movement to privatize education through charter schools, voucher programs, and other school choice schemes are simply reminiscent of a long struggle to resist integrated schooling since Brown v Board I and II. While current privatization schemes have introduced new strategies, for the most part, this movement represents old wine in new wine skins. Immediately following the Brown decisions, for instance, several states enacted school choice plans, public subsidies for White parents to use in order to enroll their children into private schools, and tuition vouchers, as Ryan describes in his latest book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart (2010).

We could easily conclude that the passage of No Child Left Behind was a solution in search of a problem. For example, the 32nd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools was released in 2000, just two years before NCLB went into effect, which revealed that most individuals held very positive attitudes toward their neighborhood schools. Furthermore, the poll showed that more individuals opposed the idea of charter schools and the use of vouchers than those who favored these reforms. Additionally, a majority of respondents opposed “allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.” (Rose and Gallop 2000) Nevertheless, as DeBray concluded in her study of the policymaking process during the passage of No Child Left Behind, the Bush Administration (and congressional allies) had “political interest in identifying lots of failing schools,” in part, because the reauthorization bill mandated implementing various punitive actions against schools, foremost among them opportunities to privatize public schools identified as ‘failing.’ (DeBray 2006, 96-97, 115) In comparing the clandestine purposes that inspired the institutionalization of the “separate-but-equal” doctrine with the passage of No Child Left Behind, Darling-Hammond declared that NCLB guaranteed public school failures in order to rationalize privatization reforms. Not only would the law result in categorizing “most of the nation’s public schools [as] ‘failing,’ even when they are high performing and improving in achievement,” but also according to a California study she cites, “the chances that a school would be designated as failing increased in proportion to the number of demographic groups served by the school.’” (Darling-Hammond 2004, 3-5)

Knowing that the public tend to be critical of vouchers, privatization advocates began utilizing a concept associated with freedom and the market, namely, “school choice,” which “positions parents and students as consumers of schooling.” (Bartlett et al 2002, 6; Kohn 2004, 83) Who doesn’t like choices? Well, one of the problems with applying market terminology to schooling is that it trivializes the civic nature of and public commitments to schooling by commodifying education. As Dagger claims, “The tendency to think of…citizens as…consumer[s]…undercuts the idea of civic duty.” Market-like proposals “blur or obliterate the distinction between public and private schools,” and they “offer little to encourage civic virtue.” Sarcastically, Dagger declares that, “the shopping-mall metropolis may offer” enticements to customers, “but it will not be able to hold their allegiance.” To act as a consumer is to seek one’s self interest without regard to the interests of others. Civic mindedness, on the other hand, requires cooperation and at the very least the willingness to balance self-interest with the public good (Dagger 1997, 14, 107, 110, 125, 155)

In contrast to their states’ rights rhetoric and support for smaller government, Republicans overwhelmingly supported NCLB, which was, according to Fabricant and Fine, “the first initiative to truly bring the federal government as a regulator into American public education.” (Fabricant and Fine 2012, 13) Considering the fact that No Child Left Behind passed with overwhelming bipartisan congressional support despite its unpopular objectives, we might conclude as Habermas does in his critique of law that “the functional imperatives of the state apparatus [and] the economic system…normatively unfiltered interest positions…carr[ied] the day only because they are stronger and use the legitimating force of legal forms to cloak their merely factual strength.” In other words, having been formulated and passed without broad public support, No Child Left Behind is a manifestation of state and economic power that operates “objectively ‘behind the backs’ of participants” much like “Adam Smith’s invisible hand.” (Habermas 1998, 39-40)

According to Sheldon Wolin, Dewey was critical of many of the Enlightenment philosophers, including John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill, whose economic theories undermined their simultaneous support for the liberalization of politics. In other words, their support for a free market cultivated “a business culture that thwarted the democratic potential of” republican institutions. They fused the act of seeking self-interests in the economic realm with the political and civic realm. This “reduction of politics to interest,” according to Wolin, “has cast a powerful shadow on modern politics” (Wolin 2004, 251, 512-513), and we are now witnessing its eclipse of public education. In 1971, John Rawls similarly reflected upon the rationalities that distinguished a liberal market with liberal democracy by asserting, “The theory of competitive markets [is] not moved by the desire to act justly,” and to realize “just…arrangements.” Rather, these “normally require…the use of sanctions” in order to “stabilize” conflict resulting from “persons who oppose one another as indifferent if not hostile powers.” The atomistic and self-interested nature of “private society,” including the competitive market that is intended to channel and give life to these principles, reminds us that “private society is not held together by a public conviction that its basic arrangements are just and good in themselves, but by the calculations of everyone…pursu[ing] their personal ends.” (Rawls 1971, 521-522) However, unlike Dewey, who viewed democracy as an existential activity, Rawls’s liberalism prioritizes “the role of administration,” according to Wolin, over participatory democracy. Conceptualizing the state as an arbiter of competing interests not only results in the encapsulation of politics within market ideology, it reduces the citizen and civic virtue to market man. Wolin concludes, for example, that “The demos has been hammered into resignation, into fearful acceptance of the economy as the basic reality of its existence, so huge, so sensitive, so ramifying in its consequences that no group, party, or political actors dare alter its fundamental structure.” (Wolin 2004, 578)

The permeation of the market’s influence in areas that were once considered to be public responsibilities, including schooling, has been so extensive as to relegate civil society to a pliable condition that can be molded to serve the former’s demands and interests. Contributing to the eclipse of the public and civic realm is the fact that the language of economics, which has been so prevalent in our contemporary national discourse, appears neutral in the same way that positivism positioned the social sciences. In other words, the laws of supply and demand, inflation and interest rates, changes in employment and unemployment are given as natural developments (i.e., laws) and therefore, void of ideology. Indeed, this is inaccurate, but contemporary ideologies of neo-liberalism and libertarianism are often portrayed as natural market mechanisms that are simply the result of uninhibited interest-seeking individuals. These ideologies are presented as innocuous and free from racist, classist, and sexist ideologies because their outcomes are depicted as the natural outgrowth of an invisible hand, which represents nothing more than the sum of society’s organic parts. Dewey once concluded that “the state was a sum of [all its] units,” and Honohan more recently declared “civil society” as a larger public unit that comprises all of its parts including “associations” that “are hierarchical, non-deliberative and [that] operate out of the public eye.” (Dewey 1954, 111; Honohan 2002, 234) Today, the economy continues to expand its reach into new areas of life. I agree with Kenneth Saltman’s conclusion regarding the importance of maintaining publicly accountable and democratically controlled education systems. “A more democratic form of education,” he asserts, “stresses meaningful learning that is attentive to the relationship between student experience, social structures, and the social production of knowledge…Education for democratic citizenry has very different implications than education for the economy.” Like Dewey, Saltman envisions maintaining a public commitment toward education and improving upon our common, civic desire to govern schools democratically. “Privatization,” he argues, “not only celebrates competitive, self-interested individuals attempting to further their own needs and aspirations,” it is “a jeremiad against public life…and it undermines the role that public schools might play in keeping the experiences, hopes, and dreams of a democracy alive for each successive generation of students.” (Saltman 2000, 26-27)

Conclusion: A Needed Paradigm Shift -From Schooling to Education

In our drive to find the perfect test or the perfectly developed curriculum, we are turning education into a vacuous process. We are increasingly reforming education in ways that reduce learning to the administration of procedures rather than spirited and challenging experiences that reflect the needs and creative potential attributable to a vast and diverse nation of students. A deadening educational process is not going to give us an edge in a global economy where creativity and innovation are required more than ever. We must focus on the individual needs of real sentient children whose capabilities and interests need our thoughtful attention. When the purposes of education are so narrowly defined, we only contribute to the development of a reticent learning environment that stunts students’ innovative potential. The structure of schooling and the system that is being driven by testing alienates students from education and belittles them in a process perceived to be operating external to and beyond their volition. Students are unable to express their potential in a process that obscures their active as opposed to passive roles in learning. If the research on standardized testing and punitive measures has taught us anything over the past several years, it includes the importance of our focusing less on institutional efficiency and more on developing classrooms and learning environments that improve the ability of students to think and develop intellectually.

Due to the number of court cases following WWII, the following have been organized in the table below.

Relevant Court Cases



Stone v. Graham
Establishment Clause: Posting of Ten Commandments in classrooms
Plyler v. Doe
Equal Protection Clause: Rights of undocumented children to public education
Connick v. Myers
Free Speech: Rights of public employees
Grove City College v. Bell
Title IX: Funding restrictions
Wallace v. Jaffree
Establishment Clause: State law mandating moment of silence for prayer
Bethel v. Fraser
Free Speech: Rights of students
Edwards v. Aguillard


Establishment Clause: State law mandating the teaching of Creation science
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
Free Speech/Press: Student Newspapers
Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell
Determining when a federal court’s supervision of school integration ends
Lee v. Weisman
Establishment Clause –Clergy leading prayer during graduation
Agostini v. Felton
Establishment Clause: Public school teachers in private schools

Virginia Department of Education v. Riley

Unreasonable federal requirement mandated under IDEA
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
Establishment Clause: school vouchers
Grutter v. Bollinger
University admissions policies
Elk Grove School District v. Newdow
Challenge to the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance

Kitzmiller v. Dover

Establishment Clause and teaching intelligent design in science classes

Selman v. Cobb County School District

Warning labels on science texts containing evolutionary theory
Meredith v. Jefferson County Public Schools
Equal Protection Clause: busing plans based solely on race

Pontiac v. Spellings

Unfunded Mandates related to No Child Left Behind
Fisher v. University of Texas
University admission policies

Case information courtesy of Justia, LexisNexis Academia, and Oyez.org.

Questions to Consider

  • Why did teachers want President Carter to create a Department of Education? What did they hope to gain?
  • How has public schooling in the United States been “nationalized?”
  • How has the Department of Education been utilized to further ideological goals?
  • What is your opinion of Engel v. Vitale, the Establishment Clause, and public schools?
  • How did the report, A Nation at Risk, create policy changes in education?
  • What role, if any, would you give to the federal government over education policy? Explain.
  • How have state laws attempted to introduce Creationism or intelligent design into public school science classes? What are your opinions regarding these attempts?
  • Why do you think Congress mandated extensive standardized testing in public schools? What are your thoughts about this?
  • What are the general differences between the original 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its 2001 reauthorization, No Child Left Behind?
  • How have neo-conservatives responded to issues related to public schools since the 1980s? Why?
  • What are your opinions of the neo-liberal attempts to transfer public schooling to the private, for-profit sector?
  • Are educational management organizations better able to increase academic achievement? Explain.
  • How does the neo-liberal approach to schooling differ from Horace Mann’s approach? Explain.
  • Some scholars have concluded that busing children to increase classroom diversity failed as a result of the Milliken v. Bradley decision. Why would they come to this conclusion?
  • Knowing that legal segregation prior to the Brown decision was based on race, and the subsequent attempts to integrate schools was based on race, what is your opinion of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Meredith v. JCPS?
  • Do you recognize any parallels between the resistance that occurred immediately following Brown v. Board and policies that have been implemented more recently?
  • Philanthropy has a long tradition in America. How has it changed more recently? What are your opinions of venture philanthropy?
  • What problems do you see existing today, if any, as a result of the enactment of No Child Left Behind and Race-to-the-Top? What benefits do you see, if any, in these policies?


Berliner, David C. and Biddle, Bruce J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Frauds, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Black, Paul Black et al. (2002). Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom. London: King’s College London School of Education.

Boote, David N. (2006). “Teachers’ Professional Discretion and the Curricula.” Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 12(4): 461-478.

Bushaw, William J. and Lopez, Shane J. (2010). “The 42nd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.” Phi Delta Kappan 92(1): 9-26.

Chomsky, Noam. (2004). Perspectives on Corporate Power and Communications Technology. EDucate Magazine 3(2). Accessed: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Chomsky/Perspectives_Corp_Power.html

Chubb, John E. and Moe, Terry M. (1990). Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Dagger, Richard. (1997). Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism. Oxford University Press.

Dannin, Ellen. (2013). Public Education in the Crosshairs –ALEC’s Private Scholarship Tax Credits. September 19. Accessed: http://truth-out.org/news/item/18904-public-education-in-the-crosshairs-alecs-private-scholarship-tax-credits

Darling-Hammond, Linda. (2004). “From ‘Separate but Equal’ to ‘No Child Left Behind’: The Collision of New Standards with Old Inequalities.” In Meier, Deborah et al. Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press, 3-32.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. (1995). “Restructuring Schools for Student Success,” Daedalus 124(4): 153-162.

DeBray, Elizabeth H. (2006). Politics, Ideology, & Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dewey, John. (2008). The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 11, 1935-1937. Jo Ann Boydston (Ed.) Southern Illinois University.

Dewey, John. (1944). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York: The Free Press.

Dickens, Charles. (2001). Hard Times. Paul Negri and Kathy Casey (Eds.). United States: Dover Publications.

Dotts, Brian W. (2005). Citizen Dissent in The New Republic: Radical Republicanism and Democratic Educational Thought During the Revolutionary Era (Doctoral dissertation), Indiana University.

Elazar, Daniel J. (1969). Cooperation and Conflict: Readings in American Federalism. Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers.

Fabricant, Michael and Fine, Michelle. (2012). Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What’s at Stake? New York: Teachers College Press.

Fiorina, Morris P. (1989). Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Foner, Eric. (2012). Give Me Liberty! An American History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Friedman, Milton. (2002). Capitalism and Freedom (Fortieth Anniversary Ed.). University of Chicago Press.

Gonzalez, Juan and Goodman, Amy. (2010). (Interviewers) & Diane Ravitch. (Interviewee). Leading Education Scholar Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind Has Left US Schools with Legacy of “Institutionalized Fraud” [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from democracynow.org web site: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/5/protests

Guthrie, James W. (1968). “A Political Case History: Passage of the ESEA” The Phi Delta Kappan 49(6): 302-306.

Gutmann, Amy. (1987). Democratic Education. Princeton University Press.

Honohan, Iseult. (2002). Civic Republicanism. New York: Routledge.

Howe, Daniel Walker. (1979). The Political Culture of the American Whigs. The University of Chicago Press.

Kingdon, John W. (1984). Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. United States: Harper Collins Press.

Kliebard, Herbert M. (1995). The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958. Second Edition. New York: Routledge.

Kohn, Alfie. (2004). “NCLB and the Effort to Privatize Public Education.” In In Meier, Deborah et al. Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press, 79-97.

Kozol, Jonathan. (2005). Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Random House.

Kumashiro, Kevin K. (2012). Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kumashiro, Kevin K. (2012). When Billionaires Become Educational Experts. Academe 98(3): 10-16.

Lederman, Leon M. and Burnstein, Ray A. (2006). “Alternative Approaches to High-Stakes Testing” The Phi Delta Kappan 87(6): 429-432.

McGuinn, Patrick. (2005). “The National Schoolmarm: No Child Left Behind and the New Educational Federalism.” Publius 35(1): 41-68.

Madaus, George, Russell, Michael, and Higgins, Jennifer. (2009). The Paradoxes of High Stakes Testing: How They Affect Students, Their Parents, Teachers, Principals, Schools, and Society. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Meier, Deborah Meier. (2002). “Standardization versus Standards.” The Phi Delta Kappan 84(3): 190-198.

Miron, Gary, Urschel, Jessica, L., Yat Aguilar, Mayra A., and Dailey, Brianna. (2012). Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations. Thirteenth Annual Report – 2010-2011. National Education Policy Center. Western Michigan University.

Nichols, Sharon L. and Berliner, David C. (2007). Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ravitch, Diane. (2013). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Rose, L. C., & Gallup, A. M. (2000). The thirty-second annual Phi Delta Kappan poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public school. Phi Delta Kappan, 82: 41–57.

Rothstein, Richard. (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Ryan, James E. (2010). Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ryan, James E. (2004). “The Tenth Amendment and Other Paper Tigers: The Legal Boundaries of Education Governance.” In Noel Epstein, Who’s In Charge Here? The Tangled Web of School Governance and Policy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Saltman, Kenneth J. (2000). Collateral Damage: Corporatizing Public Schools –A Threat to Democracy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Severson, Kim. (2013). Backed by State Money, Georgia Scholarships Go to Schools Barring Gays. The New York Times. January 20. Accessed: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/education/georgia-backed-scholarships-benefit-schools-barring-gays.html?_r=2&

Spring, Joel. (2014). The American School: A Global Context from the Puritans to the Obama Administration. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Strauss, Valerie. (2013). Welfare for the Rich? Private School Tax Credit Programs Expanding. The Washington Post. February 28. Accessed: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/28/welfare-for-the-rich-private-school-tax-credit-programs-expanding/

Tyack, David and Cuban, Larry. (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public school Reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Urban, Wayne J. and Wagoner, Jennings L., Jr. (2009). American Education: A History. New York: Routledge.

Vergari, Sandra. (2007). The Politics of Charter Schools. Education Policy 21(1): 15-39.

Watkins, William H. (Ed). (2012). The Assault on Public Education: Confronting the Politics of Corporate School Reform. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wood, George. (2004). “A View from the Field: NCLB’s Effects on Classrooms and Schools.” In Deborah Meier et at., Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press.


Divide students into groups and have them research the new privatization movement. In addition to their own research, the websites for The Business and Philanthropy Roundtables are provided above. These might be useful in their search. The American Legislative Exchange Council website provides model legislation related to education and privatization as well. Have groups report their results and debate the privatization movement in education.

Have students work in groups, assigning each group a position: 1) Horace Mann’s educational philosophy; 2) the Social Reconstructionists educational philosophy; and 3) the privatization education philosophy. Once each group has researched each philosophy, have them share their findings and present them to the class. Afterward, have students discuss the positive and negative aspects of each philosophy.

Have students review three of the landmark court cases related to students’ rights to public schooling. Ask them to respond to the arguments put forth by each of the three groups and why they filed their respective lawsuits.

Have students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of federal, state, and local control of education.

Divide students into two groups and assign one group to research the majority opinion in Plyler v. Doe, written by Justice Brennan, and assign the other group to research the dissenting opinion, written by Chief Justice Warren Burger. Both opinions obviously reach different conclusions, but both are written in very rational and logical ways. Have students role place each opinion by debating their positions based on the opinions.

External Readings & Resources

DeBray, Elizabeth H. (2006). Politics, Ideology & Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Jonathan Kozol. (2006). Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Diane Ravitch. (2014). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York, NY: Vintage.

Kenneth J. Saltman. (2012). The Failure of Corporate School Reform. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

The Bottom Line in Education: 1980 to the Present

The fourth in a four-part disc series produced by Stone Lantern Films for PBS, this film provides a review of the policy considerations during the Reagan Administration with special focus on the report, A Nation at Risk. The film also focuses on the attempts made during this era to shift schooling away from a public responsibility to one that increasingly relies on free market approaches, school choice, vouchers, and charter schools. The film was produced in the United States and directed by Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton. The film is narrated by Meryl Streep. Length: 55 min.

Waiting for “Superman”

A 2010 documentary film produced by Lesley Chilcott and directed by Davis Guggenheim, this film provides a variety of negative perceptions of public schooling in contemporary America. The film is critical of teacher tenure, teacher unions, teaching standards, and public school bureaucracies. This film also highlights the attempts by several families to transfer their children from traditional public schools to charter schools. This film attempts to provide support for the privatization of public schooling. Length: 1 hr, 42 min.

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman

Produced by the Grassroots Education Movement and released in 2011, this film was directed by Julie Cavanagh, Darren Marelli, Norm Scott, Mollie Bruhn, and Lisa Donian. It provides a counter to the 2010 film, Waiting for “Superman.” This film highlights the lives of several public school parents and teachers that illustrate the harmful effects privatization policies are having on public schools and their students. The film focuses on in-school reforms and societal reforms that can transform public education. This film encourages continuing support for schooling as a public responsibility. This film is available on YouTube. Length: 1 hr, 7 min.

Race to Nowhere: Transforming Education from the Ground Up

This film features the stories of several students across the United States who share their anxieties and frustrations with the hyper-testing in schools, the punitive nature of No Child Left Behind, cheating scandals, student depression, and how students are arriving in college unprepared as a testing has undermined spaces for developing critical thinking and creativity. Testimonies in the film include those from parents, educators, and education policy experts. This film challenges its viewers to reassess the direction in which schools have been taken by No Child Left Behind and Race-to-the-Top. Length: 1 hr, 25 min.


Produced by Rockfish and co-directed by Dan Hornberger and Jim Del Conte, this film challenges the notion that test scores are effective in determining students’ abilities. The film addresses the invalidity of standardized tests, their negative consequences on learning and schooling, and the underlying reason hyper-testing exists today; namely, as the result of the educational testing lobby’s ability to influence federal policies. Length: 1 hr, 13 min.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Produced by Nova and directed by Gary Johnstone and Joseph McMaster, this film provides an excellent review of the events leading up to the 2005 case, Kitzmiller v. Dover. This film provides two important emphases that instructors will find advantageous in an undergraduate social foundations course: 1) the political conflict that erupted by a school board’s attempt to introduce intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania science classes,; and 2) a sophisticated explanation of evolution (including human evolution) that is valuable for students, particularly for those who have not been exposed to the evolutionary science. This film includes interviews of the school board members and science teachers involved in the conflict, the evolutionary scientists who testified during the trial, the lawyers representing the parties in the lawsuit, and the federal judge who preside over the case. Ultimately, based on the evidence and testimony provided during the trial, the Court rules that intelligent design was simply a relabeling of Creationism and, therefore, the purposes of its introduction and use in Dover’s school system was a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Length: 2 hrs.

The Revisionaries

The state of Texas is well known for its heated battles over the content of history and science textbooks. This film spotlights the conflict that emerges during the Texas State Board of Education’s politically charged battle to control the state’s curriculum. The Chair of this legislative committee was Don McLeroy, an avowed young-earth creationists and dentist who, along with Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer trained at Liberty University, pursue the interests of the Religious Right in their attempts to denigrate the veracity of evolutionary science and to change what they see as a “liberal perspective” in history textbooks. Kathy Miller, from the Texas Freedom Network, along with Dr. Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor from Southern Methodist University, challenge McLeroy and Dunbar’s quest to rewrite public school textbooks to be compatible with Christian worldviews. This film was produced by Making History Productions, LLC, along with producers, Pierson Silver, Orlando Wood, and Scott Thurman. The film was directed by Scott Thurman and released in 2012. Length: 1 hr, 13 min.

Supplemental Materials

The Age of Reagan, by Gil Troy (Courtesy of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)

Social and Economic Issues of the 1980s and 1990s (Courtesy of Amistad)

Are We There Yet? Business, Politics, and the Long (unfinished) Road to National Standards (Courtesy of PBS’s Frontline)

A Brief Examination of Neoliberalism and Its Consequences, by Candace Smith (Courtesy of The Society Pages)

The Business Roundtable

The Philanthropy Roundtable

American Legislative Exchange Council

Ayscue, Jennifer B., Greenberg, Alyssa, Kucsera, John, Siegel-Hawley, Genevieve, and Orfield, Gary. (2013). Losing Ground: School Segregation in Massachusetts. The Civil Rights Project.

Berliner, David C. and Biddle, Bruce J. (1996). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert. (2011). Schooling in Capitalist America: Education Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.

Hess, Frederick M. and Petrilli, Michael J. (2007). No Child Left Behind Primer. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Lemann, Nicholas. (1997). The Reading Wars. The Atlantic.

Meier, Deborah, Kohn, Alfie, Darling-Hammond, Sizer, Theodore R. and Wood, George. (2004). Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Ravitch, Diane. (2000). Hard Lessons. The Atlantic Online.

Oakes, Jeannie. (2011). Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rothstein, Richard. (2013). For Public Schools, Segregation Then, Segregation Since: Education and the Unfinished March. Economic Policy Institute.

William J. Reese. (2007). “Why Americans Love to Reform the Public Schools” Educational Horizons 85(4): 217.

Rothstein, Richard. (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. New York, NY: Economic Policy Institute and Teachers College Press.

Vinovskis, Maris. (2009). From a Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind: National Education Goals and the Creation of Federal Education Policy. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Share This Book