Education is now equivocated with two words: standards and accountability. These words were brought about due to educational reforms meant to solve the educational crisis in America. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 holds schools accountable for students’ scores on standards-based achievement tests (Oakes & Lipton, 2007, p.38). Due to NCLB, education has been transformed into a high-stakes testing game that involves politicians, CEOs, educators, and students. Data is then extracted from these tests. Taubman (2009) states that “the demand for and reliance on numbers, on quantifiable data, will continue to shape practices ranging from curriculum development to how we evaluate what we do” (p.14). Teachers have become “first responders” rather than thoughtful practitioners (Taubman, 2009, p.9).
How did our educational system get to be what it is today? How did we go from a time where learning was enjoyable for teachers and students to a time of educators feeling overwhelmed by the immense pressure put on them to comply with standards set on local, state, and federal levels to be held accountable. When did all of the conversations about education turn into “talk of outcomes, performance data, alignment of standards, rubrics, grids, and how to ‘tweak’ or ‘jury-rig’ or simply fabricate course syllabi or bulletin descriptions to meet some new standard” (Taubman, 2009, p.9)? Everyone is feeling the effects of the rapid transformation in education over the last decade that has left many educators feeling stressed out and helpless.
Educators once felt motivated, creative, and excited to teach students to explore new possibilities together, and now they’re feeling confined, overworked, and worried about outcomes of their students’ test scores because of threats of losing jobs or compensation. One cause for the scrutiny of the American educational system came after the publication of A Nation at Risk (2003) was released stating that the education in America K-12 was “mired in mediocrity” and would “require enormous changes at its core in order to become more effective” (Taubman, 2009, p.10). Soon came the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 which was put in place for educational reform which stands on the principal that setting high standards and creating measurable goals can improve individual outcomes. It pressures schools to use their federal funding to improve regular programs, rather than create separate ones. The belief is that teachers do not need to test and categorize students as low achievers to qualify for remediation programs (Lipton and Oakes, 2007, p. 322). When politicians, educational policy makers, big and small businessmen, and media outlets began scrutinizing the educational system it left educators “shocked into compliance, softened up for the corporatization and marketing of education” (Taubman, 2009, p. 12).
Corporations have had a continually growing impact on public education. Gorski (2007) points out that even the language of the purpose of education has changed to a more market-centric “preparing students to compete in the global marketplace” (p.5). Milton Friedman, considered the father of neoliberalism, wrote, “In schooling the parent and child are the consumers, the teacher and school administrator are the producers” (Taubman, 2009, p.93). This line of thought undermines teachers and administrators, leaving them questioning their role and the quality of their work. As teachers and public schools are scrutinized, the private sector is more than willing to swoop in and help out (Taubman, 2009, p.99). Corporations are being allowed to write the policy, and they are being used as models for standards and accountability. Using these models completely neglects to acknowledge influences on education such as poverty and inequitable funding in schools (Gorski, 2007, p.6). Taubman (2009) writes, “Basically the strategy consists of condemning the schools, manufacturing a crisis, starving public schools of resources, standardizing curriculum and teaching methods, and opening up education to for-profit companies” (p.104). The push for privatization is serving to widen the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished.
The G.W. Bush administration expanded the power of the Department of Education, and in turn it has been opened up to the business community as a new market worth billions (Taubman, 2009, p.103). Therefore, when NCLB mandates testing, companies like Pearson and ETS profit. When districts are pushed for data being aggregated and disaggregated, they hire private companies to build data storehouses, and those companies obviously profit. There are endless ways that big business is allowed to capitalize on “public” education when they are chosen to provide “necessary” materials and services (Gorski, 2007, p.6).
Even with these materials and services being purchased by schools systems, there is still an achievement gap for some minority learners. “Although efforts to desegregate schools helped to close the performance gap between whites and African Americans throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, recent data indicate that progress has stalled” (Wright, 2005, p.1). As part of the NCLB Act, “poverty and racism are no longer considered ‘excuses’ that make low achievement acceptable” (Oakes & Lipton, 2007, p.49). It was believed that all students, regardless of race, would reach high academic standards due to holding both students and teachers accountable for the standards. Would NCLB close the achievement gap between whites and blacks? Wright doesn’t believe so. Wright (2005) states, “according to research, there are five primary factors that adversely affect the academic achievement of minority students: socio-economic status, ability grouping, teacher quality and influence, parental/family involvement, and high-stakes testing.” If these factors are not addressed, then we continue the cycle of “academic mediocrity” and our poor and minority students continue to have gaps in their learning (p.2). If research supports these adverse affects, then why do we continue playing the same game? It’s a political and business driven ball game and our students are striking out.
What does the future of education hold? If changes are not made and the transformation continues on its current path, it may hold the same status it did when A Nation At Risk was printed. The privatization of education was once thought to be the cure for the educational issues that existed. Now, it doesn’t seem to be the answer. There are still inequalities in the public schools and not all students are receiving equal opportunities to learn. The numbers are not in their favor. If the state of education is to improve, all stakeholders must be willing to “let go of our attachments to practices and discourses that participate…..in the logics, language, and practices of standards and accountability (Taubman, 2009, p. 201). We must seek alternatives in our approaches to education.
Gorski, P. (2007). Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education. Retrieved from http://www.EdChange.org/publications.html.
Oakes, J., & Lipton, M. (2007) Teaching to Change the World (3rd ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill
Taubman, P.M. (2009). Teaching by Numbers: Deconstructing the Discourse of Standards and Accountability in Education. NewYork, NY: Routledge.
Wright, R. J. (2005) Perpetuating a Minority Student Mediocrity: An Administrator’s Perspective on the Achievement Gap, 1-10. Retrieved July 21, 2010, from Ithaca Wise Database.