Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kohn, Winfield, Leistyna

The readings for this week focused on the discourse of accountability and the commitment of our education system to the privatization of schools. Kohn highlights the issues with our current education system, and discusses how increased pressure for privatization has led to these issues. With the implementation of No Child Left Behind, standards were raised for schools. Testing and test scores became significantly more important, and holding schools accountable for those test scores became the most important part of education. The No Child Left Behind act also caused an increase in the number of schools that were labeled as failing. The new focus on testing has caused teachers to shift their focus towards teaching students how to test well. Kohn also discusses the fact that privatization of schools has not corrected any of the issues in our education
            Winfield’s chapter also discusses the discourse of accountability, and the new agenda to “devalue” people through the education system (143). Despite laws passed to desegregate schools, the majority of the schools that are being affected by new “reforms” to the education system are filled with poor, minority students. We have begun to punish schools that are failing and reward schools with good test scores. Yet the schools that are being punished are the schools that need the most help. No Child Left behind and other reforms that have been put in place have completely devalued public education and caused a shift towards the privatization of schools. Privatization protects those that are “worthy” of being protected, such as the wealthy, white population (147). Through privatizations, the education system has become a perpetuation of eugenics.
            According to Leistyna, the focus on accountability and testing in schools has led to the appearance that more schools are failing, thus contributing to the increase in privatization. The government has found a way to perpetuate inequality in our society through education policy and the large corporate powers are the only ones that are benefitting from it. Our education system is highly class based, protecting those in privatized schools (the wealthy) by not requiring them to participate in high stakes testing. Those that do have to pay for high stakes testing are usually the ones that cannot afford it, perpetuating this cycle of oppression and inequality (154). There is clearly something wrong with the system that we have in place, where the wealthy continue to be protected and the poor minorities continue to be oppressed through education policy.
            As Tara said, it is pretty obvious that privatization of schools is not the answer to issues in our education system. While certain education policies, such as No Child Left behind, were put in place to positively effect education, it seems that they have done just the opposite of that. Education has begun to benefit businesses and wealthy corporations rather than the students and teachers that it is supposed to. We need to find a way to turn the system around and take the focus off of testing and privatization. Education should be about the students and teachers rather than large wealthy corporations.  


  1. After our discussions in class and the readings this week, I agree with Caitlin and find it clear that privatization benefits a select group of people more so than the students and families that really need the support that comes from education. I also agree that there needs to be a shift in mentality, or perhaps real “reform”, in order to make this happen. However, the pessimistic side of me truly fears that this necessary change is not limited to the realm of education; based on several of our readings, it seems that privatization is pervasive in our American culture today. Privatization has affected healthcare, banks, prisons, airlines, and electric utilities (Kohn 80), taking these out of the government’s control and placing them into the hands of businesses. Education is different from the rest of these services; for example, taking planes can legally be avoided while education cannot. However, I worry that the dominant mentality in our country views privatization as so common-sense that it is difficult to influence anyone who is not truly informed about education. Capitalism is so engrained in our minds, especially those of us who did not grow up during era of the New Deal and the welfare state; it goes against many peoples’ gut to opt for a more socialist way of living.

    This is no reason not to attempt change, of course. We have seen historically that certain catalysts can effect changes that last for decades. For example, we read this week that A Nation At Risk during Reagan’s administration began the shift towards neoliberalism that persists to this day, its continuation aided by NCLB. Perhaps if a similar turning-point were to occur in the upcoming decade, it could trigger a new status quo that sees the importance of equal education for all children, provided by the government in order to ensure parity across the board. Easier said than done, of course.

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  3. I agree with Caitlin's explanation regarding how the accountability discourse functions to frame neoliberal reforms as commonsense. It speaks to the power of this discourse that current reforms in education have managed to attract bipartisan support by, rather ironically, claiming to help the very students who these changes marginalize and exclude. Moreover, as Leistyna notes, despite their insistence that schools and teachers need to be held accountable, the private corporations that are the true beneficiaries of these reforms are not accountable to anyone (147). Kohn clearly articulates that current education reforms are in no way a genuine attempt to improve public education, but, rather, intended to undermine public education altogether in order to justify the privatization of education. The accountability discourse is so encompassing that schools can’t possibly win because, as Kohn explains, even when schools do achieve success under our normative model of education, these schools and teachers are not credited for this success. Rather, this is seen as an indication that standards need to be raised. In this way, we have established a system wherein schools are doomed to “fail”.

    The accountability discourse is particularly interesting in light of ideas discussed in previous classes regarding the exploitation of perceived crises to implement policy changes. By setting up schools to fail, corporations are undermining them so they can pursue their own interests and profit off of education. This is already apparent through the incredible profits private companies have amassed through standardized tests, supplementary education materials, and more lenient teacher certification programs.

    Additionally, Winfield’s explanation of the history of eugenics reveals how this movement still influences are culture in many ways that go undetected. Specifically, the narrative of meritocracy in the U.S. is foundational in justifying the tracking, labeling, and segregation of students based on allegedly objective abilities. Our unquestioned hierarchy of human worth and value largely paved the way for corporations to establish “scientific” measures of this worth and implement self-serving policies on the basis of eugenics-inspired ideas about human value.

  4. One of the most troubling questions in this week’s reading is about value. Everyone wants to feel valued and significant. There is nothing inherently wrong with value, in fact, we should value our citizens, students, and teachers. Value is powerful, but abusing value by honoring people through systems of ranking is a dangerous trend to break free from. Each author touches on various methods of categorization that operate under the guise of meritocracy. The distorted version of value that now permeates education is one that makes us believe value can only be achieved by comparing students and creating hierarchies where the student with the most value is the student with the highest test score.
    In education, standardized testing is the most current model of ranking for students, but we have seen other methods of categorization in educational history. Winfield argues that intellectual inequality is the new racism, and I agree, same idea different discourse. People have been slaves to hierarchies and ranking and we can find evidence to support this by examining any demographics and their function throughout history. (race, class, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, etc…)
    In terms of privatization, the authors write about how NCLB is a ‘trojan horse’ for privatization, but I think this is the result of skewed perceptions of value among American citizens. Right and Left argue back and forth, but privatization has the potential to be attractive for both sides, especially if it is framed correctly. And as Caitlin described above, privatization protects the interests of only the elite. It is easy to get caught up in the politics of education, but a more constructive approach is thinking about what true equity would look like. Why are we allowing ranking and hierarchy to exist within systems of education? Finally, how do we value without ranking?

  5. What I found most interesting in this week’s readings were the issues of accountability and privatization. Ideally, standardized tests create a way to monitor how much children are learning in our public schools. However, they simply gauge how well teachers can pump information into their students in a “fashion most suitable for memorization and regurgitation” (Winfield 155). As Leistyna points out, no research has been done to prove a student’s competence, nor is there research concerning what exactly the tests evaluate in terms of actual intellectual ability. Although it is difficult to judge what a student has learned in a way that can be monitored on a large scale, it is obvious that high-stakes testing has little to nothing to do with how much a student has learned. In this way, schools are held accountable for an abstract education. One disturbing example of the government relying too much on accountability occurred in Texas, in which schools held certain children back or placed them in different programs so as to avoid low test scores. Instead of caring about the education of these children, they worried how their poor test scores would appear in the media, so they chose to remove these problematic children from the testing altogether.
    In terms of privatization, one fact I found shocking was how public tax dollars are used so frequently to promote private education. The government, in the wake of NCLB, is attempting to promote charter schools (among other options) as an alternative to failing public schools, but fails to recognize that this is not a viable option for all families. While I do not have an idea as to how to stop the emphasis on accountability and push for privatization, I wonder what the effect would be if the responsibility for public education were removed from the federal government and given to the individual states. Would that prevent states from taking drastic measures to avoid being shed in negative light in the national media?

  6. The authors for today’s readings all discussed the problems that surface with privatization, the failings of public schools, and accountability. As I read through the readings, I began to think not only about the schools themselves but students. It becomes very obvious quickly what privatization can do to segregate and create hierarchies in the education system. In addition, one begins to see how certain minorities are put at a much higher risk. However, I want to take it one step further and think about what this privatization does for special education. Kohn discusses the role of accountability and pushing schools to perform. Caitlin mentions the new focus that centers on teaching students how to test. But what about the students who already can’t test and need a different method of learning? Should they just be left behind? Caitlin also mentions that the schools that need the most help are being punished. This goes the same for the children in special education, who really need the most help and end up having their education taken away from them. Winfield discusses the role of eugenics in society today, and it is scary how well it plays into special education. With all the steps forward our society has taken to accept and alleviate the stigma around disability, with achievement based education and privatization, children with special needs are pushed aside and left to fend for themselves. These are the students that need the most help and attention, but because they do not meet yet another standard in society they are not deemed worthy enough. When discussing privatization in these terms, I am dumb founded that anyone can see the way that it is currently working as a positive aspect to society. All children deserve an education equal to that of others, and that is clearly not the case at this moment in time.

  7. The irony within the NCLB policy is that which is in its name. As mentioned above, the No Child Left Behind policy attempts to add accountability within the public education to the teachers, students and administrators however it does not take into account the baseline of which the students testing skill exist. NCLB is in fact leaving many behind, in particular those who are already struggling with reading and writing. NCLB turns public education into a competitive scenario and like any competition not all participants are equal. The policy solely focuses on the ends (test scores) that result and do not give teachers or students the tools to elevate baseline reading and writing levels that could be failing.

    Students that maintain the lower baseline skills in reading and writing are usually in lower socio-economic areas. Parents in these areas typically do not have time to help children with basic reading developing because of busy jobs schedules or working of multiple jobs. Teachers in these schools then suffer from a moral dilemma of to spend time helping the struggling students or to move forward a help developing students pass the standardized tests. Because NCLB pulls government funds from failing schools teachers are put under a great deal of pressure to raise test scores. However, if the government does pull funds from "failing" schools struggling students will potentially fall even further behind because of the reduced resources. NCLB is in fact leaving children behind. Accountability is great when it holds all those involved accountable equally, NCLB is not doing so.

  8. I agree with Caitlin that our education system is failing and that there is a drastic need for change in policy. Caitlin also discusses the relationship between accountability and privatization. No Child Left Behind was put in place to keep schools accountable because accountability was obviously the original issue (sarcasm). After under-funded high needs schools continued to fail these high stakes test the government would label them as failing. There are multiple reasons for why schools fail. First, so much emphasis on testing puts critical thinking on the back-burner and turns our children in to robots who can spit out useless facts. Also, the tests that a meant to asses progress and learning are created in such a way that white elite class students will succeed. Not to also mention that under-funded schools are unable to pass the tests because they don't have the resources that wealthy schools have. This cycle then leads to the want for privatization. But as Kohn describes in the text privatization has not helped the education system either. After No Child Left Behind was implemented it did the exact opposite of what it was written to do. The achievement gap grew and an indescribable amount of students were left behind. The more and more I read about education policy the more i begin to feel helpless. Does government even see a need for change or do they really think it is because we have bad teachers and lazy students? This has to stop but honestly I don't know if it ever will.

  9. Like Grace, I find myself viewing this future of privatization in education with a very pessimistic view. Throughout the years, education has been increasingly viewed as a commodity in a business and economic sense rather than a service that should be available to all. Despite the fact that we have already been studying No Child Left Behind, I continue to be frustrated when reading things such as that many school administrators are forced to cut back on all activities that are not directly correlated with raising test scores (Leistyna, 144). This elimination removes so many of the things that students often say that they remember most from school even years later. Leistyna cites examples including music and art, creative reading, bilingual education, and athletics. For this reason, it is increasingly important for us to realize that solely prioritizing standardized test scores takes away from a student’s educational experience. Prepackaged curricula does not allow for the accommodation of students who might not be on the fast track to high test scores. Implementing a one-size-fits-all approach is the worst way for this country to promote education and motivate kids to go to school.
    Additionally, Eliza brings up a good point about the issue of special education. Our education system already does not accommodate low-income, underprivileged students. While wealthy families with children who require special education may be able to afford a private institution, this neglects the huge percentage that cannot afford such a luxury. While the financial gap between the rich and the poor cannot be significantly closed, it is logical to turn to education as a common ground for all of people. However, as we have seen through our numerous readings on the subject, force-feeding a fixed educational model into the mouths of students from different backgrounds is a huge step back in a problem that desperately needs a solution, fast.

  10. After reviewing the readings from this week I think it is safe to say that many members of our class agree with Caitlin that privatization benefits only a select group of people on the basis of wealthy corporations rather than the students a families. While this is a huge issue and has been for a long time nothing has changed. The public schools systems are still “failing”. Standardize testing is the present model of measuring students to determine if a school is failing or not. I want to focus on Kelsey’s post because it brings up a really important aspect of how we might change the discourse about testing. The idea of value and ranking.
    Kelsey writes, “ The distorted version of value that now permeates education is one that makes us believe value can only be achieved by comparing students and creating hierarchies where the students with the most value are the students with the highest test scores.” This present idea of value must change if we have any hopes of changing the ways in which we measure and change our schools. Watkins explains, “almost everything we recognize about public schools today was developed and conceived by educational psychologists, scientists, and legislators who and were wholly wedded to the idea that society could be made better by defining, identifying, and controlling who was worthy (Selden, 1999; Winfield, 2007) Watkins, 154). The ways in which we value the scientist’s and legislators perspectives have altered our school system to benefit the wrong people. We only value those who reach standards made by people who aren’t even involved in education. They don’t even understand if these goals are reachable because they don’t have any experience in the field. If will can find a way to redistribute the power so teacher’s perspectives are heard we might find an approach that accomplished true equality.

  11. I think a major point of many of the author’s we’ve read has been control- the control of the ‘slaves’ of the working class (to use some of the colorful language highlighted in Winfield’s article), the control over what students learn and how they learn it, so that the masses don’t learn to think critically and so rise up against the oligarchy that exists, the control over markets- for teaching and learning resources and schools themselves, as supported by NCLB. While it kind of sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory, (especially when you consider all of the ad hominem arguments not so subtly presented by Leistyna) there is a lot of evidence to support the argument that children, ‘our future’, are not the primary concern. While they may be able to be thought of in terms of economics (as ‘products’), it seems that their actual value as citizens, pales in comparison to the green of $$$. In conversation with Austin's post, " Does government even see a need for change or do they really think it is because we have bad teachers and lazy students?" it seems that the government, as well as the corporations, are quite aware of the situation, yet in classic shock theory form, are instead choosing the immediate and tangible economic profit of money today instead of investing in future generations.

  12. I definitely agree with Caitlin when she discusses the fact that our education system and schools are failing. So what can we do to change this? A change in policy in an ideal world would work in this situation and would help schools succeed as a whole, or at all for that matter. I believe that one of the biggest issues we are dealing with is the way the standardized tests are made, and the emphasis that is placed on them. We are sitting here saying that we need to hold public schools accountable, but at the same time, tests are being designed to make students fail. “…when a lot of students manage to do well on a given test. Are schools credited and teachers congratulated? Hardly. The response from New Jersey to New Mexico is instead to make the test harder, with the result that many more students fail subsequently.” (Kohn, 83) What kind of message is this sending to not only the students that are taking the exam, but the teachers as well? That failure is the goal? These tests differ from state to state, but are ideally designed for the white middle class. This does not really set up much success for anyone who does not fall within that category. The emphasis in the classroom of these failing schools is put entirely on the test and the material that will be covered, and completely disregards any kind of creativity and individuality. Critical thinking, and understanding becomes something that should not be focused on, because the test does not care if a student understands a concept if their answer is wrong. This does not make any sense to me at all. No Child Left Behind was implemented, and I believe that it had the right intentions, but ultimately had the opposite effect. This policy put even more emphasis on the scores of tests, instead of the individuals it was supposed to help. The achievement gap continued to grow and teachers resorted to thinks like kicking students out of their classes so that their tests scores would not count towards the schools final pass fail number. These students continue to be left behind, which is what this policy was designed to avoid. NCLB is not holding everyone in the system equally accountable, which is why the numbers remain the same, and our education system continues to fail and be viewed as unsuccessful.