Friday, September 21, 2012

Leistyna, Winfield, and Kohn

Leistyna, Winfield and Kohn all focus on how the government is committed to privatizing education rather than improving the current public school system. Leistyna argues that the government is being influenced by corporate powers that strive to maximize profit in our capitalist system. The government has established exclusionary and discriminatory policies that perpetuate inequality in society. Due to the gross inequities and injustices, neoliberals turn to “a better system of education” as the answer (144). However, as Leistyna argues, “all this rhetoric about accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, and excellence in public education is really an ideological trap intended to ensure that public schools fail, thus paving their way for their complete privatization” (155). When looking at NCLB, it was an act put in place to line students and schools up to fail. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents have had no power in the decisions that have been made. Education reform has been placed in the hands of corporate executives and politicians. The goals laid out in NCLB are seen as impossible to achieve for many schools. Therefore, these schools will likely be closed down and put in the control of charter schools or private companies. As Leistyna discusses, the ones benefitting from NCLB are the large corporations, such as the four big publishing houses, that are making billions due to the high costs of standardized tests. Public education reform has become a way for corporations to maximize profit through privatizing schools.
            Winfield also focuses on the push for privatization of education, but examines the role of eugenics in shaping the structure of our society today. He argues that the “basic tenets of eugenic ideology have long supplied an explanation for the establishment, evolution and perpetuation of inequality” (147). Eugenic ideology is based on the assumption that poverty has to do with people’s bloodline rather than the environment in which they were raised and developed. As a result, people, specifically those who are white and wealthy, are seen to be worth more than others. Winfield believes eugenic ideology is ubiquitous in America today. The current push for privatization serves to protect the “worthy” elites and prevent social mobility for others.
            Kohn makes similar arguments to Leistyna and Winfield about the dangers of privatizing education. He recognizes the dissatisfaction with the current state of our public schools, but argues that privatization won’t fix the problems. He believes there is a greater danger in concentrating power in the education system in private hands (82). Corporations are not held accountable to anyone and are once again only concerned with maximizing profit. He also argues that NCLB is an act that works to shift public schools into the hands of the private sector. Due to NCLB, accountability is all that matters in education. Schools are under a lot of pressure to perform well and many students are being negatively impacted as a result. Because NCLB is not committed to improving schools, we need to resist it as Kohn says. However, he does not present any solutions to the failing education system. What should we do next?
            After reading these authors’ pieces, it is clear that the public education system isn’t working. However, privatizing schools does not seem to be the answer. While NCLB was created with the positive intentions of giving all people an equal, substantial education, it has not done so and will not by 2014. It is commonly believed in society that education is key to social mobility and all people deserve equal opportunities. Therefore, what steps should be taken to ensure that the public education system is serving the needs of children, rather than the desires of large, wealthy corporations? 


  1. As Tara noted, Kohn argues that NCLB works to “shift public school funding to a host of private schools, religious schools and free-market diploma mills or corporate experiments in education,” (85). NCLB does this by replacing public schools deemed as failing with these private institutions. Public schools are categorized as failing based on standardized test scores. However, as Winfield notes, “a survey of current trends reveals that testing requires practitioners the same emphasis on ‘efficiency’ that characterized the application of eugenics ideology to school reform during the 1920s and 1930s,” (155). Thus racist, white-supremist ideals are being carried into the public school system where black and Hispanic children receive a biased education through the use of standardized testing that only perpetuates the poverty cycle. The students are unable to compete with their white peers on the tests due to both external social factors and the fact that the test is already biased. Consequently, the poor, failing schools are comprised of mainly of black and Hispanic students. As teaching “is being narrowed, dumbed down, standardized and scripted—with poor and minority students getting the worst of the deal as usual,” (Kohn 90) public schools are continually being deemed as failing and the implementation of private institutions, with the wealthy CEOs only getting wealthier, continues.This leaves us with the question of whether or not we then value student achievement and equality over capitalistic gains. And, more importantly, how should we go about measuring student achievement while taking external social factors into account and avoiding biases? After, looking at the arguments presented by these authors, one might suggest that the removal or reformation of standardized tests is deemed both necessary and ethical so as to better serve the educational needs of children.

  2. These articles outlined what looks like the perfect storm of government policy and privatization efforts that seek to maintain the status quo. I agree with both Halley and Tara, and want to think out loud (on the blog) some possible answers to the questions they raised.

    Tara asked how we fix the failing education system. First of all, we need to redefine "failing." Instead of measuring school or teacher success by inherently biased standardized testing, what if we looked at student growth on an individual level, and trusted our teachers’ assessments to see how well their students have learned the material? It's hard, I realize, to extricate ourselves from the neoliberalist mentality in which we were educated, but the cutthroat competition needs to stop. Comparing students, schools, and nations is ludicrous, especially considering that the playing field is unequal to begin with. The more we buy into this mentality, and I literally mean *buy* into it, the more corporations profit. Leistyna remarks, "The potential for funneling taxpayers' money into private pockets is astounding," in "failing" school scenarios. As our school fail, our wealthiest citizens grow wealthier as a result. Another layer is added when we see that the neoliberalist design is capitalism at its finest, and Americans as whole are pretty infatuated with capitalism. Capitalism doesn't have a conscience, though. Profits are made in capitalist systems when corners are cut, usually screwing already disadvantaged people over. In short, Tara's first question just touches the tip of the iceberg. It's not just how we fix failing schools, it's how we fix an economic system in which failing schools are an awesome outlet for greater gains for the super-rich (people and corporations)?

    That was just one question, and not even really successfully answered. Alas.

  3. In her post, Tara explained that under NCLB, “accountability is all that matters in education.” This theme of accountability stood out to me in this week’s readings, and made me critically question whether or not NCLB and education’s current shift towards privatization could in fact mean that schools are more accountable than ever before. Leistyna, Winfield and Kohn’s pieces all provided evidence that made me realize that NCLB’s rhetoric of accountability is nothing but a manipulative scam. In particular, Alfie Kohn focuses on the nature of current education reform, and that our schools are steadily shifting towards privatization. Kohn makes the intelligent point that there is by no means a higher-level accountability in schools that have undergone privatization. Kohn explains, “there is an equal or greater danger from concentrating power in private hands, which is to say in enterprises that aren’t accountable to anyone (except their own shareholders) or for anything (except making a profit)” (82). This quotation stood out to me because its message is undeniably true; our education system cannot be fixed until the greater public understands that private companies are indeed not looking out for the greater good of society, but that they are instead only preoccupied with making a profit. One of the most interesting examples from this week’s readings of the corruption of NCLB is the relationship between the Bush family and McGraw Hill Publishing. This example blatantly highlights the flaws within our current system; how can a system that allows the president to provide near monopolies to his friends be truly accountable? If accountability is really the goal, privatization is clearly not the answer to our current problems.

  4. Like many people who have commented thus far, I was struck by the conspiracy inherent in No Child Left Behind- that the government’s discourse about accountability is actually a means to kill public institutions. It seems that the government’s attempt to use rigorous standards and test scores to illustrate the need to get rid of public institutions is just like disaster capitalism, in which policy makers use or create a present crisis to privatize society. Under No Child Left Behind, the government is using “poor” test scores to create a sense of crises in the community, so that they can implement reforms. However, instead of reforming the existing public institutions, they are destroying them and creating new private institutions.

    I was extremely bothered by the dishonesty inherent in the government’s discourse, especially because of the fact that they are using our money to destroy good institutions, eliminate creative teaching and rob entire groups of kids of the chance to gain a meaningful education and therefore move up in society. It makes me angry to think that the government is lying to us and then using our money to make our education system worse, while at the same time robbing entire groups of people of a public good. However, history has shown that the government has used our money to do harmful things before, like using American tax dollars to fund prisons and law enforcement measures that target African Americans in low income neighborhoods. We live in a republic, which means that our elected officials are supposed to represent our interests and work for the common good of society. How can we ensure that this happens if we have no control over the way in which the government is spending our money?

    The former Secretary of Education demonstrated the ridiculousness of the discourse and policies when he said, “the worst thing that can happen to urban and minority kids is that they are not tested” (Kohn 88). Considering the use of tests to destroy the opportunities for urban and minority kids to get a meaningful education and therefore significantly reduce their chances for economic success, the quote is a disgusting lie that reduces urban and minorities kids to problematic wiggits that can only be saved using ridiculous exams that fail to test anything meaningful

  5. I also find that grappling with the issue of public education and privatization is grueling. Not only to private investors and politicians try to portray the entire American educational system as failing, but many of these people do not even accept their own standards. What struck me as ludicrous is when Kohn gives examples from both Long Island and Boston that quote educational administrators, the Chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents, the State Education Commissioner, and the Board of Education chairman in 2009 stating that because students were scoring so well on standardized tests, that the exams should be made harder (83). It is evident that these people who influence the general public (these statements were printed in news articles) are essentially not allowing student success. If students are doing well, then these people want to make things more difficult in order to further encourage competition and push their neoliberalist ideals.

    Something else that struck me in these three readings was the fact that eugenics is part of our recent history; its legacy is certainly still present. This word, eugenics, did not even exist until the late 19th century (146), and its application to Social Darwinism has been used throughout the 1900s, and has molded into beliefs that hold true today. The public education system we have today is based around this idea that some certain people are only capable of certain tasks due to their hereditary genetics. It is the presence of such debilitating beliefs that restrict the nation’s students and society and create a system of low expectations for those who do not neatly fit into the white middle-class culture of power.

  6. I agree with all the posts. All of the readings highlight the lengths that our government, under the guides of neoliberalism, have gone to completely destroy the public education system. Essentially, the people do not matter anymore. Leistyna argues that"government is being used bu corporate powers to establish discriminatory and exclusionary policies and practices that justify today's gross inequities, especially those caused by capitalism and its class structure" (141). This accurately describes how NCLB can implement severe budget cuts to schools that are "underperforming". For me, this argument does not make sense. If a school is underperforming, they obviously need more help and resources and taking money away only worsens this already bad situation. Additionally, NCLB incorrectly assumes that all schools are equal and the test is simply weeding out the "failing" schools, students and teachers. Schools with more money can better prepare for these tests because money is what started them in the first place. Conveniently, most of these schools are populated by minority students. This is where eugenics come into play in the debate over public education. Winfield cites Thorndike when he writes
    "men are born unequal in intellect, character and skill. It is impossible and undesirable to make them equal by education" (147). This is the same line of thinking that created NCLB, which completely undermines what most people believe which is that anyone can learn. While some people have exceptional abilities which are not necessarily learned, all people are able to learn. Kohn weighs in by writing, "ideally, public schools can enrich lives, nourish curiosity and introduce students to new ways of formulating questions and finding answers. Their existence also has the power to strengthen a democratic society, in part by extending those benefits to vast numbers of people who didn't fare well before the great experiment of free education began" (81). NCLB is directly targeting those who would probably have no education if it wasn't for free education. Another interesting aspect of this is that public education supports democratic ideals, but with the move to shut them down it looks like democracy is slowly dying as well. As a nation shouldn't we want all people to do well in order to have a better nation? It looks like the failure of some is the triumph of others.