The Failure of Corporate School Reform
By Kenneth J. Saltman
(Paradigm Publishers, 2012)
Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education
By Nancy Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin (Eds.)
(Beacon Press, 2012)
Politicians, education policy makers, media pundits and business groups present corporate school reform as either an obvious solution or an experiment worth trying given the 'failure' of public schools to close the achievement gap between groups, raise test scores and prepare students to compete in the global market. Informed by a neoliberal conception of social justice, corporate school reformers argue that all students ought to have an equal opportunity to build up their human capital and become life-long learners, constantly adapting to, anticipating and even shaping the global economy's needs by creating novel technologies (products and processes) that can be commodified, patented and used to attract investment. In this narrative, students' skills, knowledge and behaviors are forms of capital that should be prudently and perpetually improved for the benefit of the individual and nation--a moral imperative that naturalizes the global capitalist economy and depoliticizes corporate reformers' ontological and normative claims (e.g. the individual is a form of malleable capital that must be fitted to the economy's needs). Schools, in this vision, must become entrepreneurial units that can be dissolved and reformed to keep up with the needs of the mercurial global economy, preparing students for an uncertain future. In this context, corporate school reformers present themselves as selling the means (standardized testing, merit pay, charter schools, voucher systems, national curriculum standards, deunionization, privatization and turnaround policies that support the replacement of staff in schools with low test scores) to create an education system that by becoming more equitable, accountable, flexible and innovative can better prepare tomorrow's workforce to compete in the global economy.
Given how effective these arguments have been among education policy makers, and the mandate for the states to make education both more effective and cheaper, Kenneth J. Saltman's The Failure of Corporate School Reform and Nancy Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin's edited book Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education could not be timelier. Saltman, Schniedewind and Sapon-Shevin make it clear that corporate school reforms fail on their own terms...