Public Education | Participatory Democracy: After Neoliberalism

Reform ⇒ Deform

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Watkins (2004) as well as Compton and Weiner (2008) show how education "reform" in the form of laws, policies, and campaigns has spread across the globe and taken root in the U.S. The evidence of this transformation extends beyond academic literature; it is part of our popular culture. Movies like Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down laud the promises of school reform through privatization, competition, and choice. 

In Won't Back Down, Jamie Fitzpatrick played by Maggie Gyllenhall and Nona Alberts played by Viola Davis enact the parent trigger, which is legislation that makes it possible for parents and teachers to takeover a public school they believe is inadequately educating their children. What the movie does not show is the ways the parent trigger makes possible the opening up of public schools to turnaround procedures, School Management Organizations, or charter schools—not to parents and teachers. 

The parent trigger is an example of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation. Now well documented are the model bills, which ALEC develops and promotes through networks for state legislators (Underwood & Mead, 2012). You may be familiar with ALEC's role in developing voter ID and stand your ground model bills, fruits of its Public Safety and Elections task force. Less known is ALEC's Education Task force. In their thematic analysis of 53 model education laws, Anderson & Donchik identify 4 foci of ALEC's education task force: 

1) privatization of public assets through choice, charters, vouchers and tax credits; 

2) opening markets through privatization to seek profits; 

3) reducing labor costs in education (also known as teachers) by dismantling teachers unions, teacher tenure and college-based teacher certification; and 

4) eliminating educational content related to values clarification, political action skills, and non-verified science curriculum. 

While the media continue to play education as a local issue, the politics are coordinated international and national efforts.

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