Seeing the Reality from The Rhetoric

These accountability measures supposedly indicate that reform policies are addressing the “problem” of failing schools. As Lipman (2006) points out.

Tough accountability measures suggest that something is finally being done to make sure that all children can read and do math, with schools, educators, and students held accountable for results. Tying educational programs to accountability for results (test scores) resonates with the often repeated idea that schools have not improved despite a proliferation of reforms, (p. 36)

It is curious how, despite the proliferation of education reforms implemented since the enactment of NCLB, the oft-repeated message concerning education is that students are still performing poorly in large numbers. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the recent release of NAEP scores reinvigorates Edreformers’ argument that education is failing to prepare students to be prepared for college and careers. As the Center for Education Reform (CER), a conservative organization that promotes education reform, remarked on their website:

Last year, on the 35th anniversary of the release of A Nation at Risk the latest NAEP scores were yet again a sobering reminder that far too many children and young adults are not well educated, prepared to enter college or the workforce, and ultimately, able to achieve the level of prosperity this nation offers and makes possible for every citizen.

(Center for Education Reform, n.d., paragraph 8)

Yet, as the Hechinger Report, another education news outlet, commented regarding the 2019 NAEP score results,

Leslie Muldoon, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which jointly oversees the test along with NCES, called the bleak score report “frustrating and difficult to understand” because of all the efforts to improve education. Those include holding schools and teachers accountable for student performance, the introduction of more rigorous Common Core standards, the increased use of education technology and the expansion of charter schools.

(Barshay, 2019, paragraph 5)

Despite the number of education reforms that focus on school choice, standards, testing, and accountability, there is a myriad of reasons for school children’s

“poor” academic performance other than the reforms that have been implemented over the past two decades. In an article published in Education Next, an outlet supporting corporate education reform policies, Kress argues that there are several reasons for the inadequate NAEP results. Sandy Kress, a senior education adviser to President George W. Bush, stated,

As I said in my preview, this picture is in no way surprising. We’ve done nothing this decade that should have moved the dial. We have a national policy called Every Student Succeeds |ESSA], yet there’s really nothing in that policy that demands or even incentivizes changes in the status quo that would likely yield success.

(NAEP Report Card, n.d., paragraph 13)

It is interesting how Kress blames ESSA, only signed into law in December of 2015, approximately five years ago (how long does it take for policy to effect change in a system?) for the poor NAEP results but not the 13 years ofNCLBs punitive policies. On the same webpage, Paul Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a right-wing, conservative think tank, offered an even more confusing comment: “clearly, now is the time to put accountability policy back on the nation’s educational agenda” (NAEP Report Card, n.d., paragraph 32).

Exactly when was accountability for student outcomes taken off' the national agenda? Michael Petrilli adds to the neo-conservative chorus of interpretations of NAEPs “dismal” test scores: It’s the troubling truth that America’s academic progress as a whole remains extremely disappointing. That it doesn’t have to be that way is also true, however, as illustrated by the handful of states and districts that are making notable gains. Let us follow their lead.

(ЛГЛЕР Report Card, n.d., paragraph 38)

Pertrilli is the President of the right-wing neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where demonizing public education is a sport. Petrilli is long known as an advocate for education reform in the United States. Nevertheless, when all of the reform efforts he has supported for nearly two decades leads to disappointing NAEP results, he shifts his tone to one of positivity stating:

A few jurisdictions bucked the overall trends and showed improvement. Washington, D.C., deserves much of the attention, given its ability to demonstrate sustained and significant progress over time, and its decadeplus commitment to fundamental reform. Yet even D.C. comes with a demographic asterisk, given the rapidly changing population of the nation’s capital. It’s also true that, in many ways, the Great Recession skipped D.C.; let me encourage analysts in coming days to figure out how much credit should go to the schools and how much belongs to economic and social conditions.

(NAEP Report Card, n.d., paragraph 34)

Understandably, Petrilli focuses on some of the positive NAEP results and shifts the focus to the economy by discussing Kindergartners who would have been affected by the Great Recession. This is his rhetorical attempt to shift attention and responsibility for the “failure” of schools to the economy and away from nearly two decades of education reforms that focus on testing and accountability. In analyzing the rhetoric and discourse of proponents of education reform, it is challenging to counteract the message. As Lipman and other scholars attest, all these reforms are grounded in ideology and belief that the purpose of education is to develop workers to support and expand the economy. However, to maintain the appearance of objectivity, fairness, and equity, proponents of reform continue to focus on and utilize the data from testing to argue for accountability and more testing, even when that data indicates that the very same solution was a failure.

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