discern reasons behind the spate of official state and federal mandates
for high-stakes tests as well as other stringent standards and accountability
measures, in this article, I turn to what Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci
(1971/1929-1935) claimed should be the perennially essential question
to ask related to social actions; that is, "Who benefits?" I
make the case that various forms of dominance are established or strengthened
through recent state and federal legislation. Because it is clear that
social hierarchies are created or intensified through official high-stakes
mandates, I identify losers (who fail the test and remain at the bottom
of hierarchies) and, more importantly, winners, who retain or improve
their position at the top of hierarchies. I also maintain that dominant
groups set normative standards and use certain liberal and neoliberal
ideologies to contrive legitimacy for the tests and for social hierarchies
Domination through Othering
Apfelbaum (1999), a Jewish refugee from Germany to France during World
War II, theorizes about how dominant groups are formed and about the power
inequalities that shape activities within these groups and determine relations
between them and marginalized groups.
Apfelbaum argues that dominant groups create myths about human features
and establish norms related to their own groups' strengths, which they
then promote as the standard for all people. The dominant group holds
"Others" accountable for attaining these standards whether or
not it is possible and without evidence that their norms are worthwhile.
Individuals and groups who fail to achieve the central groups' standards
are identified (marked, labeled, branded) by stigmatizing names ('failure',
'disabled', 'at-risk'). The binarism of (dominant) insiders and (subordinated)
outsiders, formed through distinction-making processes, implies homogenous
characteristics within the collective who meet the standards, and in those
who do not (Shanahan and Jones, 1999). When central groups portray themselves
as 'adequate' and 'normal', peripheral groups are dialectically positioned
as 'inadequate' and 'abnormal'. Maximum power is held by the dominant
group when distinctions between "us" and "them" are construed as extreme,
fundamental, and irreversible.
declared outside the central collective for reasons related to appearance,
ability, behavior, gender, ethnicity, language usage, social class, and/or
sexual orientation are relegated to a subordinate status that inevitably
leads to oppressions (Eagleton, 1990) of the likes of exploitation, humiliation,
harassment, cultural imperialism (Others' attributes are denigrated),
bodily violence (intimidation, genocide, mercy killing, physical attack,
forced sterilization), segregation, and banishment (Young, 1990, 2000).
Based on a meta-analysis of anthropological studies, in Human Universals,
Donald Brown (1991) found that, to varying degrees, all groups create
hierarchies that correspond to power and status relations. Hence, the
privileging of central or mainstream powerful groups is widespread, even
universal. With predominantly White personnel and deeply-entrenched Eurocentric
traditions, American schools have a history of unfavorable relations with
subordinated groups. Subordinates inevitably are segregated into low status,
marginalized positions and have little access to goods and services (Nielson,
are not purposeless, passive rankings, but represent important interdependent
relations among people of different ranks. Indeed, the role, status, and
perhaps even raison d'etre of dominant groups hinge on the existence
of Others; domination depends on subordination; superiority needs inferiority.
Using Jacques Lacan's (1973) idea of signification in her analogy of empire
building, Elizabeth Bellamy (1998) claims that the identity of
colonizers is based on a lack which can only be filled by colonized Others.
For example, in high-stakes testing, for some students to pass and excel,
Others must do poorly or fail. In the accountability and standards movement,
more generally, some teachers and schools must be declared incompetent
or failures if others are to be judged to be excellent and models of best
Contriving Legitimacy for Hierarchy:
The Role of Ideology
to Gramsci (1971/1929-1935), because those who dominate in hierarchies
are faced with constant resistance from subordinates, they must continuously
exert effort to retain their power. Historically, force has been used
to gain and retain power; however, it is nicer and more effective if powerful
people can convince those in low positions of the legitimacy of status
hierarchies and material disparities. To rule in supposed democracies,
dominant groups must have some degree of permission from Others. They
gain consent for their goals by circulating ideologies that obfuscate
power imbalances. John B. Thompson (1990) defines ideology as meaning
in the service of power. Inscribed in language (Bakhtin, 1981) and institutions
(Tyack and Tobin, 1994), ideologies permeate thought and action (Zizek,
1994), thus mystifying interpersonal rankings (Thompson, 1984). Ideologies
serve to prevent resistance by those at the losing end of status orderings;
however, when subordinates get wise to status or material gaps, new legends
must be brought forward to convince them of their legitimacy. Gramsci
defined hegemony as a dynamic process of ideology circulation in which
subordinates continuously are offered new persuasive evidence to interpret
experience in ways favorable to dominant groups.
form of ideology is storytelling. Debunked decades ago (Keddie, 1973;
Ryan, 1971), cultural deprivation stories are still used to explain why
poor and Black children do less well in school and, correspondingly, why
intergenerational poverty and income gaps exist (Brantlinger, 2003). Versions
of victim-blaming narratives are told by lay persons as well as prominent
social scientists (see reviews by Brantlinger, 1997; Valencia, 1997; Wright,
1993). Human agency versus social structure explanations for intergenerational
poverty divide theorists. Deprivationists see immorality and bad family
values as responsible for children's lack of school success. In contrast,
such informed ethnographers as Ray P. McDermott and Hervé Varenne
(1996) see caring among the poor set against a breakdown of opportunity.
The ideology embedded in the American dream of social mobility, combined
with tales of school as a fair meritocracy, works to make students believe
that the playing field for educational and employment opportunity is level.
The view that those who excel do so by virtue of natural talents and those
who fail lack the necessary attributes to succeed becomes common sense.
Such ideological persuasions lead people to believe that high achievers
are entitled to rewards and failing students deserve negative school and
life outcomes. A popular impression (ideological story) held by the middle
class is that poor people choose to fail in school, attend poorly-resourced
schools, and live in poverty (Brantlinger, 1993, 2003). Such narratives
expurgate the poor while constructing the worthiness of people like themselves
who "aspire" and "try" (see Thompson’s (1997) ideas
about the nature of ideological operations). Because affluent people are
distanced geographically and psychologically from the poor, their impressions
of these Others have little connection to reality. Regardless of cultural
myths and stereotypes (ideological narrating), actual empirical evidence
indicates that poor people share the middle class's reverence for education
and desire for the good life as well as the perception that social mobility
depends on school achievement and attainment (Brantlinger, 1985; Kozol,
2001; Lauder and Hughes, 1999; MacLeod, 1987).
spite of similarities in aspirations and perceptions, evidence confirms
that children from lower-income families do have lower outcomes on educational
measures than their higher-income counterparts (Jencks and Phillips, 1999).
There are numerous reasons for the disparities. First, poor families'
expectations for educational and occupational attainment are low because
they are rational in knowing that they cannot afford higher education
or other enabling school advantages (Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser and Deci, 1996).
Second, because poor children rarely benefit from school's competitive
structure, competition does not play the same motivating role in urban
schools as it does in the suburbs (Brandau and Collins, 1994). Poor children
do, however, benefit from supportive academic push and access to advanced
curricula and programs (Gamoran and Hannigan, 2000; Oakes and Guiton,
1995; Reynolds and Wolfe, 1999) —conditions that rarely exist for them.
Third, the ubiquity of poor and minority people's struggles with biased
treatment and barriers to school and societal success has a cumulative
effect on their morale, which results in their resignation to the probability
of unfavorable circumstances in the future and alienation from mainstream
institutions (Brantlinger, 1985, 1993; Mickelson, 1993). Fourth, students
who are angry about inequities and humiliations tend to reject dominant
ideologies and engage in defiant and oppositional behaviors. Such resistance
inevitably leads to retaliation by those in charge and worsening life
chances (Ray and Mickelson, 1990; Willis, 1977). The fifth and most important
reason for class-related achievement disparities is that the education
of poor, immigrant, and urban children has always been hampered by vastly
inferior school and community conditions (Kozol, 1991, 2001; Seiler and
Tobin, 2000; Wenglinsky, 1998). Gary Orfield (2000) reports almost total
segregation by race/ethnicity and social class in urban school districts,
and mass chaos and disorganization with high rates of administrator turnover
so that consistency is terribly low in anything they do. Hence, poor and
minority children get "subtractive" schooling (Noddings, 2000;
Valenzuela, 1999). Time spent in school often is agonizing for working-class
children (Brantlinger, 1993), as it has been for generations. Herbert
Kliebard (1986) cites the 1913 case of a factory inspector in Chicago,
who questioned children of immigrants about whether they would choose
to continue working long hours in sweatshops or go to school. Of five
hundred interviewed, four hundred and twelve preferred factory labor to
the monotony, humiliation, and sheer cruelty they experienced in school.
Poor people do not choose inadequate schools for their children; however,
policy failure means urban residents have little control over the quality
of community schools (Anyon, 1997). They do not have the power of the
pocketbook to live in neighborhoods known for good schools (Brantlinger,
2003) or to transport their children in school choice situations (Apple,
Supposed Rationale for High-Stakes
official reason for mandating graduation exit exams is that without setting
a cut-off standard that prevents low performing students from earning
a diploma, schools do not guarantee that graduates have even minimal basic
skills, literacy, and general knowledge. It is claimed that without an
achievement baseline determined by criterion referenced tests, the diploma
conveys little about high school graduates' competencies and it therefore
has little credibility or value as a credential. Test proponents believe
the diploma will be worth more if access to it is limited.
official rationale touted for requiring high-stakes tests is that the
possibility of failure and denial of the diploma provide necessary incentives
for students to work harder (FairTest, 1999-2000a). A discourse of societal
decline (a common ideology) purports that some people do not pull their
weight and consequently burden others and pull society down. Stringent
accountability standards and punitive sanctions are billed as tough love
remedies for dealing with corrupted adolescents, neglectful parents, and
inept teachers. Such measures are to provide a reality slap aimed at motivating
to attend school, behave themselves, and try in their courses. In terms
of the effectiveness of tests in motivating failing students to improve
scores, David Berliner (2003) documents that, in spite of the substantial
human and monetary expense of high-stakes tests, such initiatives have
little or no impact on measured achievement.
stakes connected with the testing movement are not leveled exclusively
at students. Schools, school districts, and personnel are judged (and
penalized) according to aggregate test scores. Teachers are portrayed
as lazy, incompetent, and lacking motivation to excel (Mortimore and Mortimore,
1999). Although teachers may now "teach to the test," whether
by choice or district mandate, they may not be effectively implementing
practices they value. Some school personnel are so pressured by punitive
aspects of accountability trends that they feel driven to cheat (Associated
of recent popularity, "get tough" approaches (e.g., zero tolerance
suspension and expulsion rules, grade retention) have rarely had a constructive
impact on target students. Indeed, such punitive practices as low grades,
stigmatizing placements, and castigating discipline inflict symbolic violence
(FairTest, 1999-2000a). Similar "for your own good" rationale are used
to justify violence in child-rearing (Miller, 1986). Because it is claimed
that such mandates are in students' best-interest, in spite of high-stakes
tests' dire consequences for vulnerable students, test promoters and governmental
officials who vote for them advertise themselves as concerned and caring
about poor and minority children. No Child Left Behind legislation
is undergirded by a beneficent politician ideology. When initiatives fund
compensatory programs for students who fail, politicians also claim generosity.
Governing bodies routinely tout the need to discipline or close doors
to students and families when they institute "opportunities." The first
special education class I taught
was called an "Opportunity Room," a misnomer that fooled nobody,
particularly my students. Students required to take compensatory classes,
attend summer school, or retake tests are unlikely to understand these
practices as beneficial; rather they see them as further evidence that
schools are not designed in their own best interests.
Who Fails? Who Loses?
5.1 Within a short period of time after the exit exams were adopted it became clear that poor and minority children were the ones who would fail. In major urban districts across Indiana, minority failure was higher than 50 percent (Associated Press, 2000b) —rates similar to Blacks and Latinos in Texas (FairTest, 1999-2000a). Racially disproportionate outcomes must have been anticipated; Black students inevitably score lower than White students on all school achievement measures (Jencks and Phillips, 1999). A Texas judge acknowledged that graduation tests had a "legally meaningful and disparate impact against African-American and Latino students" (FairTest, 1999-2000a: 1), nevertheless he concluded that "test-based discrimination is not illegal because only a high-stakes exam can force students and educators to work hard enough and be focused enough to learn the 'basic skills' measured" (11). Because of the history of racial segregation and social class discrimination, any informed educator would expect class- and race-related score disparities. Educators also could have predicted that the tests would raise further obstacles to poor students' school success and limit their access to an enriched or even mainstream general education curriculum.
statistics regarding "who fails" high-stakes tests should not
be surprising—they are the same students who fail in other school enterprises:
they score below average on all tests and have low grade point averages,
high rates of grade-level retention, more punished infractions, poor school
attendance records, and high 'dropout' rates. Some are identified as disabled,
were disabled in the past but currently are not classified, or barely
miss cutoff criterion for disability classification. In the first year
of the test, more than 1,000 diploma-track seniors with identified disabilities
failed Indiana’s Graduation Qualifying Examination and thus were not eligible
to receive high school diplomas (O’Neill, 2001). The American Civil Liberties
Union brought forward a class-action lawsuit charging that gateway tests
violated special education students' constitutional rights (Associated
Press, 2000a). Others who fail graduate exit exams are not in special
education but have been singled out for other forms of compensatory or
remedial interventions. "Risk" has previously referred to poor
school performance and potential for grade retention or dropping out —
or being pushed out — of school (Fine, 1991). Indeed, high school dropouts
can be identified for that inevitability as early as third grade. Now,
risk encompasses the probability of students not passing gateway tests
and not receiving diplomas even if they have remained in school for the
full twelve years.
5.3 Given the high rates of failure on high-stakes tests, a public or at least student and parent outcry should be expected. Yet little stakeholder or grassroots opposition has surfaced locally. A few critical letters to the editor appeared, but they were written in a calm and tentative tone by educators. A more animated complaint arose when someone learned that those denied a diploma due to exam failure would be ineligible for admission to technical and vocational colleges. Because of the devastating consequences of the test for a large percentage of the student body, the lack of public outrage should be puzzling. However, given the high correlations between all forms of school failure (i.e., the stability of ranked orderings of achievement over time and across measures), a viable explanation for the lack of public opposition to the gateway exams is they are just one more instance of failure for the same students who always fail. Again, the negative impact is solely on students already on the losing end of school evaluative and status continua and at the bottom rung of school hierarchies. They also are disproportionately poor, of color, and/or are English language learners. Their low, virtually powerless place in school mirrors their family's status in society. They live an impoverished, ghettoed existence (Conley, 1999; Ehrenreich, 2001; Oliver and Shapiro, 1995) and attend schools and classes with the fewest resources (Anyon, 1997; Kozol, 1991, 2001) and the least academic push (Chazan, 2000). It is likely that those who fail the test are too worn out and demoralized by life circumstances to have the energy or incentive to fight this particular battle.
Focusing on Who Passes Rather than
Who Fails High-Stakes Tests
In contrast to the deleterious
outcomes for low-income students, students who readily pass gateway tests
on the first try are White and middle class. Educated in suburban schools
or high "ability" groups in comprehensive elementary schools, then in
honors, gifted/talented, or advanced placement sections during their secondary
years, students who readily pass these new tests have high grade point
averages and score above average on other tests. Middle- and upper-class
students are always on the winning end of ranked orderings. Again, given
that test scores inevitably sort students along social class lines and,
based on what is known about correlations between tests, class- and race-linked
outcomes must have been anticipated.
are numerous insider (to the class) explanations for middle-class students'
success, including they: "come from genetically superior stock," "acquire
cultural capital from educated families," "internalize parental values
and caring about school," "are raised to believe that educational achievement
and attainment are the epitome of success," "receive respectful home treatment
that nurtures the high self-esteem necessary for competence," "live in
emotionally supportive conditions that allow them to concentrate on learning,"
and "are not subjected to the distracting tensions of substance abuse
or antisocial or criminal lifestyles" (see Brantlinger, 2003). Such lay
and professional reasoning attributes middle-class success to superior
student and family characteristics — again, to the personal traits rather
than the structural distinctions in institutional responses to members
of each class.
addition to middle-class people's perceptions of the strengths of their
class, there are other explanations for affluent students' school success
that are not based on stereotypes. One theory is that humans behave rationally.
Thus, middle-class students’ efforts are due to their conviction that
K-12 achievement is necessary for admission to higher education and, in
turn, that college degrees permit access to professional jobs with salaries
high enough to maintain their customary affluent lifestyles. Students
who engage in status maintenance behaviors are aware that there are sufficient
family funds available to facilitate their attaining middle-class goals.
This assurance provides the incentive to make an effort in school. Yet,
it must be acknowledged that high aspirations are only likely to enhance
achievement when combined with expectations of sufficient resources for
advanced education. Given the conditions conducive to monetary support
and parental knowledge regarding education, students of the educated middle
class are on a college-bound track from the time they are born.
neutral explanation for class-related school success rates is that middle-class
people of European American heritage control social institutions so that
they mirror their home culture (Bourdieu, 1997; Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings,
1998). One way to look at this is that arbitrary historical circumstances
have resulted in an Anglo-oriented American school system and that immigrant
groups that followed British settlers have had to assimilate to Anglo
customs. The cultural mismatch is seen as temporary, surmountable, and
unintentional. John Ogbu (1995) makes a compelling case that certain involuntary
immigrants, especially ones who do not blend in because of skin color
and lasting cultural differences due to continuing segregation, have not
been able to break the cultural barriers to be successful in American
schools and society.
version of the cultural difference hypothesis is that White, middle-class
people are reluctant to give up their hegemony. According to this theory,
in both their professional and parental advocacy (for their own children)
roles, college-educated people determine the curricular and pedagogical
factors that privilege children of their class (Apple, 1993; Brantlinger,
2003). They insist on a Eurocentric curriculum and
achievement-differentiated school structures. Annette Henry (1995)
writes of replacing Eurocentric
curricula as important to anti-colonial
struggle even in institutions within the borders of colonial powers. There
are huge funding discrepancies between school districts that always
result in advantaged schooling for affluent classes (see Kozol, 1991).
Within school district distinctions
between schools attended by affluent and impoverished children exist as
well (Brantlinger, 2003). Yet, affluent classes continuously negotiate
within school district benefits for their children and never vote to override
school funding policies that depend on local property taxes.
Zizek (1989) argues that nothing is neutral and everything is ideological
and infused with class interests. Consistent with Marxist accounts of
domination and oppression, social class reproduction theories highlight
how social relations and societal institutions are stratified along class
lines. Yet, even critical theories may not overturn dominating relations
when highly abstract language is used. Scholars often convey resignation
to stratified relations or fail to be introspective about their own role
in reproducing them (Brantlinger, 1999). They do not declare or notice
which side they are on (Becker, 1963). In this sense, critical scholars
may do as much harm as mainstream scholars who follow techno-rational
agendas of exacting classifications of failing students or offering remedies
for failure. For example, Gerald Bracey (1997) criticizes academics that
make careers of collecting grants to fix problems. In addition, Christine
Sleeter (2000) argues that, "researchers from dominant groups have a long
history of producing knowledge about oppressed groups that legitimates
their subordination" (10). Few scholars turn their gaze upwards in order
to understand why dominant classes consistently win and why they create
new measures to guarantee their continuing domination of hierarchies.
I dub theories neutral when they do not pinpoint human intentionality.
When leftist or postmodern theories identify culture as a stock of commonsense
beliefs about what is right, natural, normal (Rochon, 1998), see tacit
knowledge as visceral and internal (Vygotsky, 1978), or the body/subject
as socially inscribed and managed (Shapiro, 1999), it is implied that
those who benefit are mere puppets controlled by external forces. In these
theories, deliberate intention and informed agency remain invisible. Yet,
if there are no intentions, there is no responsibility (or accountability),
and consequently little possibility for change.
nothing is neutral (Zizek, 1994), I use the term "political"
as an honorific for theories that address the intentionality and self-serving
actions of dominant classes and connect to agendas for transformative
change. Within these parameters, I ask such questions about the widespread
adoption of exams as: If existing evaluative measures already ranked students,
why were additional tests needed? If who fails and who passes the gateway
test is the same as for all school measures, hence predictable, what is
the exam's purpose? Who needs them? Who wants them? Why are they so popular
among legislators and voters? On what social meanings do these tests depend?
Real answers to such questions are complex, interactive, and definitively
political because they focus on the agency and intentional acts of those
who dominate in school and society. If Gramsci were here, I believe he
might ask, "If gateway tests do not benefit students they disqualify
from high school graduation, then who do they benefit?"
practices mandated by the standards and accountability movement, in general,
and the high school exit exams, in particular, are expensive financially
and in terms of time spent by teachers and students, it is important to
understand why people endorse them and why government officials legislate
them. It seems reasonable to conclude that a number of parties reap rewards
from high-stakes testing. Turning to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony (that
powerful groups in society strive to maintain and strengthen their dominance
by offering new evidence to justify it), it is plausible to assume that
high-stakes tests facilitate the win/lose situations that justify hierarchical
social relations and dominant groups' material and status advantages.
In the remainder of this article, I identify various "winners"
and conjecture about how they benefit in the current high-stakes testing
and accountability and standards milieu.
Benefits for Test Producers
most obvious response to the "who benefits" question is that
gateway tests are a good source of revenue for test producers. Through
connections to the media, test companies announce declining achievement
rates for American students and link these rates to downward national
economic trajectories — current, foreseen, or imagined. Economic doomsday
narratives scare the public into compliance with regulations that require
the adoption of yet another expensive accountability measure, if not to
gauge students' achievement, then to assess teachers or pre-service teachers.
According to this explanation, the burgeoning
use of exams results from a conspiracy designed to keep money flowing
in the direction of test producers, especially CEOs of such supposedly
not-for-profit companies as
Education Testing Services. Dependency on objective tests as the sole
criterion of educational performance also benefits the companies that
shape textbooks to contain the knowledge required for tests. So, among
in the high-stakes testing movement are vendors who design and market
tests and produce official textbook knowledge.
about achievement inadequacies has resulted in proliferation of tests
for students at every level of education as well as for pre-service and
in-service teachers. When I started as a teacher educator in the late
1970s, graduating from a teacher education institution translated into
State certification. Now teacher education graduates must pass several
tests, including one for each age level they teach as well as each subject
area and/or disability category certification. If teachers want certification
in another State, they must take a different set of tests conveniently
customized for that State. Similarly, a few years ago, our institution
admitted students to the teacher education program based solely on their
GPAs in prerequisite courses. Some programs required evidence of experience
with children. Presently, we have dropped the experience requirement,
but students must pass admission tests to get into programs. This testing
expansion has meant a boom for test and textbook industries as well as
for organizations that provide tutorial courses or materials aimed at
helping students improve their test scores. These companies are part of
corporate conglomerates with connections to the media and prominent politicians
(Metcalf, 2002). It is likely that these affiliates deliberately circulate
knowledge about educational crises, then market remedies purportedly to
improve literacy and other forms of achievement (McNeil, 1995, 2000).
Benefits to Trans-Global Capitalists
is based on maximizing profits, hence the endless pursuit of opportunities
to enhance profits among corporations. It is not surprising that those
who benefit most from capitalism's 'free market' enterprise would eschew
public institutions. That capitalist controlled mass communication systems
would publicize low scores, condemn teachers, construct students/workers
as intellectually and morally inferior, and recommend business-oriented
measures to correct problems they identify is not unexpected. By clever
use of their media, capitalists create themes that resonate with ideologies
of neoliberals, neo-conservatives, authoritarian populists, and the new
middle class (Apple, 2003). Alliances formed through groups' supposed
mutual interests allow politicians who endorse the agendas of rich people
and powerful corporations to get elected. Reducing public spending and
giving tax breaks to the wealthy are their high priorities. To sway the
system to advantage current elites, voters and their representatives must
be convinced that certain citizens are unworthy of receiving government
spending. When the public is convinced that test scores are the key criterion
for judging human worth, then it is opportune to prove students and teachers
deficient and schools dysfunctional based on low scores. CEOs have gotten
widespread public concurrence that certain citizens are undeserving and
that welfare safeguards and other public services and accommodations for
some citizens unduly burden other taxpayers.
school and deficient worker narratives also provide CEOs with the excuse
and public endorsement for maintaining low wages. Such narratives distract
public attention from unethical corporate and labor practices, business
welfare, and self-serving actions of elites. They divert attention that
concerned citizens should have about the worldwide colonization of land
and people by western trans-global corporations (Martin and Schumann,
1997; Sleeter, 2000). While blaming illiterate United States workers,
CEOs insist that for their industries to stay afloat they must relocate
abroad, opportunely to places with low wage structures and lax environmental
standards. Meanwhile, they claim to transfer companies to third world
countries for the sake of the United States economy — to stay ahead of
global competition for production and markets. Corporate leaders, and
politicians who endorse their agendas, insist on literacy standards, but
reject any plan that sets standards for environmental protection or living
wages. Unions are busted as CEOs do the "necessary" downsizing that
creates national unemployment and underemployment and decimates fringe
benefits for the working class. Meanwhile, they up-size their own salaries
and return huge profits to corporate shareholders. Transnational corporations
have managed to dismantle governmental restrictions so they have infinite
unregulated power (Sleeter, 2000). Nation-states have lost control of
trans-global corporations and thus are unable to autonomously regulate
living standards and welfare needs of their population (Medovoi, 2002;
Sassen, 1998). It is little wonder that those with power over economic
conditions like to believe in the inferiority of American workers and
the neutrality and inevitability of market trends.
Perhaps the most interesting
aspect of the intensification of testing and standards that have marked
schools and workers as defective is the disconnection between reality
and fiction about achievement and its links to the economy. Although current
achievement among United States students is relatively high (Berliner,
2000), this has not prevented jobs with sustainable salaries from disappearing
for Americans (Wilson, 1996). If inferior workers actually were the cause
of corporation departures, then companies would not move to countries
whose citizens have lower literacy levels. A credible reason for the onslaught
of tests is that corporations have used low scores to convince the public
of student/worker inadequacies and pinpoint these failures as the reason
for their low wages and existing salary discrepancies between managers
and workers. By constructing low scorers as personal losers, corporations
have a convenient scapegoat for social problems and a diversion from personal
blame. Low test scores provide proof that the poor (previously the working
class) are inferior and undeserving. Constructing market dynamics as systemic
inevitabilities, corporate owners deny their own intentionality and avoid
being held accountable for contributing to the dire outcomes of the modern
American working class.
Benefits to Media Moguls
enterprises sustain themselves by engaging the attention of potential
consumers of products sold by press or network advertisers. In the past,
independent presses and radio stations were owned by individuals of various
political persuasions that worked to influence voters in myriad ways (McChesney,
flourishing populism meant working- and middle-class voters had some leverage
over who got elected and hence how politicians regulated capitalist enterprise
and were responsive to constituencies. Organized nationally and locally,
labor action forced capitalists to pay relatively high working-class wages
and provide fringe benefits. Times have changed. International communication
networks are now controlled by fewer than two dozen enormous profit-making
corporations (McChesney, 1997, 2001). Responsive to those in power, media
serve a master (McChesney, 1999; McLeod and Hertog, 1999). Dominant messages
(ideologies) that distort the reality of modern life, advantage business
and bureaucratic institutions (Viswanath and Demers, 1999). Corporate
control of the media results in public expenditures being "the problem"
and business and unregulated free markets being "the answer,"
so business-oriented measures are recommended to solve their versions
of educational and national problems. In this media monopoly, those who
protest the capitalist system are ignored, excluded, or negatively portrayed
(Glasser and Bowers, 1999). In snippets of coverage of the massive
protests against the World Bank and World Trade Organization in Quebec
City, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., protesters were portrayed as rabble-rousing
miscreants with no legitimate gripes.
the same time that media ownership became centralized under corporate
control, concern about societal decline and students not measuring up
to earlier standards heightened. During the Sputnik era, hysteria arose
about losing the cold war to Russia in particular and communism in general.
Working-class Americans were persuaded to associate with free market capitalism
and disassociate with anything socialist. After the breakup of the Soviet
Union and the opening of China to the West, concern about the communist
threat shifted to worries about losing out in the economic competition
to dominate world markets. Announcements about educational mediocrity,
inadequate workers, and the United States losing in global competition
prevailed. These mostly undocumented sound bites coalesced into a discourse
of school and societal decline that convinced the public of the need to
raise standards and hold public schools accountable for improvements in
educational — and economic — outcomes. The Nation at Risk legislation
framed the rationale for concentrating on measurable academic achievement
and No Child Left Behind reemphasized similar goals under the guise
of concern for the fate of poor and minority children.
plausible explanation for the publicity about social and academic deterioration
is that it gains and retains audiences. Media moguls know that people
generally have personal experiences with and an interest in schools. Education
coverage filled the space left when the communist threat dissipated. It
still provides filler when natural disasters, crimes, or international
conflicts are unavailable to the newspaper pages or air waves. A form
of cold war logic lurks behind the fear that America must better educate
its workers to win in global markets or on battlegrounds. This crisis
mentality about the state of education and the economy is not unique to
Americans. Hyperbolic concern about literacy tied to fears of workforce
collapse and national vulnerability is apparent in England (Ball, Kenny
and Gardiner, 1990; Whitty, 2000) and Australia (Taylor, Rizvi, Lingard
and Henry, 1997). Apparently, sensationalism surrounding declining achievement
and social conditions has gained media coverage internationally.
compelling case has been made against the validity of arguments of school
decline or inferior workers. Bracey (2000) detects flaws in statistics
that purport to document American students' comparative weakness, and
Richard Rothstein (1999) concludes that, regardless of reports
to the contrary, student achievement has consistently improved. The agitation
about academic decline and the United States losing ground to other nations
has been called a "manufactured crisis" (Berliner and Biddle, 1995). In
terms of education's responsibility for depressing the United States economy,
the case has been made that even if achievement were declining, tougher
standards for student performance would not improve either schools or
the economy (Kohn, 1998; Kozol, 2001; Meier, 2000; Ohanian, 1999; Starratt,
1994). Others reject the argument that schools can or should be engines
for economic restoration (Smyth and Schacklock, 1998). Regarding apprehension
about the scarcity of graduates competent in technical fields — see Nation
at Risk (U.S. Department of Education, 1983) and America 2000
(U.S. Department of Education, 1991) — contradictory evidence of high
unemployment rates among graduates with advanced degrees, especially in
mathematics, science, and technology exists (Boutwell, 1997; Noddings,
1994; O'Brien, 1998).
Benefits for Politicians and Political
this point in history, undoubtedly due to the clever manipulation of media
moguls, the public as well as political parties have learned to dwell
on leaders' personal traits rather than substantive issues. Intense and
bitter party rivalries are constant. Such contention is ironic given that
differences between Democrats and Republicans, the only parties with a
chance to win in modern American elections, are barely discernible. Politicians
seem to fear that anything other than the articulation of bland, conformist
agendas will alienate voters. Fueled by the educational crisis mentality
and avoiding real issues, various politicians espouse their own versions
of high educational and accountability standards. They join the bandwagon
that bill themselves as "education" presidents, mayors, governors,
or legislators. Bureaucrats gain political capital from being messengers
of the popular doom and salvation rhetoric regarding education. Because
these measures seemingly are instituted for students' sakes, concern about
educational failures allows politicians to advertise themselves as caring
about children and the country.
have nothing to lose and much to gain from pursuing "improve education"
agendas. In the first place, running for public office is expensive, so
inevitably politicians are affluent. Members of affluent, educated classes
are the ones who benefit most from the social hierarchies created and
intensified by standardized tests. Mandates for high-stakes tests and
accountability measures officially sanction existing hierarchical relations
by rewarding cultural capital and avoiding the equity or redistributive
reform that would undermine their privilege. In addition to the personal
gain of their children and grandchildren rising to the top of academic
competition, thus gaining access to advantaged school conditions, some
politicians own stock in test and textbook companies (Metcalf, 2002).
Such conflicts of interest are covered in alternative media with small
circulation; however, they are not published in mainstream circuits. Hence,
the fact that certain politicians engage in illegal and unethical behaviors
goes relatively unnoticed by the general public.
Bourdieu (1998) equates neoliberalism with dominant discourse of political
submission to economic rationality, undivided reign of the market, and
withering away of state regulation of business. Amy Stuart Wells
(2000) contends that neoliberalism undergirds free market rationale for
school choice policy (e.g., charter school development, public vouchers
for private schools), which she sees as a backlash against redistributive
reforms aimed at decreasing disparities in education and society. Bourdieu
(1998) claims that in the mode of consensus, people collectively have
an "atavistic faith in the historical inevitability of productive
forces" and "utter a fatalistic discourse which transforms economic
tendencies into destiny" (18). He warns that "flagrant inadequacies
of the market are undermining the public interest and liquidating the
gains of the welfare state," and condemns the French public for judging
the "political candidates according to narrow-minded, regressive,
security-minded, protectionist, conservative xenophobia" (18).
Benefits for Conservatives
contrast to the goals of democratic and grassroots reform that gained
ground during the 1980's, current reform initiatives advocate top-down
control of education. An impetus for the groundswell of concern about
education and subsequent onslaught of high-stakes legislation is that
conservatives fear that democratic, progressive, and transformative school
reform would diminish their power and advantage. Test-driven educational
standards direct educators away from democratic reform and back to a monolithic,
western-European-centered, subject matter discipline-oriented curriculum.
For high performance on objective tests, teachers and students must concentrate
on the standard academic content provided in commercial texts. Again,
it must be emphasized that textbook and test producing companies are owned
by the same trans-global corporations (Metcalf, 2002).
conservatives have long been troubled by the prospect that public school
personnel teach secular values to children that are not consistent with,
or drawn from, their own religious tenets. Some fundamentalist parents
have taken their children out of public schools to be home schooled. Others
are determined that if public schools will not be shaped by Christian
content, curriculum must be restricted to academic subject matter. Conservatives,
who believe in the superiority of western-European culture, have been
alarmed by multicultural encroachment on traditional education. Again,
because test content drives teachers to cover the conservative curriculum
that will be on the test, they approve of high-stakes testing.
Capitalist conservatives appear
to advocate for more and more tests to prove the general inadequacy of
public schooling. Earlier high-stakes initiatives had an impact only on
failing schools; that is, low-income, minority school populations. No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations exert control over all schools
by insisting they document continuous annual progress. Although, constitutionally,
education has been deemed a State responsibility, NCLB has vastly
extended federal power over education. This coincides with corporations'
global level of control and capitalist plans to privatize the world. True
believers, who have faith in the rationality and benefits of pure market
economy, eschew anything public. They demand private ownership of industry,
national resources, health, welfare, and education. Evidence of public
school failure provides an incentive for privatization. NCLB offers
the condition that families can move their children from failing to successful
schools, including private ones. Thus, the federal government mandates
that vouchers be provided for private schools. Although their agenda for
privatization is less encompassing and not founded on free market ideology,
the fundamentalist religious right and racial separatists join the public
education bashing in order to fund the parochial and/or segregated schools
of their choice. The pluralist, democratic dream of diverse children coming
together in public schools is forsaken.
Benefits for Enterprising School
tests have distinctive outcomes for various school districts. Given the
high correlation between social class/race and achievement outcomes, it
is evident that school districts with the lowest percentage of children
on free and reduced lunch will have higher scores and will look best when
test outcomes are publicized. Administrators and teachers in high-income
school catchments zones tend to believe that higher scores are due to
their management and instructional competencies (Brantlinger, 2003). Such
deceptive boasting is not as corrupt as the deliberate manipulation of
the student test pool done to make a district and its administration look
good. In an article graphically entitled, "Flunk 'em or get them
classified," Anne McGill-Franzen and Richard Allington (1993) exposed
administrators' practice of classifying students as disabled in order
to eliminate them from the test pool and retaining students ineligible
for classification so their scores could be averaged into a lower grade
level. These actions resulted in dramatic improvement in school or district
test scores, but had negative consequences for retained and classified
Benefits for Professionals and
professionals both receive and award the credentials that give their class
power over much of social life (Bourdieu, 1996; Eagleton, 1990). Historically,
expanding numbers of specialists and technical experts correspond to burgeoning
abnormalities and pathologies (Caplan, 1995; Capshew, 1999; Kutchins and
Kirk, 1997). Special education provides evidence of proliferating disability
categories and swelling ranks within them. Many concur that high incidence
disabilities (e.g., learning disability, emotional disturbance, and attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder) have more to do with the nature of schools
than the nature of individuals (Apter, 1996; McDermott and Varenne, 1996;
Mercer, 1973; Smith, 1997). Classification by experts leads to Others'
out-group status (Goffman, 1963). Poor children and children of color
are over-represented in special education (Artiles and Trent, 1994; Brantlinger,
1986, 1993; Connor and Boskin, 2001; Harry, 1994; Patton, 1998), as they
are in low tracks (Ansalone, 2001). Psychologists have been criticized
for naturalizing oppressive standards for social adjustment (Schnog, 1997)
and calling difference "deviance" when it is located in Others.
They also see traits as fixed rather than influenced by school structures
and practices (e.g., social determinism in Richard Herrnstein and Charles
Murray's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American
question the expansion of specialized fields (Brown, 1995; Danforth, 1996;
Gordon and Keiser, 1998), and the ever-tightening standards that secure
professional monopoly of the highest ranks (Gouldner, 1979; Wright, 1985).
Barry Troyna and Carol Vincent (1996) call the elevation of
social service professions an "ideology of experts" (131). As
professionals gain authority, autonomy is reduced for others (Bourdieu,
1996; Eagleton, 1990; Mills, 1943). Michel Foucault (1977) theorizes that
middle-level bureaucrats in schools, penal institutions, and other social
agencies use the major disciplinary instruments of hierarchic surveillance,
normalizing sanctions, and examination; mechanisms recognizable in the
adoption of high-stakes tests and other components of the accountability
and standards movement. Professional norms are made to appear universal
and objective through technical and scientific (ideological) story-telling.
The pretense of knowledge as authorless, disinterested, and value-free
is what Thomas Nagel (1986) calls the view from nowhere. Apfelbaum
(1999) locates such knowledge in those at the powerful center of social
life. Foucault (1980) notes that universal intellectuals who contribute
to an understanding of social life have been replaced by specific intellectuals
who have credentials and technical expertise to work narrowly within academic
disciplines. Such "faceless professionals" are "competent members
of a social class going about their business" (7). James Martin
(1998) reminds readers of Gramsci’s observation that even intellectuals
from working classes cease to serve their original class interests and
play a conservative role by supporting the status quo.
modern times, social divisions are institutionalized. Social class formation
intersects with the structure of social agencies (education, welfare,
judicial, penal, mental health), which are regulated by governmental acts.
Legislators pass laws and professionals develop protocols for practices
that comply with the laws. Most of these regulations have a differential
impact on high- and low-income people. Official regimentation depersonalizes
human actions, while at the same time solidifying hierarchical relations.
For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(1990) authorizes disability categories and due process guidelines for
treatment supposedly to ensure equal and appropriate treatment. States
mandate high-stakes tests and accountability measures apparently for the
purpose of bringing low achievers up to speed. So, as officials monitor
those under their control, doling out rewards and sanctioning failure,
personnel at each bureaucratic level simply comply with established procedures
to "do their jobs." Power imbalances between local actors do
not appear to be the result of intentional acts. Thus, class power disparities
and hierarchies are disguised as they are perpetuated. All the while,
professionals do benefit from ever-tightening standards to secure their
monopoly of high ranks.
the end, professionals have a social class position. Erik Olin Wright
(1985) postulates that what he calls the "new middle class"
is a contradictory class who do not benefit from corporate profits to
the same extent as elite classes; still their financial and social interests
are tied to the market. Hence, they gain from a market economy and market
thinking (Dale, 2001; Rizvi and Lingard, 2001). The current trend in teacher
education is to expect
professors to fall in line with political and business agendas (Pinar,
2000). Bourdieu (1996) maintains that with their material power and ideological
control, affluent people use schools to sanctify social divisions — to
impose the symbolic violence of ranking and segregating. Subordinates
are positioned as educational consumers in need of services; dominant
classes are promoted as experts who provide service. For professionals
to work there must be constituencies to serve. A professional class would
still be employed in egalitarian societies; yet, the swelling of an underclass
or of people "at risk" or "with needs" means employment
security for credentialed experts who have the specific expertise needed
in the increasing bureaucratization of social services.
Benefits for Members of the Educated
schools in the United States always have relied on standardized tests
to chart student progress, under the standards and accountability movements,
testing has intensified and the stakes for failing and passing have increased.
A close-to-home explanation for the onslaught of tests is that they provide
opportunity for those who do well on tests to prove their superiority.
Disparate test results reaffirm common sense notions that positive personal
attributes account for school success —that middle-class children are
intellectually superior and/or have better work ethics. Documenting poor
children's inadequacies reaffirms the belief that their relegation to
lesser school circumstances is necessary and not discriminatory. The stronger
the measures used to prove inferiority and the more replications of the
extensiveness of Others' flaws, the more credible the arguments about
status differentials, hence the more justification for distinguishing
practices that separate "advanced" children into exclusive neighborhood
schools and high-ability groups and tracks (Brantlinger, 2003). Because
middle-class children typically have no trouble passing tests, they do
not need to worry about the graduate exit exam hurdle. Indeed, they benefit
from the diploma's scarcity. When every student can earn a diploma, it
has little value as a credential. To have worth, status markers must be
scarce. Adults of this class vote to limit access to diplomas and other
enriched school conditions — they legislate measures and control institutions
in ways that perpetuate distinctions; plainly put, they "hog resources"
(Sleeter, Gutierrez, New and Takata, 1992: 173). Richard Rorty (1997)
argues that "suburbanites, who know social mobility advanced their
parents' fates, see nothing wrong with belonging to a hereditary caste,"
and having a "secession of the successful" by preventing the mobility
of Others (86). Disparate test scores explain school inequities as related
to school proficiencies to both the haves and the have-nots — that is
how hegemony works.
educated middle-class people may believe they have no corporate connections,
they are a contradictory class who tie their fate to competitive corporate
practices (Wright, 1985). They have social and material advantage in school
and post-school situations. So, one answer to the question of who benefits
from gateway exams is that those who win in education and occupation seek
increasingly conclusive evidence of their superiority to justify taking
home larger and larger shares of the national economic pie. It is no coincidence
that those found to be inadequate are the least powerful citizens. At
a time of rising wages for the educated middle class (U.S. Census, 2001),
stratified outcomes strengthen the image of Others' faults and justify
uneven wage structures and growing income gaps. The affluent need evidence
of their worth to provide a grounding for privilege. Dominant classes
depend on storied reasons (ideologies) for Others' failures because cut-throat
competition and slanted playing fields are not admired or condoned. Selfishness
and greed are subject to approbation by religious and secular standards
(Bersoff, 1999). According to Roy F. Baumeister (1996),
"The desire to think well of oneself is one of the most fundamental and
pervasive motivations in human psychological function" (27). Draconian
measures adopted to document Others' inferiority can be understood as
attempts to maintain, restore, or improve the self-evaluation of perpetual
the United States is the largest imperial power in history, this fact
rarely is mentioned. Nor do Americans refer to themselves as capitalists
(Kailin, 2000). As with typical neoliberal discourses, when capitalism
is addressed, it is framed in democratic or Enlightenment terms as individual
rights, freedom, and progress rather than as imperialism (Sleeter, 2000).
This viewpoint ignores issues of power and does not name who is and who
is not advantaged (Epstein and Steinberg, 1997). Aijaz Ahmad (1992)
claims that economic realities surround and saturate us; that corporate
repressions, the rise of a compliant bourgeoisie [college-educated, managerial
class], and strengthened market mentality regarding schools are interrelated.
The Next Essential Question: Does
naively believe that modernity means a progression of peoples and countries
toward independence and general improvement in material and social conditions.
Development of democratic market economies generally is perceived as an
unquestionable public good. Yet, economic and political/social goals diverge.
Liberty in the market has not meant liberty for most people. Corporate
global control has diminished rather
than increased national or personal independence (Appadurai, 1996). Capitalism's
global rampage has gone mostly uncontested as trans-global corporations
negotiate away national governments' regulations. Dennis Carlson and Michael
Apple (1998) refer to Gramsci's theory that advanced capitalist societies
are in an era of factory mass production in which consumerism has emerged
to drive industrialization and public institutional organization. Consumption
patterns caused by relative affluence have decimated the world's forests,
which has disastrous consequences for indigenous peoples, wild life, and
global ecology including global warming and volatile weather patterns.
In reference to the tremendous growth of suburbs and extensive use of
cars, James Howard Kunstler (2000) tallies up the disastrous economic,
environmental, social, and spiritual costs that America pays for its consumer-crazed
lifestyle. Globalization has meant an increasing concentration of extreme
wealth in relatively few international families and increasing poverty
and hopelessness among large sectors of world society (Anyon, 2000; Garmarnikow
and Green, 2000).
thinking about recent political and economic trends, "drift"
captures the idea that things happen without public deliberation or conscious
planning on the part of a broad base of citizens. By claiming that declining
environmental and social conditions are inevitable, trans-global corporations
deny their intentionality and avoid being held accountable for contributing
to dire social and natural outcomes. Class inequalities have not been
made a pressing national concern by either party; indeed, they are barely
acknowledged (O’Brien, 1998). Yet, Rorty (1997) claims that the citizen
self-respect needed for participation in democratic deliberation is incompatible
with large social divisions. Disparate economic and social conditions
pit citizens against each other; the struggle is less often between classes
than within them. Elites compete with each other for the rewards of high-paying
and high-status positions (Newman, 1998). Subordinates struggle among
themselves over limited resources and access to power. Internal strife
among impoverished people, whether based on racism or convenient outlets
for expressions of anger and frustration, does not benefit anyone. It
is based on false consciousness of class interest and misperception of
coincidentally, the burgeoning development of trans-global corporations
has occurred simultaneously with the schools' emphasis on dispensing only
knowledge valued by business. With this market agenda for education, teachers
are to be "passive, objective, and efficient distributors of technical
information" (Leistyna, 1999: 7). Teacher educators tend to have
pre-service teachers learn an aggregate of measurable academic skills
and thus have a conservative impact on teacher practice (Brantlinger,
1996; Hatton, 1997). Knowledge is standardized and commodified so it can
be assessed by high-stakes measures and translated into credentials and
differentiated status (Saavreda, 2000). Bourdieu (1984) claims that school
knowledge is mainly useful as cultural capital that produces social class
distinctions. Thus, knowledge is power (Foucault, 1980). David Labaree
(1997) argues that under current conditions of schooling, students can
succeed [pass tests, get good grades] without learning. Carlson and Apple
(1998) warn that the narrow academic focus of modern curriculum has negative
effects on identity formation, so both successful and unsuccessful students
pay a price for schools' excessive competition and strict emphasis on
credentialing. Barry Osbourne (1996) argues that the unfair sorting
of technocratic education has a negative impact on unsuccessful students
and, like Rorty, he claims when inequalities escalate, democracy is under
threat internally. Unregulated and expansive business development, corporate
intervention in schooling, and attempts to legislate control over school
outcomes result in a reproduction of the current social class and wage
structure that bind students to the existing social order (Bartlett, Frederick,
Gulbraidsen and Murillo, 2002; Neill, 2000; Sleeter, 2000).
Kailin (2000) argues that
high-stakes testing, retention, and accountability standards are new ways
to create notions of failure and keep the masses back. She questions how
such reforms can be constructive, when, for example, in the city of New
Orleans, 91 out of 103 schools are considered below adequate (failing)
schools in which the official response is to subject students, teachers,
and administrators to stringent repercussions. Monty Neill
(2000) calls high-stakes tests a bad reflection of even the better parts
of standards. He delineates that this testing movement causes: (1) a narrowing
of curricula through the elimination of curricular depth because tests
cover general factual knowledge; (2) increased student dropout or push-out
rates; (3) a weakening of constructive test purposes; (4) intensified
mechanistic school (busy) work; (5) bureaucratized, centralized school
power; (6) disempowered teachers; (7) alienated students; and (8) standardized
Conclusion: Opposing High-Stakes
Testing (and Dominance)
big picture view of who benefits from high-stakes testing frames "winners"
in a way that challenges the neutrality of educated middle-class people.
This framing may shed light on the lack of effective resistance to standards
and accountability initiatives, in spite of widespread discontent about
them (note the preponderance of critical presentations on the 2003 American
Educational Research Association Annual Meeting program). Prominent educators
and scholars have taken a stand against the high-stakes juggernaut. Deborah
Meier (1994, 2000) asks that the purpose and nature of schools be examined
in order to better align their means to their ends; she insists that high-stakes
measures are not the answer to achievement disparities. Others warn that
implementing differentiating educational policies and practices force
certain children into debilitating roles (Mehan, Hubbard and Villanueva,
1994; Oakes, Quartz, Ryan and Lipton, 2000; Noddings, 2000). Linda
McNeil (2000) urges educators not to consent to punitive measures
advocated by a corporate elite whose main concern is personal profit and
not children. Alfie Kohn (1998) insists that administrators "respect
the moral bottom line" and not give in to requests of self-centered
school patrons (576). The unnamed editors of Rethinking Schools
(2000) recommend that schools should be responsible to communities, not
the marketplace, be actively multicultural and anti-racist, be willing
to promote social justice for all, be geared toward learning for life
and the needs of democracy, receive adequate and equal resources, and
collaborate with parents and community members. Looking beyond schools,
they insist that communities be revitalized.
considering what might work to increase equity in modern times, general
principles can be drawn from such intellectuals as Karl Polanyi
(1957), who claims that reciprocity (the giving and receiving according
to need), the dominant mode of exchange in traditional societies, should
be the principle for modern ones. John Rawls (1971) recommends
distributive justice so the neediest in society are the first to get scarce
resources. Eva Feder Kittay (1999), the mother of a disabled child,
looks at the dependency work of women and writes that her aim is to "find
a knife sharp enough to cut through the fiction of our independence" (xiii).
Similarly, Christine Koggel (1998) suggests instead of asking what independent,
autonomous agents need, a relationship approach to equality asks what
moral persons embedded in relationships of interdependency should have
to the routinized forms of non-involvement of teachers in real decision-making
and the disruption of top-down high-stakes reform pressures, Kathryn
Herr (2000) advocates asking teachers to name their own concerns.
Elizabeth Saavedra (2000) recommends that teachers not privilege external
expert knowledge aligned with corporate interests, refuse to become disempowered
technicians, quit allowing themselves to be pathologized, discontinue
unhealthy competitiveness with each other, and fight oppressive control
forced on them by somebody else's idea of reform. Seeing the need for
solidarity and authentic partnerships among teachers, Saavedra (2000)
suggests they join teachers' movements. An example of teacher activism
is the Florida teachers who traveled six hours to return their bonuses
(for students’ high scores) to Governor Jeb Bush
in order to focus attention on what they see as a misuse of the Florida
Comprehensive Achievement Test to rank schools (FairTest, Winter 1999-2000b:
5). Teachers' fight for equity and social justice must be joined by others.
For activism to succeed it must have the critical mass necessary for an
effective social movement (Marwell and Oliver, 1993; Meyer and Tarrow,
1998; Tarrow, 1998). Activism requires commitment, hard work, and especially
the bravery to leave the privileged center of mainstream life and confront
it. Social movements are necessarily extra-institutional; for durable
change they must disrupt rather than interrupt dominant practice (Katzenstein,
I assign a thinking and theorizing role broadly to all humans, it is necessary
that those paid to set trends in academia or lead in schools should be
held most accountable for deep, critical thinking about improving the
life circumstances for citizens. Throughout his work, Gramsci called for
intellectuals to be consciously reflective social analysts. His test for
this type of intellectual production was the extent to which it fused
with the life of the masses and mobilized them to think critically about
their circumstances (Martin, 1998). This means that intellectuals should
interrogate their own tacit knowledge and class-embedded ideologies. Paulo
Freire (1970, 1973, 1985) infused consciousness raising into literacy
instruction. Edward Said (1994) claimed that real intellectuals are moved
by metaphysical passions about disinterested principles of justice and
truth — they denounce corruption, defend the weak, and defy imperfect
or oppressive authority. C. Wright Mills’ (1963) intellectuals had impassioned
social visions. Valerie Scatamburlo (1998) echoes Karl Marx’s call
for ruthless criticism of everything that exists — that is not afraid
of its own conclusions or of conflict with existing power relations. David
Harvey (1996) argues that although it is dangerous in academia to confess
to being "meta" about anything, he believes the grand metanarratives
about social equity (e.g., Marxism) and Enlightenment ideals of equality
and justice are relevant to today's society. Valerie Walkerdine (2000)
recommends creating new spaces in which people can reinvent themselves
[and Others] in more positive ways. She notes that as subject positions
change for women, men must be prepared to cope with the loss of a particular
kind of masculinity. In a similar vein, new roles and identities must
be developed for the traditionally oppressed and the traditional oppressors.
those of us in the center of mainstream social life must be willing to
give up material and status advantage so that egalitarian ideals might
be realized. We scholars should not be exempt from our own critical insights
(Bourdieu, 1998). In terms of readiness for change, Harvey (1996) asserts:
"It transpires that there is not a region in the world where manifestations
of anger and discontent with the capitalist system cannot be found"
(430). Rather than drifting passively (Eliasoph, 1998), it is time to
take stock of trends and make deliberate democratic decisions about the
future (Elster, 1998). Gabriele Oettingen (1996) suggests that
people generate positive fantasies and mental images depicting future
events and scenarios; that optimism has beneficial effects on motivation,
cognition, and affect. Michael Schudson (1998) advocates the need
to capture the national imagination with a large moral mission. In this
article, I have asked "who benefits" from high-stakes testing,
and have shown how we, as members of the educated class, are complicit
in maintaining hierarchies. I ask readers to join a counter-movement to
oppose stratifying measures and work to overcome hierarchical and excluding
relations in school and society.
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Ellen Brantlinger is a Professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research interests are social class, adolescent identity, and disability studies in education. Her most recent book is Dividing Classes: How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage.
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