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Manufacturing Consent for Market-Driven Schooling

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Christopher A. Lizotte of the University of Washington and Dan Cohen published an interesting research paper about how market-driven policies have been promoted and sold. The paper was published in 2014-2015, and the trends described here have become more powerful, promoted by some of the wealthiest people in the nation. The title of the paper is “Teaching the Market: Fostering Consent to Education Markets in the United States.”

Abstract. Marked-based reforms in education have garnered the support of politicians, philanthropists, and academics, reworking the nature of public education in the United States. In this paper we explore the methods used to produce consent for market-based reforms of primary and secondary (K-12) schooling in the United States, focusing on two case studies to interrogate how this consent is generated as well as how these reforms are resisted in place. In doing so we illustrate how market-making in public services is a contested terrain and the importance of understanding the nature of their roll-out at the local level.

Here is a brief excerpt:

We understand this shift toward marketization in education and its recent acceleration as being situated within the broad neoliberal shift towards privatization and deregulation of formerly public goods that has taken place over the past thirty years. As in other sectors that have been subject to this treatment, this process has occurred not simply through the retreat of the state but through the deliberate repurposing of the state to reshape its institutions in the image of a market (Peck and Tickell, 2002); indeed, many of the reforms that have taken place within education are the result of explicit state policies to create market pressures within education (Lubienski, 2005): These policies include (to name a few): the imposition of standardized testing as a method through which schools can be ‘judged’ by the market, the threat of school closures for ‘failing’ schools, and the use of selective grants to reward schools and districts conforming most closely to principles of deregulation and privatization. Crucially, however, these marketization processes require careful priming in order to generate public consent for market-based reforms. In particular, the marketization of education is powerfully promoted through the notion of school ‘choice’. Presented as an apolitical and socially neutral mechanism for allowing parents to maximize their children’s educational opportunities, choice is endowed with a moral authority that obscures the power inherent in who can exercise the power to choose and the available range of choices. This choice, it is argued, finds its natural expression in the expansion of markets as a supposedly level playing field where the best-performing options rise to the top and those that fail are eventually discarded. Indeed, as Rose (1999) claims, choice, defined as the individual maximization of opportunities, has become the litmus test by which good membership in the polity is defined. In this light, the term, like those used to describe other market-making projects in public services, hides assumptions about what kinds of choice can be legitimately exercised and under what circumstances. The power to ‘choose’ as it is understood under contemporary capitalism is a highly individualized capacity that seeks to maximize one’s return on investment. Other alternative possibilities tend to fade out of view in the language of most market-based school reformers.

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