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Assault on Kids: How Hyper-Accountability, Corporatization, Deficit Ideologies, and Ruby Payne Are Destroying Our Schools

reviewed by Pepi Leistyna - December 21, 2011

coverTitle: Assault on Kids: How Hyper-Accountability, Corporatization, Deficit Ideologies, and Ruby Payne Are Destroying Our Schools
Author(s): Roberta Ahlquist, Paul C. Gorski, & Theresa Montaňo (eds.)
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433112280, Pages: 267, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

It is astounding the extent to which public schools are controlled by private interests such as publishing, food, and pharmaceutical companies, for-profit education management organizations, and corporate lobbyists. However, the stealth onslaught of privatization and commercialization of this vital institution should come as no surprise given that education reform over the past three decades has been masterminded, in large part behind closed doors, by a handful of corporate executives, politicians, and media moguls who have profited handsomely from the over $600 billion-a-year education industrial complex.

In bed with powerful members of the profit-minded business community, the Reagan Administration called for a dramatic increase in the use of standardized curricula and high-stakes assessment in public schools. It did so while simultaneously working to disarm teacher unions and dismantle the federal Department of Education. The obvious goal was to have the private sector take the reigns of this reform movement as well as the lions share of federal and state monies directed towards public education. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, big business representatives and government officials would meet on a regular basis and strategize about ways to forge coalitions and officially infuse standards nationwide. Organizations like the Business Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Business Conference would join forces and lobby heavily for this cause. Their efforts proved successful in opening schoolhouse doors to corporate-sponsored organizations that would carve a path for the federal educational policy NCLB: No Child Left Behind. Embracing what is in fact an old neoliberal approach dressed up as innovative reform, the governments response to the growing problems that youth in this country face has been the implementation of a standardized curriculum, high-stakes testing, accountability measures, English-only mandates, zero-tolerance policies, and Draconian budget cuts. In this era of No Child Left Behindconversely referred to as the war against the young or no corporation left behindmillions of children have thus far been left in its wake.

Assault on Kids: How Hyper-Accountability, Corporatization, Deficit Ideologies, and Ruby Payne Are Destroying Our Schools is a timely collection that should be of interest to any citizen concerned about this neoliberal tidal wave of corporatization and militarization of public schools. The contributors, a broad array of scholars, K-12 educators, and social activists, uncover the harsh reality that while the title No Child Left Behind connotes fairness, compassion, and equity, and the instigators of standards, testing mania, and accountability schemes promise academic and professional success for our children, these corporate-driven political campaigns virtually disregard why social inequities and injustice exist in the first place. As the book clearly points out, what is largely missing from national debates and federal and state policies is recognition of and response to the ways in which unbridled capitalism, the structures of social class, racism, and other oppressive ideologies inform actual educational practices that have failed miserably in serving the needs of the public.

The book emerges at a time when the Obama Administration claims to be making big changes to NCLB with its Race to the Top reforms for K-12 public education. This $4.35 billion investment, as part of the Education Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is designed to annually allocate monies to public schools fulfilling certain performance-based standards. Assault on Kids exposes how this competitive and punitive reform makes no real change to NCLB, with the exception of its focus on promoting charter schoolsa privatization effort often operated by for-profit organizations that, as the authors reveal, limit the active role of unions, teachers, and families in the education of our nations children.

The book, the newest release from Shirley Steinbergs prolific series Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education, opens with a foreword by Annette Henry; followed by an introduction by the editors that situates the text within the current socio-political landscape and provides an overview of its contents.

The first chapter, The Empire Strikes Back via a Neoliberal Agenda: Confronting the Legacies of Colonialism, by Roberta Ahlquist, traces the ideological forces that are responsible for the plight of public education in the U.S. and sets the stage for the four interrelated sections that follow. Ahlquist frames the current crisis in public education within what she refers to as global colonizing capitalism (p. 9). She uses this framework to address the books central themes and concerns: the harsh effects of cultural deficit ideologies, neoliberalism, corporate medias role in perpetuating social inequities, the hyper-accountability movement, and the privatization and militarization of public schooling. The author concludes with some important suggestions for teacher education programs if they hope to contest this corporate and racist onslaught.

The first section, Hyper-Accountability, consists of two chapters. What We dont Talk about When We Talk about The Achievement Gap, by Sue Brooks, explores how the countrys preoccupation with the achievement gap has eclipsed any substantive analysis of the systemic problems of racial and social class discrimination that profoundly affect life in schools. As she argues, At its worst, a commitment to closing the gap requires nothing more than pointing fingers at African-American parents and undercutting the power of teachers unions through support of school choice (p. 45).

Can Standardized Teacher Performance Assessment Identify Highly Qualified Teachers?, by Ann Berlak, dissects PACT: Performance Assessment of California Teachers, a capstone exam required for state licensure that is applauded by the federal Department of Education. As the author reveals, trying to live up to PACTs protocol for determining what makes for an effective teacher does little more than waste valuable time and resources. Berlak illustrates how this initiative has detrimentally affected her teacher education program by supplanting the goal of developing creative, critical, civic-minded teachers with mind-numbing bureaucratic ritual. As she describes: This was as demoralizing and disempowering to many faculty members as standardized testing has been to K-12 teachers&In sum, PACT promoted mindless teachingjust the opposite of its declared intention but perhaps consistent with the hierarchical corporate orientation from which it had sprung (p. 58).

Section Two: The Privatization and Corporatization of Public Schools, consists of three chapters. Anti-Democratic Militaristic Education: An Overview and Critical Analysis of KIPP Schools, by Brian Lack, reveals how the underlying philosophy of the charter schools owned and operated by the Knowledge Is Power Program is deeply embedded in capitalist consumerist values and neoliberal notions of personal accountability and self-regulation, and consequently ignores the systemic problems faced by low-income and racially subordinated students and their communities. Critical of the ways in which KIPP is committed to enforcing conformity and strict discipline, Lack convincingly reveals that the principles that undergird a militaristic approach are at the foundation of anti-democratic forms of education (p. 81).

Exposing the Myths of the Corporate City: Popular Education and Political Activism in Atlanta, by Richard Lakes, Paul McLennan, Jennifer Sauer & Mary Anne Smith, explores the corporatization and privatization of Atlantas city-wide public services and schools. This chapter is of particular interest as the authors, through case studies, demonstrate how community organizations can be effectively mobilized in creative partnerships with educators and parents to resist this privatization movement. The chapter closes with a useful list of organizations that have proved pivotal in realizing such efforts.

Ground Zero in a Corporate Classroom, by Lisa Martin, exposes how schools that operate within a marketplace mentality are gravely limited in their capacity to implement a creative and critical pedagogy, and she illustrates how such educational models place great constraints on educators power to influence the workplace. As this high school teacher with charter school experience testifies: Teachers who advocate for changes within their program, or who even offer up mild suggestions for improvement, can face total marginalization within their schools&The voiceless teacher becomes an easy target for all that is wrong with a school (p. 120). Martin problematizes what she describes as teacher accountability on steroids (p. 115), and reconceptualizes the notion of accountability in a way that holds liable the corporate and political power brokers who are responsible for the debilitating results of this movement.

Section Three: Deficit Ideology is made up of two chapters. As the authors articulate, the deficit model is used to explain the low academic achievement of students from oppressed groups as being due to individual or group pathology, cultural deprivation, or genetic limitations. Students perceived in this fashion are in need of fixing, if we could only identify the right schematic. This ideology is evident in the political platform of Republican contender for the presidency, Newt Gingrich, who recently called child labor laws truly stupid, arguing that public schools should replace janitors with students under the age of 16. He stated:

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working

and have nobody around them who works. So, they literally have no habit of

showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no

habit of I do this and you give me cash unless its illegal (Easely, 2011).

Why Arent We More Engaged?, by Virginia Lea, offers a history of the deficit model orientation and how it has shaped public policy over the years. She points out some viable ways to disrupt this malignant ideology that continues to blame victims for their own victimization.

Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze: Thoughts on Authenticating the Class Discourse in Education, by Paul Gorski, reveals the prevalence of a class-based deficit ideology in U.S. social and educational policies and practices. Instead of pointing fingers at disenfranchised communities for their educational underachievement and lack of economic mobility, he locates the structural inequalities that push them to the margins of society.

Section Four: Ruby Payne consists of three chapters that expose how the debunked theory of a culture of povertythat blames students, parents, and communities for their predicaments, is at the heart of the teacher professional development workshops of the for-profit company, aha! Process, Inc., owned and operated by multi-millionaire Ruby Payne.

 A Framework for Maintaining White Privilege: A Critique of Ruby Payne, by Monique Redeaux, explores the intersection among racism, classism, heterosexism, and patriarchy that Payne strategically ignores and thus perpetuates in her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. In her critique of Paynes embrace of a tough love, heavy-handed management approach to public schooling, Redeaux presents a compelling argument that It has never been the goal of the American educational system to interrupt the cycle of poverty, alleviate crime, or equalize society” (p. 195).

“Undoing Ruby Payne and Other Deficit Views of English Language Learners,” by Theresa Montaňo & Rosalinda Quintanar-Sarellana, takes to task proponents of English-only mandates, of the likes of Ruby Payne, who have worked effectively in California to scapegoat Bilingual Education for the underachievement of linguistic-minority students. As the authors reveal, Payne neglects to acknowledge how harsh discriminatory conditions play a significant and detrimental role in the everyday lives and academic achievement of linguistic-minority studentsseventy percent of whom live in low-income areas. Confronting the linguicism, racism, and classism in Paynes work, the authors offer important insights about how critical approaches to language and literacy instruction can reverse the oppressive pedagogical practices embraced by aha! Process, Inc.

The final chapter, Whats Class Got to Do with It?, by Julie Keown-Bomar & Deborah Pattee, details strategies that these two teacher educators use to implement a critical pedagogy for raising awareness about poverty and class discrimination.

In these late stages of crony capitalism and corporate corruption, the class and race analysis throughout Assault on Kids is particularly poignant as the U.S. continues to have the highest child poverty rate among major industrialized nations; economic hardship that disproportionally falls on the heads of people of colorand yet, we claim to be living in a post-racist world. Its a very sad state of affairs when Race to the Top is a 4.3 billion dollar investment in public education while we spend 2 billion a week in military efforts in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the government, while handing out billions of dollars in corporate subsides and refusing to tax the rich, is making vicious cuts to social services and has recently eliminated funding to free breakfast programs in schools. What neoliberals and neoconservatives have to do in order to shape public policy in their own interestsand gain consent on those rare occasions when the general public is involved in the processis disguise their profit over people and discriminatory mentality by wrapping themselves in an image of expertise and compassionate concern for the education and future of our children. This new book not only reveals the hypocrisy embedded in this apparent beneficence, but it offers up invaluable alternatives in its informed, articulate, and collective call to stop this assault on our kids.


Easley, J. (2011, December 1). Gingrich: Poor kids have bad work habits unless its illegal. The Hill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 21, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16632, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 2:25:56 AM

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About the Author
  • Pepi Leistyna
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    E-mail Author
    PEPI LEISTYNA is an Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics Graduate Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he coordinates the research program, teaches courses in cultural studies, critical pedagogy, media literacy, and language acquisition, and is the Director of the Center for World Languages and Cultures. He is a research fellow for the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. His books include: Breaking Free: The Transformative Power of Critical Pedagogy; Presence of Mind: Education and the Politics of Deception; Defining and Designing Multiculturalism, Corpus Analysis: Language Structure and Language Use, and Cultural Studies: From Theory to Action. His documentary film is called Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class for which he was the 2007 recipient of the Studs Terkel Award for Media and Journalism.
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