Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?
reviewed by Heather Harding - 2005
Title: Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?
Author(s): Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian
Publisher: Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH
ISBN: 0325006377, Pages: 272, Year: 2004
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The authors of Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? want the real progressives to please stand up. Emery and Ohanian offer a call to arms for those taking an antitesting stance by providing detailed accounts of various partnerships between business, government, and educators that have been influential in shaping the standards and accountability movement. The accounts are intentionally inflammatory and seek to highlight the wrongheaded logic and sometimes shady intentions of those corporate leaders driving the reform of public education. This book is not for those readers looking for a balanced view of the role of business in school reform: This is a battle cry.
A main goal of Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? is to uncover the intimate and what are often described as self-serving partnerships between corporate players and education policymakers. In chapter after chapter, the book chronicles the creation and writing of state educational standards, the push for appointed school boards, and the transformation of school management to fit business models (e.g., the superintendent as chief executive officer). It warns about the dangers of such tremendous business influence by exposing the overlapping networks of business and education organizations in order to expose the standardistas. As the title of the book suggests, the authors are especially suspicious of the partnerships between business and education policymakers. And they arent afraid to name names.
Emery and Ohanian take special care to highlight how the rhetoric of high standards for all serves to split communities into entrenched, feuding factions and thus obfuscate real concerns regarding equity and high-quality education. Although Chapter 1 simply lays out the issue of rhetoric and language, it appropriately sets the stage for the ideological debate in which the authors wish to engage. Their argument, which threads through the remaining chapters, is that certain catch phrases and words have manipulated public opinion by creating fear in order to shift attention away from the real motives behind promoting their use. In a cogent example, they interrogate the use of the word rigor in current reforms by dredging up a dictionary definition that includes the phrase a harsh and cruel act (p. 6) to support their view that many reforms are abusive and do not take into account the needs of children.
Much of the remainder of the book focuses on initiatives in several different states where business interests have led education policy choices. In contrast to Walbergs (2003) matter-of-fact review of the accountability movement and its players, Chapters 3 and 7 implicate the work and influence of the Business Roundtable as the main blueprint for what they perceive as the sustained assault on public schools. But it is not only corporate entities that bear the blame: Chapter 4 rounds out the list of culprits by identifying those organizations that are also part of an interlocking corporate-government-foundation-nonprofits network, all pumping for high-stakes standards and testing (p. 59). For some readers, the trail of shared funding sources, collaborative initiatives, and general groupthink will be shocking. But savvy consumers of education policy should find little of the information regarding the incestuous politics of school reform and policymaking to be new.
Gibbs and Howley (2000) highlighted the tension between advocates for local control, or what they called space-based pedagogy, and the standards movement by attempting to identify the areas of potential overlap between the two movements in rural schools. They concluded with hope; Emery and Ohanian are under no illusions that hope alone will encourage a more widespread dialogue about how Americans define quality education. But unfortunately, they do not offer readers concrete steps for action beyond cute rally songs or single incidents of local rebellion. Although the book includes several appendices that provide more solid evidence on the supposed enemies of public schools, I was left wondering how this information might help me or other readers engage in some sort of collective resistance. Unlike Pophams (2001) The Truth About Testing: An Educators Call to Action, the book includes no chapter outlining actionable items.
Having staked their claim to the progressive agenda of reclaiming those educational spaces in which school included learning for the joy of it, learning to develop higher-order thinking skills, or learning something because it is what one is interested in (p. 202), Emery and Ohanian certainly offer a mountain of evidence that recent accountability efforts in public schools are well-coordinated and implemented at the hand of big business. Although I initially found the tone of this book off-putting, for those looking for ammunition against the controversial and sometimes harsh policies surrounding school accountability, this book offers the supporting details for increased activism and a review of current policy.
Gibbs, T. J., & Howley, A. (2000). World-class standards and local pedagogies: Can we do both? Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED448014)
Popham, W. J. (2001). The truth about testing: An educators call to action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Walberg, H. J. (2003). Real accountability. In Paul E. Peterson (Ed.), Our schools and our future . . . are we still at risk? (pp. 308328). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.