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The Allure of OrderHigh Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling$
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Jal Mehta

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199942060

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199942060.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 24 October 2021

Rationalizing Schools: Patterns, Ironies, Contradictions

Rationalizing Schools: Patterns, Ironies, Contradictions

(p.248) 9 Rationalizing Schools: Patterns, Ironies, Contradictions
The Allure of Order

Jal Mehta

Oxford University Press

Across the 20th century and now a decade into the 21st, reformers have repeatedly seen the rationalization of schooling as the solution to the nation’s educational ills. Reformers have repeatedly claimed that by setting standards, using tests to measure progress towards those standards, and holding teachers accountable for progress, student achievement would improve and schools would better satisfy the goals of their external constituents. Conversely, educators have repeatedly countered that such a mechanistic model imposes a set of business values that should be foreign to schools; assigns responsibility to schools that belongs in part with families and neighborhoods; and in the name of science, squeezes out critical humanistic priorities of schooling. Round and round we go, with no end in sight. This chapter steps back from the details of such movements to look at the broader patterns, lessons, and implications of the repeated efforts to rationalize schools. One set of questions is about causes and patterns. Why, despite modest results, has so much energy been repeatedly expended in trying to rationalize schools? What patterns are common across time? Are the sources particular to education, or are there common causes that explain the rise of accountability movements in medicine, higher education, and other fields? And why have educators been comparatively less able to resist external accountability than practitioners in other fields? A second set of questions concerns the deeper assumptions embedded in efforts to rationalize schools. Choices we make about how to reform schools reflect a broader set of values about what we want for our students, how we regard our teachers, and what our vision of educational improvement is. More specifically, what are our assumptions about individual psychology, organizational sociology, and human nature? Why, at least in recent years, has the school reform movement combined such an optimistic, even utopian vision of what is possible for students with such a pessimistic, behaviorist view of how teachers need to be incentivized and motivated?

Keywords:   Harlem Children’s Zone, Maryland State Assessment (MSA), adult development, charter schools, child development, criterion-referenced tests, equal opportunity, higher-status logics, liberal education, muckrakers, problem definition, psychology, social mobility, systems analysis

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