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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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The Allure of Order: Rationalizing Schools from the Progressives to the Present

The Allure of Order: Rationalizing Schools from the Progressives to the Present

Chapter:
1 The Allure of Order: Rationalizing Schools from the Progressives to the Present
Source:
Title Pages
Author(s):

Jal Mehta

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199942060.003.0003

In late 2001, three months after the September 11 attacks, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed both House and Senate with strong bipartisan majorities and was signed by a Republican president. Promising to use the power of the state to ensure that all children were proficient in reading and math by 2014, proponents heralded the act as the greatest piece of federal education legislation since the creation of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. By requiring the states to set high standards, pairing them with assessments that measured whether students were achieving those standards, and holding schools accountable if students failed to do so, NCLB, in the eyes of its sponsors, would close achievement gaps and make America’s schools the envy of the world. A decade later, the bloom is off the rose. While almost everyone today continues to share the aim of leaving no child behind, the act itself has come in for criticism from many quarters, to the point that Bush’s former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings declared that NCLB is now a “toxic brand” in American politics. Careful studies of the implementation of NCLB have shown that it has done what less bullish observers might have predicted from the outset. It has increased the focus on the education of poor and minority students, but it has not provided schools with needed tools to create higher quality schooling for these students. There has been improvement in some national test scores (e.g., 4th and 8th grade math), while others have remained largely unchanged (e.g., 4th and 8th grade reading). Even accounting for the progress in math, there is no sign that the reforms have had a significant impact in closing achievement gaps or in improving America’s mediocre international educational standing. Particularly in the most troubled schools, there has been rampant teaching to the test and some outright cheating. In-depth studies have shown that some schools now devote a large part of their year to test prep; Atlanta and DC public schools have both contended with widespread cheating scandals.

Keywords:   Coleman Report, Finland, Progressive Era, Taylorism, administrative progressives, bipartisanship, community control, conservatives: accountability promoted by, desegregation, distributive justice, external accountability, human capital, iron cage, school districts

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