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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: 21 October 2021

The Cultural Struggle for Control over Schooling: The Power of Ideas and the Weakness of the Educational Field

The Cultural Struggle for Control over Schooling: The Power of Ideas and the Weakness of the Educational Field

(p.10) 2 The Cultural Struggle for Control over Schooling: The Power of Ideas and the Weakness of the Educational Field
The Allure of Order

Jal Mehta

Oxford University Press

How can we best understand the repeated efforts to rationalize schools across the 20th century? Traditional approaches to explaining political phenomena—interest groups, institutions, partisan theories, and rational choice—are limited in their ability to explain this recurring impulse. Instead, a complementary set of cultural lenses—ideas, professions, fields, logics, moral power, and institutional vantage points—can shed more light on these repeated movements. Together, these perspectives also offer a different way of thinking about the nature of social and political contestation, one that is deeply cultural in its ontology and that integrates ideas, interests, and institutions, links the social and the political, and explains both continuity and change. In one sense, movements to “rationalize” schools have cycled across the 20th century. As will be discussed in more detail in the chapters to come, at three different times reformers have embraced the rationalization of schools. In the Progressive Era, a group of reformers, comprising mostly businessmen, city elites, and university professors, sought to shift power from large, local ward boards, which they viewed as parochial and unprofessional, to smaller boards controlled by professional elites. They made the superintendent the equivalent of the CEO of the school system and directed him to use the latest in scientific methods and modern management techniques to measure outcomes and to ensure that resources were being used efficiently to produce the greatest possible bang for the buck. The newly emerging science of testing was widely employed to ensure that teachers and schools were meeting standards and to sort students into appropriate tracks, with the aim of “efficiently” matching students with the curriculum appropriate to their ability. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a second accountability movement sought to take hold of American schooling. Seeking to realize both a civil rights agenda of improving the quality of schooling and to satisfy more conservative concerns about the efficient spending of public dollars, state after state passed laws designed to inject greater accountability into the school system.

Keywords:   American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Democratic Party, Public Act, Texas, accountability, commensuration, cultural power, federalism, institutional change, medical profession, moral power, partisan theory

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