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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: 08 December 2021

E Pluribus Unum: How Standards and Accountability Became King

E Pluribus Unum: How Standards and Accountability Became King

(p.156) 7 E Pluribus Unum: How Standards and Accountability Became King
The Allure of Order

Jal Mehta

Oxford University Press

In the years following A Nation at Risk, a storm of educational reform activities swept across the states, as governors and state legislatures tried everything they could think of to improve their schools. But beginning in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s, one idea became more popular than the rest. Standards-based reform—setting standards, creating assessments, and imposing accountability—became the most widely preferred school reform strategy; it was enacted in 42 states before federal legislation began to encourage it in 1994 and in 49 states before it became required under No Child Left Behind in 2001. Furthermore, since norms against federal involvement in education made it difficult for Congress to act in the absence of a state-level consensus, understanding how this consensus came to be formed is critical to understanding how standards-based reform became federal law as well. When a policy spreads across the majority of states in the absence of strong federal requirements, it is reasonable to hypothesize that diffusion processes are at work. Some states develop models, and their success begets adoption in other states. There is some evidence of such a process at work here, particularly in the case of later-adopting states copying some of the leaders. But the possibility of adopting a diffusing policy template still begs the question of state politics—why, exactly, did so many different states choose to put their eggs in the standards-based-reform basket? In this chapter I argue that the key to the widespread success of standards and accountability is the way that the policy crossed ideological divides. Democrats and Republicans, who had long been divided over issues such as vouchers and increased aid to schools, found themselves on the same side of the fence when it came to standards-based reform, if not always for the same reasons. The pages that follow trace the trajectory of three very different states in moving toward standards-based reform—blue Maryland, where a coalition of Democratic reformers championed standards as a way to gain leverage on failing schools in high-poverty districts; purple Michigan, where a mixed coalition of left and right came to support the same policy for different reasons; and red Utah, where an angry Republican legislature saw in standards-based reform a way to hold a recalcitrant educational establishment to account.

Keywords:   Education Trust, Public Act, assessment, content-based assessment, diffusion, educrats, grade repetition, moral power, pedagogical progressives, policy entrepreneurs, social promotion of students, states' rights, tight-loose framework

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