Corporate reformers push ‘college for all’

The Business of American Business Is Education writes Dana Goldstein in Smithsonian Magazine.  Unlike many European and Asian countries, the U.S. hasn’t centralized education. (Not yet, anyhow.) That “leaves space for business leaders and philanthropists to define and fund what they see as priorities in education reform,” she writes.

Today, a broad coalition of standardized test and textbook manufacturers; mega-philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates and Eli Broad; and CEOs passionate about school reform, like Mark Zuckerberg, coalesce around an agenda that includes implementing Common Core academic standards and tying teacher evaluation, job security, and pay to students’ test scores. The underlying idea is that extraordinary teachers, with high standards for all students, can prepare every child to attend and succeed in college, regardless of a student’s socioeconomic disadvantages.

In the past, business leaders had very different ideas about the role of education, Goldstein writes. They wanted to provide higher education for the worthy few, while training the rest for industry, agriculture and service jobs.

Twentieth-century reformers pushed for ending child labor and increasing the years of mandatory schooling, Goldstein writes. Inspired by the ideas of the management guru Frederick Winslow Taylor, they “implemented complex new evaluation systems to rank and supposedly improve the work of teachers.”

IQ tests were used to track students. The “social efficiency” agenda “consigned many non-white and working class students, as well as some middle-class girls, to courses in sewing, cooking, personal finance and current events.”

The Civil Rights movement refocused reformers on equality. These days, business-oriented reformers — and President Obama — believe more college graduates will invigorate the economy, especially if more young Americans study science, technology and math.

. . . unlike the corporate school reformers of yesteryear, today’s philanthropists are at least united around the goal of opening up a broad array of opportunity to disadvantaged children.

“Technocratic philanthropists” are driving national education policy, concludes Goldstein. There’s nothing new about that.

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  1. “Unlike many European and Asian countries, the U.S. hasn’t centralized education.”

    Why do journalists not get that the U.S. is a huge country, especially compared to the European countries individually. (France, for example, is smaller than Texas.) In fact, the U.S. is huge, period: Only Canada and Russia are larger countries…

    A country the U.S.’s size, in both area and population, makes it practically impossible to have such blanket standards, and make them easily enforceable if they tried.

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear Elim Garak !
      I agree with you that the “size” of the country matters very much.
      But the presence of very different sub-populations,
      like working class vs. elite,
      like men vs women,
      like people of different ethnicity and race,
      like multi-generational Americans vs fresh immigrants,
      makes the idea of centralization even less realistic to implement.
      With invariable respect of Ms. Jacob’s heroic work,

  2. Hmmm…I wonder if some of the push to expand the diagnosis of ADHD is actually a result of us changing the definition of ‘success’ from ‘job and family’ to ‘completes college.’

    I’ve been reading up on SCT – sluggish cognitive tempo. People with it do fine in the early grades when doggedly completing work neatly gets you good grades. They crash and burn as things get more complicated, and can’t handle the workloads of HS or college without help, (and apparently have major issues with working memory, testing, and reading comprehension).

    Maybe these kids aren’t ‘defective.’ Maybe they just aren’t college material….

  3. Joanne,

    As I’ve said on here before, the college completion rate in the U.S. is no better today than it was in the 1970’s. On average, between 25-33% of all adults have a bachelor’s degree (or higher).

    Also, recent trends in the economy fail to show that a number of college graduates are going to be indentured servants to their college debt load, due to the fact they majored in fields which will not generate enough income to eliminate the debt payments (perhaps after 20-30 years, maybe), but this also places home ownership out of the reach of many recent college graduates.

  4. Crimson Wife says:

    Does anybody seriously think that more than about 1/3 of students (if that) have the intellectual ability to complete truly college-level work? This is not Lake Woebegone…

  5. Crimson Wife,

    It’s NOT that 1/3 of students can only complete a bachelor’s degree, but the fact that so many under-prepared students are admitted in the first place. Usually, students who need a great deal of remediation will usually find themselves gone by the end of the first year (various studies have shown that if a student needs 2+ courses in remediation, they have less than a 20 percent chance of actually making it past the first year).

    Add to the fact that the remediation coursework just MIGHT be able to get them up to where they can take the actual pre-req courses needed to be admitted to a given major (so tack on another year of coursework).

    After two years of getting ready just to be admitted to a given major, how many students do you think will actually stick it out for another 3 to 4 years (never mind the amount of student loan debt they’ll incur).

    Something to think about, no?