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.