Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 3
Neoliberalism Goes to School
by Scott Ellison
...just as modern mass production methods require the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called ‘equality.’ –Eric Fromm (Brookfield, 2004. p. 161)
In popular debates over education policy, it has now become quite common to see terms such as neoliberalism and neoliberal education reform bandied about in political debates in order to describe this current era of education reform. The neoliberal descriptor is indeed apt, but there is a problem with its common usage. Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that this terminology is used as a substitute for analysis, a pejorative shorthand used alongside terms such as corporate reform and privatization.
This unfortunate use of terminology obscures the reality that neoliberalism represents a dynamic political ideology, with a specific intellectual and political history, that has come to dominate not only debates over education policy but the political discourse and major institutions of American society. This chapter will attempt to flesh out what is known as neoliberal education reform by tracing three overlapping, mutually reinforcing societal trends that have fundamentally restructured the landscape of education policy over the past 30-40 years.
The first section will trace the development of a political convergence around a set of education policy reforms in the United States informed by neoclassical economic theory and globalization practices that have radically shifted education policy talk and implementation to the political Right. The second section will examine the power dynamics behind this political convergence by examining the emergence of an increasingly assertive business and philanthropic community that has constructed a private superstructure around public education policy in order to transform America’s schools. The third section will look at how economic globalization and orthodox neoclassical economic theory entered into popular discourse and how these ideas came to define both the “why” and “how” of public education.
It is, of course, not possible to give an exhaustive account of the broad transformations taking place in the politics of Schools Matter: Understanding KIPP Model Charter Schools: Part 3: