Academic journal article Social Justice

The Perfect Storm of Education Reform: High-Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Perfect Storm of Education Reform: High-Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation

Article excerpt


This article examines seemingly disconnected education reform policies and posits that their unprecedented alignment is eroding the bedrock of public education. Using Georgia as an example, the authors demonstrate how neoliberal efforts to reform education occur through three systematic and interconnected fronts: political climate change, the testing industrial complex, and a mesoscale evaluation system. The authors challenge assertions that those reforms increase academic achievement and global competitiveness. Instead, the orchestrated alignment is being experienced as an assault on the supposed beneficiaries (i.e., public education and teacher education). These conceptual weather fronts can serve as a means to analyze stated intentions versus outcomes of education policy. The authors conclude with grassroots responses by students, teachers, and others to the destructive elements of reform.

Keywords: high-stakes testing, teacher evaluation, teacher performance assessment, education reform, public education, teacher education


No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Race To The Top (RT3), and now Common Core embody over a decade of federal and state education reform purportedly designed to address inequities for global majority (1) and low-income students. However, these policies have in fact expanded inequities and exacerbated a discourse of failure regarding teachers, public schools, and teacher preparation programs. Consequently, public confidence in teachers, teacher preparation programs, and student performance is at an all-time low.

We contend that current reform initiatives (i.e., high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation from K-12 through higher education) are not, in fact, discrete singular efforts. Instead, they represent a confluence of systematic and orchestrated education reform efforts that are akin to storm fronts. These fronts comprise a perfect storm that is eroding the bedrock of public education in the United States through neoliberal policies. Neoliberal principles prescribe that market forces should determine the success or failure of any entity or organization; they support a reduction in public services; and they promote choice, competition, and accountability.

Using the state of Georgia as a case study, we present three interconnected fronts: political climate change, the testing industrial complex, and the resulting mesoscale evaluation system. We propose these fronts as a means to illuminate the gulf between the stated policy intentions of corporate reformers and the actual educational outcomes for public education and teacher education.

Following our analysis of the interconnected fronts, we challenge the assertion that the alignment of the reforms will lead to the claimed outcome--that is, an increase of academic achievement/success and global competitiveness for students, teachers, and the United States as a whole. Instead, we assert that the orchestrated alignment is actually being experienced as an assault on the intended beneficiaries. We conclude with responses by students, teachers, and professors to the elements of the perfect storm of education reform and our recommendations for K-12 and higher education practitioners to not just stem but turn the tides.

Political Climate Change: Setting the Historical Context

A perfect storm develops within the context of climate change. We posit that political climate change emerges as a series of orchestrated political and legislative efforts intended to drive policy and practice on the national, state, or local levels. The ongoing struggles between those who support equity in education and those who would lay the groundwork to destroy it have led to the juxtaposition of two political climates in Georgia, epitomized by the terms of Governors Barnes and Perdue, respectively. Georgia's political climate has been gradually changing for over a decade from one of confidence and investment in public education to one of skepticism and funding deprivation. …

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