Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Avoidance of Equivalence by Leveling: Challenging the Consensus-Driven Curriculum That Defines Students as "Average"

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Avoidance of Equivalence by Leveling: Challenging the Consensus-Driven Curriculum That Defines Students as "Average"

Article excerpt

ANTONIO'S FAMOUS LINE FROM SHAKESPEARE'S THE TEMPEST , "Whereof hat's past is prologue, what to come, In yours and my discharge..." (1610/1880, p. 50) is by no means impervious to the enterprise of schooling and education. Not only are fads in education commonplace; old education policies reemerge decade after decade with the possible inclusion of pseudo-events and new marketing terms that serve as the only intimation of "reform" (Good, Clark, & Clark, 1997; Heckman & Montera, 2009; Lucas, 1999). Moreover, they are often self-serving to the interests of educational for-profit and nonprofit businesses and administrators, and not always those of students (McNeil, 2000). The constant repackaging of educational policy to "help" students succeed demonstrates the failure of past and present so-called reforms.

In the marketing profession, pseudo-events are events that are either trumped up to an extent that little, if anything, is either factually accurate or valid, or those that have never occurred to begin with (Boorstin, 1987). Pseudo-events have been used by education policy makers and heads of educational industries in conveying and representing the putative concept of "average" students in public discourse and general advertising. Educational companies and policy makers have used propagandistic tools (Pinar, 2012), such as pseudo-events (Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, & Ness, 2005) and manufactured crises (Berliner & Biddle, 1995) as a means of altering public perception about the everyday academic realities of "average" students, unequivocally the largest demographic of any student group in schools at any point in history.

We argue that the ideological framework surrounding the definition and use of the term average as it relates to academic ability is distorted. We contend that education policy makers and semi-regulatory organizations, for both economic and political reasons, have engineered primarily two initiatives that they want the public to embrace as a means of solidifying a consensus-driven curriculum: 1) Social justice and equality is achieved by categorizing (almost all) student academic performance as average; and 2) high-stakes examinations and rubrics are valid substitutes for demonstrating equity and broad field knowledge. These pseudo-events are particularly relevant because they enable policy makers to take a path of least resistance when attempting to show their concern for social equality. In turn, they tend to expend little to no effort in grappling with the problems associated with the required social investments- ameliorating poverty, inequality, racism, and sexual discrimination to name a few (Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, & Ness, 2005; Rothstein, 2004). Historically, the high-stakes component in educational testing maintained a rather low and even negligible profile in standardized assessment. Since the inception of the so-called standards movement in the early 1990s, and surely by the enactment of the No Child Left Behind mandate in 2003, teachers and school administrators have been under increasing pressure to allocate more time during the school day for annual high-stakes test preparation. Moreover, since public officials have become increasingly obdurate in their willingness to finance assessments that provide better long-term returns (for example, those that measure higher-order skills, such as analytical thinking, synthesis, and research skills), testing companies are lowering the academic bar by limiting content and testing basic skills so that students are more inclined to pass high-stakes examinations. Rothstein (2004) notes that the achievement differences that show up on tests of basic skills are quite different than those that show up on tests that measure higher order thinking. Therefore, as pressure increases to prepare students for high-stakes tests, the tests themselves have become less reliable indicators of achievement (Campbell, 1976; Madaus, Russell, & Higgins, 2009; Rothstein, 2004). …

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