Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

A Governmentality Perspective on the Common Core

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

A Governmentality Perspective on the Common Core

Article excerpt

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the latest iteration of a standards and accountability movement that (re)emerged in the aftermath of the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk (Shannon, 2013; Taubman, 2009). Since 2009, these standards have anchored a suite of education policies that seek to reconstruct much of the work of curriculum, teaching, and teacher education. However, teachers and teacher education faculty have often struggled to recognize the specific ideas and practices that education policies mobilize to steer their actions, institutions, and professions toward particular values and outcomes (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). Thus, this Forum essay draws attention to the Common Core's political rationales and (self-)steering mechanisms from the perspective of governmentality studies (Burchell, Gordon, & Miller, 1991; Peters, Besley, Olssen, Maurer, & Weber, 2009) to encourage more informed and strategic engagements with standards-based reforms and their possible effects.

At the risk of reducing a nuanced construct, I define governmentality here as more or less rational approaches to acting upon people's thoughts and actions in order to steer their conduct toward particular ends (Dean, 1999). Foucault coined the term in his later work to analyze modes of power that fell outside of traditional conceptions of State, sovereign, and disciplinary power. In particular, governmentality studies considers historically specific ways in which people's conduct could be attuned to broader social, economic, and political objectives; thus, a governmentality perspective can help English educators explore how the Common Core can steer education "at a distance" (Miller & Rose, 2008) and influence how we know and govern ourselves as teachers, scholars, and teacher educators.

To highlight how the CCSS movement seeks to govern educational thought and practice, this Forum essay adapts Miller and Rose's (2008) dual focus on rationalities and technologies of government. Governmental rationalities, such as neoliberalism, represent modes of thought that make possible, order, and legitimate certain aims, objectives, and strategies of government, such as fostering global economic competition, cutting public expenditures, and governing through free markets. At the same time, "a political rationality is not itself an instrument of governing" (Brown, 2015, p. 121); rather, political rationalities get constructed and accomplished through technologies, or "mechanisms through which authorities of various sorts have sought to shape, normalize, and instrumentalize the conduct, thoughts, decisions, and aspirations of others in order to achieve the objectives they consider desirable" (Miller & Rose, 2008, p. 32). In many instances, governmentality studies has traced how political objectives have been realized through mundane languages, practices, and instruments, such as "techniques of notation, computation, and calculation; processes of examination and assessment; the invention of devices such as surveys and presentation forms, such as tables" (Miller & Rose, 2008, p. 32).

To account for the governmentality of the Common Core, this short essay highlights political rationalities and technologies prominent in texts published by the CCSS's self-identified developers, underwriters, partners, managers, copyright holders, and paid spokespersons. This is not a critique of the Common Core, but a reading of CCSS advocates in their own terms to highlight the neoliberal rationalities that animate standards-based reform and the technical work that the CCSS do in governing education through the policy technologies of high-stakes testing, outcomes-based performance management, and markets (Ball, 2003).

The Governmentality of the Common Core

The controversial development of the Common Core exemplifies the neoliberal imaginaries, new policy networks, and "network governance" that constitute today's global education policy field (Ball, 2012; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). …

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