There can be little doubt that schools across the nation have experience notable budget cuts since the recent economic fallout. Without protection from larger economic trails, educational systems have had to manage substantial budget cuts and reductions in available resources. Across different media platforms, new articles are peppered with headlines concerning the myriad of challenges schools are now facing. Despite financial tightening and limited avenues for support, it is clear that school performance has not escaped popular attention. With initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”, schools must meet higher expectations within a highly competitive atmosphere – although some schools hit harder than others by adverse economic conditions.
In efforts to “achieve” given the implementation of standardized testing, schools have had to reorient their instruction to “teach to the test.” This becomes more problematic as some programs are abandoned so that others survive in the midst of significant financial cuts and reduced fiscal budgets. Vincent (2005) from Washburn University School of Law for instance wrote:
In order for schools to meet AYP [adequate yearly progress] and avoid sanctions, students must meet proficiency levels in reading and math. By narrowly restricting proficiency to these subjects, the NCLBA [No Child Left Behind Act] elevates them above all other considerations in gauging academic performance… the Act pressures education officials to undermine their commitment to providing a comprehensive education by focusing resources on mandated tested standards while ignoring other subjects in the curriculum…Classes in art, music, foreign language, and history too often first feel the axe of budget cuts.
By defining “educational success” in terms of proficiency levels in math and reading among students, schools are influenced to teach to the test, to narrow the curriculum, and cut those programs seen as peripheral and a misuse of economic resources.
Perhaps even more problematic is the structure of funding under these initiatives. As briefly noted above, in order to receive (Title I) funding, schools must demonstrate a certain level of proficiency. However, as many have criticized, these standardized tests and measures often overlook structural and economic differences and inequalities. Consequentially, those schools suffering the most given their financial situation, structural location in society, and marginalized status may be further disadvantaged – not because their lack of effort but because their overall circumstances. More pointedly, those that could benefit the most oftentimes don’t have the means necessary to demonstrate the “educational success” required.
It appears schools across the nation have been given an impossible mandate – to perform at higher levels than ever although having less to do so. Here, the coupling of educational performance and tightening financial arrangements have led to counter-productive tendencies. On the one hand, schools are measured according to their level of academic proficiency. On the other hand, widespread economic crises have absorbed school budgets, leaving fewer means and resources available to its students and staff. When taken together, this highlights a trend provoking a pedagogical shift; a shift that does not tailor instruction toward creativity, critical thinking, and inclusion, but to test specific material, directives, and exclusion.
Read: Wildhanen, T. (2010). Capitalizing on Culture: How Cultural Capital Shapes Educational Experiences and Outcomes. Sociology Compass, 4(7): 519-531
Read: Hirschfield, P. & Celinska, K. (2011) Beyond Fear: Sociological Perspectives on the Criminalization of School Discipline. Sociology Compass, 5(1): 1-12
Read: Bartlett et al. (2002). The Marketization of Education:Public Schools for Private Ends. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 33(1): 1-25