Throughout the 20th century, community-owned and operated public schooling was viewed in the United States as an essential mechanism for advancing the country’s democratic ideals, institutions, and economic interests. But the first decades of the 21st century has witnessed a historic shift away from this commitment to public schools, as federal and state lawmakers created taxpayer-funded policies supportive of private school vouchers and for-profit charter schools. The authors examine more than 100 years of national newspaper coverage related to the perennial problem of ‘unsatisfactory student performance,’ particularly changes in terminology used to describe these students and explanations for their ‘unsatisfactory performance.’ A review of this discourse reveals shifting views on the causes of students’ ‘unsatisfactory performance’ in schools and helps illuminate reasons for the nation's recent turn to the private sector. The authors suggest factors that have contributed to this abandonment by some school reformers, especially rising costs associated with special education, racism related to public schools serving more students of color, and an orchestrated, well-funded effort by advocates of privatization to frame public schools as “failing.” The authors conclude that abandoning public schools will move the United States further away from equality of educational opportunity (a core ideal and requirement of any society claiming to be meritocratic), increase segregated schooling in urban areas, exacerbate the problem of inequality in educational attainment, and reduce community control and transparent governance of their children's education.
Response to this Article
, Onosko, J. J.
Public Schools At-Risk: Examining a Century of U.S. Media Coverage of "Unsatisfactory Student Performance" and the Rise of School Privatization.
Democracy and Education,
(2), Article 2.
Available at: https://democracyeducationjournal.org/home/vol28/iss2/2