Social Justice Education and the Politics of Reform

Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Janaki Natajaran


High-stakes standards and accountability based on educational reforms that measure student, teacher and school performance by rigorous standardized testing supports the neoliberal agenda of reframing and dismantling public education. The continued emphasis on test scores has become the only measurement of achievement and more often provides data to penalize low performing schools by diverting funds to private educational services such as tutoring agencies, and/or conversion into charter schools (publicly funded, privately managed entities). The government has supported this agenda through policies such as the 2001 educational act No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and most recently through the educational fund Race to the Top (RTTP) that has Common Core State Standards (CC) as a requirement if a state would like access to the funding.

This study has looked into the experience of 6 social justice educators who teach or have taught in districts with high-stakes testing. Data collected through interviews revealed that participants experience varied in difficulty related to high-stakes testing, which some viewed as insignificant while others considered extreme.

An analysis of participant experience in relation to school demographics and a review of relevant literature indicate that the challenges and difficulties related to standardized testing and reforms were most severe in schools where a high percentage of the student population are of color and/or a high percentage receive a free or reduced price lunch.

These findings conclude that social justice educators have the least difficulty teaching in districts that are funded through local wealth--predominantly white middle-class suburbs. This appears to follow what research indicates-that students of color, English language learners, and poor whites receive the most prescribed and tested curriculum and are least likely to receive a social justice component to their education.


Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Disability and Equity in Education | Education

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