There are many voices that speak about what ought to happen in education-but some voices speak louder than others largely because education is an initiative of the state and increasingly of the federal government. Since the common schools are “public” perhaps the loudest voices are those of politicians and policymakers, while the voices of those who must make the schools work are often excluded from policy deliberations. Clearly policymakers can be swayed, as they were by the economic slump of the early 1980s when, I would argue, business leaders were willing to blame education for their failure to sustain economic growth (Philipsen & Noblit, 1993). Education has continued to be the whipping boy for the economy ever since. Once business saw that it was able to inﬂuence public education policy and transfer responsibility for economic problems to education, it developed a full ﬂedged assault on education. It has promoted many ideas such as vouchers which were to create a market model of education. While vouchers demonstrated that the public were not ready to give up on education as a social good, and led to the famous compromise we call charter schools, business and the federal government were successful in arguing that schools were failing. This in turn led to what we came to call the school reform era and its culmination in accountability policy (Noblit et al., 2001). It was through school reform that the federal government altered its role in education from that of supporting efforts to make schooling more equitable (as with school desegregation and compensatory programs) to actively countering these efforts by claiming they led directly to increased mediocrity in education (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). This challenge to equity was claimed to be about excellence but this is a misnomer. Rather the school reform era could be better understood as an effort to more tightly link schools to both economic interests
and to federal policy (Miron, 1996; Murphy, 1999). Any efforts at excellence have been short lived, in part because those calling for reform were also calling for cutting the costs of public education. Over time, the evidence seemed clear: school reform was both costly and complex. As a result, reform devolved into accountability policy. Accountability policy has had dramatic inﬂuences on schools, but as I read it, is ultimately a recognition that school change and improvement is too complex for governmental policy. Accountability policy, then, is a policy wrought in failure. The failure of school reform frustrated business and federal policymakers and has led them into a raw exercise of power. If they could not change schools, then schools would simply be forced to comply. No Child Left Behind is not about improving education but about forcing schools to focus on test scores, and we are now seeing the consequences of such simpleminded efforts: teacher turnover, increased dropout rates, and a persistent black-white achievement gap that some argue schools can do little about (Barton, 2003). In NCLB, the persistence of gaps in achievement is used as evidence that the public schools have failed. The goal of this effort is to open education as a market for the private sector (Murphy, 1999), reducing education for citizenship to education for consumerism.