Why the Standards Movement Failed: An Educational and Political Diagnosis of Its Failure and the Implications for School Reform

  • Lawrence C. Stedman Binghamton University, SUNY
Keywords: Standards Movement, No Child Left Behind, Goals 2000, Test Score Decline, Race to the Top, Anyon, Apple, Ravitch, Neoliberalism, Conservative Restoration, Capitalism, Democracy, Democratic Education, Education Policy, Legislation


In the first paper, “How Well Does the Standards Movement Measure Up?,” I documented the movement’s failure in diverse areas—academic achievement, equality of opportunity, quality of learning, and graduation rates—and described its harmful effects on students and school culture.

In this paper, I diagnose the reasons for the failure and propose an alternative agenda for school reform. I link the failure of the standards movement to its faulty premises, historical myopia, and embrace of test-driven accountability. As part of the audit culture and the conservative restoration, the movement ended up pushing a data-driven, authoritarian form of schooling. Its advocates blamed educational problems on a retreat from standards, for which there was little evidence, while ignoring the long-standing, deep structure of schooling that had caused persistent achievement problems throughout the 20th century. Drawing on reproduction theories and analyses of the neoliberal reform project, I make the case for repealing NCLB and Race to the Top and outline a progressive framework for reconstructing schools.