More than a Score: Neoliberalism, Testing & Teacher Evaluations

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Megan E Behrent


UNESCO's Education for All initiative, whatever its architects may have intended, has coincided with an acceleration of the neoliberal agenda to restructure public education along market lines. In the advanced countries, this has provided the corporate-driven education reform groups a political framework to advocate expansive and stringent teacher evaluation schemes at the K-12 level. A recent OECD document, "Teachers for the 21st Century: Using evaluation to improve teaching," states: "highly visible teacher appraisal...provides opportunities to incentivize, recognize and reward teaching competence and high performance."

In the U.S., the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top reforms have linked performance to both school improvement and teacher evaluation with the aim of rationalizing and restructuring the role of educators. The intent is to replace traditional collaboration and collegiality with market-style competition with incentives and punishments based on both data-driven quantitative results and qualitative assessment of teacher performance.

The imposition of such evaluation methods has disrupted relationships between local school administration and the teaching staff as well as opened rifts within the teaching ranks and sparked resistance from parents and students. A case in point is the new teacher evaluation system imposed by New York State Education Law 3012c. In New York City, conflicts between the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education ultimately led to an evaluation system imposed via binding arbitration by State Education Commissioner John King. This paper will examine the New York City teacher evaluation model to provide a case study of the destructive impact of corporate education reform at the school level.  As the New York City model is in its first year, this case study can expand our understanding of the impact of teacher evaluation systems on public education in a large urban setting. It will focus on the way in which race and class inequities are perpetuated through the new evaluation system and the disproportionate impact it has on schools that serve emergent bilinguals, students with special needs, as well as economically disadvantaged students. Lastly, this paper will look at examples of resistance and the potential of the nascent opt-out movement in New York City as well as in Chicago and Seattle to pose a challenge to neoliberal education reform.

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Author Biography

Megan E Behrent, New York City College of Technology/CUNY

Assistant Professor of English