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  • Composition in the Age of Austerity ed. by Nancy Welch and Tony Scott
  • Rachel Buck
Composition in the Age of Austerity
Nancy Welch and Tony Scott (Eds.)
Logan: Utah State UP, 2016. 235 pp.

Austerity measures have affected many of us in education and non-profits. Corporate interests have influenced funding opportunities for nonprofits, textbook purchases, assessment issues, curricula, and labor and equity issues. Readers of the Community Literacy Journal will be drawn to different sections of this collection, as it is timely and brings together voices to show complex ways that global and national neoliberal formations impact local institutions.

Part I begins with Chris W. Gallagher's discussion of e-portfolios used for accreditation purposes in "Our Trojan Horse: Outcomes Assessment and the Resurrection of Competency-Based Education." Gallagher makes the claim that e-portfolios are part of the neoliberal agenda toward competency-based education (CBE) and that by accepting outcomes assessment, compositionists have "unknowingly invited CBE" (23). Gallagher is critical of private foundations that fund CBE such as the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and Nellie Mae. One of the problems with CBE, as Gallagher states, is that "CBE today imagines writing not as a means of participating in social and civic contexts, but rather as a means of producing material to be evaluated" (29). This is contrasted with how Gallagher imagines writing classes with teachers as "expert shapers of educative experiences . . . who offer a kind and quality of experience—in courses and curricula, and in and through writing—that cannot be replicated or by-passed by vendors" (31). Gallagher ends by giving suggestions for Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) in assisting to get corporate interests out of education reform. Colleges should be places "where people gather to learn together" (32). Gallagher draws a harsh distinction between corporate interests and learning goals, but he does not define what "real" learning might look like or why the two ideas of learning and CBE are mutually exclusive. WPAs are often in a difficult position vying for funding, and may be wary of being called "complicit" in allowing CBE. But there are no quick fixes to educational reforms, and calling on educators and politicians to consider this is an important step. [End Page 84]

Deborah Mutnick continues the assessment conversation in Chapter 2: "Confessions of an Assessment Fellow." She is critical of government reform programs such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama's Race to the Top and College Scorecard programs. Programs like these have "pitted students and parents against teachers in the name of educational equality and blamed underfunded, high poverty schools, particularly teachers, for academic failure" instead of focusing on fundamental societal issues of racism and poverty (37). For Mutnick, outcomes assessment reduces the "complex process of teaching and learning to a packaged product used to satisfy the promise of excellence, a floating signifier united to any concrete, tangible content, whose meaning we think we know but can never name" (42). As with Gallagher, the term 'learning' is used but not defined contextually. Mutnick claims that many assessments such as standardized tests and rubrics "rarely if at all correlate with what and how students learn" (39). Instead of these assessments, Mutnick would like us to imagine what an assessment would look like that emphasized "students' well-being instead of relying on their performance on tests and rubrics . . ." (48).

In Chapter 3, Emily J. Isaacs discusses MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) in "First-Year Composition Course Redesigns: Pedagogical Innovation or Solution to the 'Cost Disease'?" She analyzes four course redesigns in first-year composition sponsored by Carol Twigg's non-profit National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). She admits that Course Redesign as a movement has inspired compositionists' best and worst work—pedagogical work inspired by technological possibilities, but also the work of cost-saving. She concludes through her analysis that redesign efforts include many variables, many of which are often overlooked in assessments, and states, "Beyond an increase in adjuncts and class size, what we see in the 'redesign' of composition is an untheorized and untested return to grammar instruction . . ." (60).

Marcelle M. Haddix and Brandi Williams end Part I with "Who's...


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