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Ideology of Education, The

The Commonwealth, the Market, and America's Schools

Kevin B. Smith

Publication Year: 2003

Advocates of market-based education reforms (including such policies as choice, charters, vouchers, and outright privatization) argue that they represent ready solutions to clearly defined problems. Critics of market models, on the other hand, argue that these reforms misperceive the purposes of public education and threaten its democratic ethos. This book explores both the promises and pitfalls of market forces—their potential to improve the quality of public education and their compatibility with its republican justifications. Smith argues that although market models of education are not without utilitarian merit, their potential to alter the social-democratic purposes of education is seriously underestimated. He supports this claim with a series of sophisticated analyses of the key assumptions underlying these models, and by examining the normative elements of theory and methodology that can—and often do—skew empirical policy analysis toward market preferences. He concludes that market reforms are not just a ready means to effectively address the problems of public schooling but rather represent a clear attempt to ideologically redefine its ends.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

List of Tables and Figures

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xv

Anyone reviewing the academic educational policy literature may be forgiven for concluding that, as Peter De Leon put it, the policy sciences have become “yet another vested tool for interest groups” (1997, x). These studies are routinely employed as partisan weapons in educational policy debates, and there is grumbling from the left and the right that...

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1. Ideology and Education

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pp. 1-18

Public education and the market have both been described as secular religions. The market because it purports to possess divine attributes that, “are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith” (Cox 1999, 20). Public education because it embodies a “cosmological” belief among Americans that schooling offers a sure path...

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2. Education and the Economy

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pp. 19-45

Market-based education reforms are frequently justified by the claim that schools inadequately respond to the demand for economically valuable knowledge. The belief that education’s primary function is to meet this demand by creating and transferring the intellectual skills that provide economic opportunity is at the heart of the market’s functionalist...

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3. Education and Equality of Opportunity

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pp. 47-73

As the previous chapter details, numerous studies raise questions about the external efficiency of schooling. Education outputs, especially test scores, have a tenuous claim to represent economically valuable cognitive skills, and raising these outputs seems unlikely to boost productivity in the aggregate (Levin and Kelly 1994). Yet these same outputs undoubtedly play...

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4. Institutional Structure and Educational Goals

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pp. 75-100

The arguments and analyses in the preceding chapters empirically challenge the market’s arguments in several ways. Value systems seem to do a better job of predicting aggregate productivity than test scores and the useful knowledge and skills they are held to represent. These test score measures in turn seem to be at least partially reflecting social inequities...

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5. Education and Civic Culture

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pp. 101-125

According to any number of commonwealth-oriented scholars and analysts, the primary purpose of public education is to “indoctrinate the coming generation with the basic outlooks and values of the political order” (Key 1961, p. 316). In this perspective schools are repositories and replicators of value systems that manifest themselves in norms and behavioral...

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6. Education as Ideology

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pp. 127-150

The central purpose of this book was to assess whether market-based education reforms were more likely to produce positive, utilitarian change (improved economic prospects through higher levels of human capital, more equitable distribution of social and economic opportunity), or cultural change (a reshaping of normative institutional goals and how...


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pp. 151-156

Methodological Appendix

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pp. 157-169


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pp. 171-190


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pp. 191-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487327
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791456453
Print-ISBN-10: 0791456455

Page Count: 196
Illustrations: 15 tables, 6 figures
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 54770706
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ideology of Education, The

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Subject Headings

  • Democracy -- United States.
  • Privatization in education -- United States.
  • Education -- Political aspects -- United States.
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