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  • From the Editorial Board Marketing the Future:Rebranding Public Education
  • Torrie K. Edwards

It is important to discuss the role of higher education and university structures in a journal that focuses on secondary education and research policy because post-secondary changes inevitably shape P-12 education policy. With political rhetoric around the policies for higher education becoming increasingly conservative across many states (in particular, those with notably progressive institutions), it is clear that the political right will gravely impact P-20 public education in two ways: first, by redefining the purpose of schools, thus changing coursework, university and P-12 school structures, standards, teacher preparation, and teacher compensation; and second, by privatizing schools, which—regardless of whether this is intended or not—will exacerbate existing race-based and class-based institutional inequities.

Pervasive in the current rhetoric of public higher education is an emphasis on the job market and employability, as well as the repeated use of business language and terminology in program and institutional evaluation. Though current rhetoric emphasizes this neoliberal approach to education, public education has not always been conceptualized only in this way. The purpose of public education has often been understood as a mechanism by which we create civically active and knowledgeable participants in a democratic society. This idea of democratic citizenship is reflected in university mission statements, demonstrating both university and external community members’ moral and political understanding of the role of public higher education. A simple Google search of public universities’ mission statements elicits such examples of university purpose as “community engagement” (University of South Carolina, 2010), “new knowledge that can change how we all work and live” (University of Minnesota, 2014), and “the free and collegial exchange of ideas” (University of Virginia, 2014). These characteristics of higher education are similarly reflected in P-12 spaces. Historically, public education has been conceptualized as the means by which America can “survive as a democracy,” by “arm[ing] people with an intelligence capable of free and independent thought” that “helps people to build common ground across diverse experiences and ideas” (Darling-Hammond, 1996, p. 5). And, although the Common Core State Standards (2010) also emphasize competitiveness, that the standards identify educated citizenship and respect for the experiences of “widely divergent cultures” (p. 7) as important also echoes those university statements of purpose. Looking at these post-secondary missions and our current P-12 academic standards, it is clear that both parts of the public education community share the responsibility to promote excellence, academic quality, and a devotion to community.

Despite these qualities of public education, in recent years, conservative political figures across the country have used their executive strength to encourage and supplement legislative policies that limit and change the purpose of public higher education. State leaders like Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida are attempting to institute efforts to limit and change public education by cutting public P-20 education funding and expanding voucher programs (Bosman, 2015; Kelderman, 2015; [End Page 1] Strauss, 2015). Often leaders who have slashed the public education budget and rearranged education systems have met resistance, and nowhere is the political tension around public education more apparent than in North Carolina, the home state of The High School Journal. In 2013, newly elected Governor Pat McCrory decried the intellectual elitism of North Carolina’s university system. Declaring his lack of support for public funding of liberal arts education in public universities, he argued that the system’s responsibility was to produce employable graduates who could fill the market’s needs; for instance students who wish to participate in liberal arts courses such as “gender studies” or “Swahili language” classes could, according to the Governor, “go to a private school” (Kingkade, 2015). McCrory’s statement, which elicited criticism from students, college professors, and even other conservatives (Kingkade, 2015), flies in the face of the University of North Carolina’s mission to maintain an “unwavering commitment to excellence as one of the world’s great research universities” and extend “knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina…to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State” (University of North...