Process Blog for Research Posts–Political and Economic Analysis of Personal Experience

The following post is meant as a guide to writing the next two weeks’ blog posts, which can take a variety of forms. I will write my step-by-step process as an example. 

Essentially, the example will follow two steps: finding materials and summarizing information from these materials into a blogpost reflection.

In your posts, include this sort of material in list and paragraph style. I will accept multiple formats, so long as the writing demonstrates to me that you are researching questions to analyze your personal experience.

I. Finding materials

Using my questions, I have found several documents that will lead me to a clearer picture of the social formation, repressive status apparatus, and ideological state apparatuses at the time of my personal experience. I will read and skim these documents to put together an economic and political picture of my personal educational experience for next week’s post.

Wikipedia page for the year 1994
United States 1990 Census base page
Connecticut-specific census material from 1990
A possible testing scandal in western Connecticut in the early 1990s?
Selected Education Laws and Policies in Connecticut c.1980
Wikipedia page for a major federal educational policy passed in 1994

II. Some preliminary findings

In 1994 NAFTA was implemented for the first time, Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa, and Bill Clinton was president. The population of Danbury, CT was roughly 66,000. Per capita household income was $19,300 in 1989 dollars (translating to $36,292.02 in 2014).

What was the educational policy of the land and how did this result in my taking a state-mandated standardized test? Were there any political or economic incentives/pressures to do so?

There was a law passed in 1984, the year I was born, called PA 84-265. This called for “Statewide Mastery Tests.”

1984: Statewide Mastery Tests

Statewide mastery tests were implemented for the 4th, 6th, and 8th grades with the passage of PA 84-265. Mastery tests are comprised of reading, writing and math sections. This test was formulated to measure students’ academic achievement individually and as a whole in order to make pertinent curriculum changes. Mastery test scores are also used to identify schools in need of state assistance.

Through an article reference to this piece of legislation I found the “Connecticut Mastery Test.” 

Before 1984 such tests were not required in the state of Connecticut. Why would that law pass at that time? I know from previous research that the (in)famous report A Nation At Risk was published a year before, which is an extremely divisive and rich text. Republicans under the Reagan Administration created a sense of urgency about public education as never before in this report, whose first paragraphs read:

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgement needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself. Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur– others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

Did NAR inspire PA 84-265?

More materials, questions, and findings:

Video on “A Nation at Risk” report

From John Bellamy Foster’s “Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital”

What changed matters decisively for the worse was the onset of economic stagnation beginning with the 1974-75 recession, and continuing with a declining economic growth trend ever since. Real economic growth in the United States dropped, decade by decade, from the 1970s on, putting increasing pressure on education. Total government spending on K-12 education as a percentage of GDP had risen in the 1960s and early 1970s, reaching 4.1 percent in 1975, only to fall to 3.6 percent a decade later, in 1985. The percentage of public school revenue coming from local government plummeted from 53 percent in 1965 to 44 percent in 1985 due to a widespread property tax revolt. Consequently, funding became more centralized at the state level.24

Schools, meanwhile, were forced to cope with growing deficits from the larger society. The percentage of U.S. children living in poverty rose from 14.4 percent in 1973 to 22.7 percent in 1993; while the proportion of poor children living in extreme poverty—defined as half the official poverty rate—increased from around 30 percent in 1975 to over 40 percent in 1993. Rising numbers of increasingly impoverished children arrived in the public schools, bringing with them more pressing needs, leading to greater strains on limited school resources.25

Finally, a question: If the Sandia Report found that the data analysis of A Nation at Risk was invalid–that it fell to Simpson’s Paradox–what does that mean for the meaning of the report at the time, as well as our continued use of it for justifying educational policy?

1) It seems like we can conclude that the energy behind the reforms, and their continuation, is entirely political and economic. If the data behind “failing schools” was incorrect in the 1980’s, the national fervor that developed around its rhetoric was just that: rhetoric. But behind rhetoric is an agenda, and the Reaganian vision of US political economy appears to be that agenda.

2) Are we still under the influence of that vision if we continue to use justifications from A Nation at Risk?


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