The Theatre of Competing Globally: Disguising Racial Achievement Patterns with Test-Driven Accountabilities

Jill P. Koyama, Candace Cofield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A discourse placing schools in the service of the economy has become ubiquitous in the United States (US), and current educational policies, including No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and movements, such as the Common Core Learning Standards, have been positioned as necessary in an account of global competitiveness. In this hegemonic script, implementing standardization and test-driven accountabilities across schools become not only the means, but also the goals of reform. This, we argue, undermines policy aims to reduce the persistent racial achievement gap. Here, we reconsider NCLB's accountabilities within "political spectacle," a framework we use to highlight the purposeful and public enactment of the worldwide educational-economic crisis. We demonstrate that this spectacle, when performed by politicians, city officials, school district administrators, educational support businesspersons, and the media, draws attention away from the ways in which NCLB negatively impacts poor, Black, and Latino youth who disproportionately attend "failing" public schools. Drawing upon data ethnographically collected in New York City (NYC) between June 2005 and October 2010, we reveal education officials and politicians justifying accountability in terms of global competiveness-often to reap personal benefit and political support-while minimizing the ways in which racial disparities continue even a decade after the implementation of NCLB mandates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-289
Number of pages17
JournalUrban Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Ethnography
  • Policy
  • Political spectacle
  • Racial achievement gap

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies


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