Factors that Perpetuate Test-Driven, Factory-Style Schooling: Implications for Policy and Practice

Karl F. Wheatley


This article analyzes the factors that perpetuate test-driven, factory-style schooling, despite evidence contraindicating that approach. Both anecdotal and empirical evidence are presented to illustrate the failures of test-based accountability in the U.S., including the failures of specific policies to improve student outcomes, as well as evidence of collateral damage resulting from these policies. Factors that perpetuate test-driven, factory-style schooling include personal and institutional inertia, ignorance of the historical roots of factory schooling, ignorance of alternative educational paradigms, and The Overton Window—a narrow range of acceptable discourse that precludes discussing more productive alternatives. Other factors perpetuating factory-style schooling include misleading language and media coverage, bureaucratic tendencies, the profit motive, self-fulfilling prophecies regarding student motivation, traditional academic objectives and linear curricular  sequences, and flawed and misleading research. Current accountability-based policies and practices are discussed as a strategic political initiative that benefits wealthy and powerful members of society in multiple ways. Based on extensive experience working in and teaching about progressive education, the author presents eight suggestions for helping others transcend the factory model of schooling.


accountability movement; progressive education; school organization

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