Research: Resisting neoliberal education reform in Newark and Camden

September 22, 2019

In their article, “What enables communities to resist neoliberal education reforms? Lessons from Newark and Camden, New Jersey” (Journal of Urban Affairs, April 2019), Bloustein School Associate Professor Julia Sass Rubin and Stephen Danley (Rutgers, Camden) examine the political factors that allow communities to resist undemocratic education governance mechanisms that are used to implement a neoliberal educational agenda.

What enables communities to resist neoliberal education reforms? Lessons from Newark and Camden, New Jersey

Danley and Rubin note that “neoliberal education reformers advance a set of strategies intended to improve public education by incorporating market-based approaches. To facilitate the adoption of these often unpopular ideas, neoliberal reformers advocate for governance mechanisms that make it more challenging for communities to control their public schools. The prevalence of such undemocratic governance mechanisms has grown over the last decade, undercutting communities’ efforts to organize in opposition to the neoliberal education agenda. However, these governance mechanisms do not necessarily shut down the organizing.”

Danley and Rubin argue that it is important to understand what enables sustained community resistance to neoliberal education reform to exist in the presence of such undemocratic governance mechanisms, in order to help build an infrastructure supportive of such organizing. “Even when that infrastructure is present, grassroots organizers often face an uphill climb. Lacking that infrastructure tips the scales overwhelmingly away from communities and toward the neoliberal education reformers.”

They find that “social and economic capital and access to information are critical for creating conditions that enable sustained resistance under undemocratic governance mechanisms.” They “also identify an additional factor that helps explain the different levels of community resistance in Camden and Newark: the role of parochial and oppressive politics that include retaliatory tactics that undermine resistance.”

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