Increasingly partisan perceptions of neoliberal education reforms and resistance to such reforms from communities they negatively impact have created challenges for some neoliberal reformers. This article uses a case study of the state takeover and dramatic reshaping of the Camden, New Jersey school district to examine how some reformers have responded to those challenges. We find that Camden’s state-appointed superintendents used multiple messaging and framing techniques to diffuse community resistance to unpopular policies. We refer to these techniques collectively as window dressing because they are intended to create a perception of movement away from neoliberalism without actually changing neoliberal policies. These strategies are intended to move public opinion and discourage resistance without having to fundamentally address critiques of neoliberal reform. We posit that neoliberal reformers are likely to expand their use of window dressing techniques in response to a growing rejection of neoliberal education policies, particularly by Democrats and progressives.
Prof. Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor, Director, Public Policy Program, and Associate Dean of Academic Programs at the Bloustein School