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Making Failure Pay

For-Profit Tutoring, High-Stakes Testing, and Public Schools

Making Failure Pay

For-Profit Tutoring, High-Stakes Testing, and Public Schools

A little-discussed aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a mandate that requires failing schools to hire after-school tutoring companies—the largest of which are private, for-profit corporations—and to pay them with federal funds. Making Failure Pay takes a hard look at the implications of this new blurring of the boundaries between government, schools, and commerce in New York City, the country’s largest school district.

As Jill P. Koyama explains in this revelatory book, NCLB—a federally legislated, state-regulated, district-administered, and school-applied policy—explicitly legitimizes giving private organizations significant roles in public education. Based on her three years of ethnographic fieldwork, Koyama finds that the results are political, problematic, and highly profitable. Bringing to light these unproven, unregulated private companies’ almost invisible partnership with the government, Making Failure Pay lays bare the unintended consequences of federal efforts to eliminate school failure—not the least of which is more failure.

192 pages | 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Education: Education--Economics, Law, Politics, Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education


“This is a rare and powerful take on the role and work of supplementary educational services. In investigating these services, Koyama has staked out a whole new domain for closer inquiry, successfully convincing us that they deserve scrutiny and often perpetuate failure. Making Failure Pay should be shared and should inform future research and policy making.”

Edmund T. Hamann, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“A riveting and highly disturbing account of the unforeseen effects of NCLB in the New York City Public Schools, Making Failure Pay demonstrates the full force of new anthropological approaches to the examination of educational policy. It exposes NCLB’s hidden public-private ‘liaisons’ that enable companies to profit from the provision of substandard and poorly regulated services that perpetuate student failure. Conceptually sophisticated and lucidly written, this book is indispensible reading for educational policymakers, policy researchers, and all who have a stake in U.S. urban schools.”

Peter Demerath, University of Minnesota

“While the book is engaging, its results are highly disturbing, as it reveals the degree to which SES providers are unaccountable and ineffective. . . . The book is unique due to the subject of investigation, and because it studies education policy by focusing on studying how legal requirements are enacted and negotiated by actors at the level of the school and the school district. It is a must read for both general audiences and students of education policy.”


Table of Contents


1 Engaging Failure

Probing the Problematics and Politics of Policy

2 Framing Failure

Interrogating Policy Studies, Policy Theory, and NCLB

3 Supplementing Failure

Providing Supplemental Educational Services

4 Accentuating Failure

Emphasizing the Need for “Help”

5 Neglecting Failure

Ignoring the Need for “Help”

6 Fabricating Failure

Making Up the Need for “Help”

7 Abandoning Failure

Diffusing Its Impact




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