Seeing through transparency in education reform: Illuminating the “local”
Utilizing “assemblage,” a notion associated with Actor-Network Theory (ANT), we explore what discourses of transparency can, and cannot, accomplish in a network of education reform that includes schools, government agencies, and community organizations. Drawing on data collected between July 2011 and March 2013 in an ethnographically-informed case study, we interrogate the ways in which notions of transparency illuminate, and also conceal, information, as well as reveal how they reorder power dynamics and relationships, impacting what it legitimized as reform in a city in Western New York. We problematize the linkages between the political conditions in which mandatory transparency and accountability in schooling become connected to voluntary transparency in local education reform, and we examine the investment made by schools and reform organizations in using transparency as a proxy for meeting accountability demands and establishing education expertise. The findings show that discourses and enactments of transparency can be effective in drawing targeted and repeated attention to select things, such as funding inequities. However, such discourses can also be utilized to obscure other issues, such as persistent disparities in academic achievement by race. When used synonymously with accountability, transparency can, and is, incorrectly positioned as an education solution.