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Volume III, Number 5, May, 2005 Volume III, Number 5, May, 2005

The World Bank's
Possibly Chilling Agenda

By Lois Weiner
© 2005, Lois Weiner, all rights reserved.
About the author

The rhetorical premise of NCLB, that the federal government will finally hold public schools throughout the nation accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students, has been shown by many authors to mask its key purpose: to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocationalized curriculum enforced through use of standardized tests.

But even more chilling aspects of NCLB have gone unnoticed in the U.S. As I explain elsewhere, (see “New Politics,” Winter 2004, ), NCLB is the domestic version of the program for education that is being enacted internationally, through the World Bank. NCLB is far more than a school-reform plan. It is a key aspect of a global blueprint to increase profits for transnational corporations (and the wealth of people who control them).

The most damaging elements of NCLB are outlined in the World Bank’s Word Development Report (WDR 2004) that sets out the policies it claims will make services work for poor people: greatly reduce public funding for education; decentralize authority; impose control over curriculum and teaching through testing; make education vocational training. But in contrast to the way NCLB has been positioned in the U.S., as a school reform plan, WDR 2004 makes the economic rationale for the reforms explicit.

Already the World Bank has implemented many elements of its plan in other countries, by making loans and aid contingent on “restructuring” education, that is, destroying publicly-funded, publicly controlled educational systems. The results, including reduced literacy rates and increased unemployment among youth, have been devastating, as University of Buenos Aires Professor Adriana Puiggros describes in her report contrasting the reality of implementation in Argentina with the World Bank’s rhetoric of equality.

The World Bank plan limits access to higher education by imposing higher tuition and reducing government support. Diminishing access to higher education means that lower education is charged primarily with preparing students for jobs requiring basic skills, jobs that multinationals aim to move freely from one country to another, depending on where conditions are best for profits. As most workers need only limited literacy and numeracy to do the deskilled work transnational corporations require, workers/students do not require teachers who are themselves well-educated or highly skilled. In fact, teachers who have a significant amount of education are a liability because they are costly to employ.

When a draft form of WDR was released, it sparked such a furor in Washington, indeed internationally, the draft was disavowed by World Bank officials. The draft report argued that teachers were a major threat to global prosperity. Therefore teachers’ power had to be eliminated, for instance by firing teachers wholesale when they resist government demands for reduced pay. Seen in light of the draft WDR 2004, Rod Paige’s remark about the NEA being a “terrorist organization” takes on a different, ominous meaning.

The draft of WDR 2004 reveals the real plan of the economists, lobbyists, and government officials whose ideas form the basis of NCLB’s most important provisions. Yet the success of the outcry and mobilization of non-governmental organizations and unions in forcing the World Bank to disavow the draft also shows what can be done by united, informed political struggle of groups who challenge policies destroying public education.

We have much to learn from the response in other countries to the World Bank program for education. One of the key lessons is that NCLB enacts policies that aim to increase profits and not learning. Another lesson is that to defeat the forces who aim to destroy public education in the U.S., we have to see the global picture.


The Draft Report as PDF file at

The final report is

The documents supported by NGO's criticizing the draft report
are still online at the World Bank. For instance Global Campaign
for Education response to the draft is  now found at

Lois Weiner teaches education at New Jersey City University.

© 2005, Lois Weiner, all rights reserved. This article may be e-mailed to individuals by individuals, but all other duplication, distribution, publication and use is prohibited without first receiving explicit permission. Contact for information.