The business reform of education: new right, old ideas

Terry Winters, Untitled, 1994.


Commentary on the book by Luiz Carlos de Freitas

The book The business reform of education: new right, old ideas, by Unicamp Education Faculty professor Luiz Carlos de Freitas, was launched in 2018, shortly after the approval of the Brazilian National Common Curricular Base (BNCC) for Kindergarten and Elementary education.[I] Before the 2018 presidential election, therefore, it does not address the follies that have haunted us since then.

However, under the circus set up by the Ministry of Education in the Bolsonaro government around its outlandish agendas, the general lines of the conception of education prevail that had been gaining ground in the MEC and in society for decades and was imposed with more force after the coup d’état. 2016. It is from this conception, which aims at the establishment of a climate of social authoritarianism, the prevalence of individualist ideas and the implementation of an ultraliberal economic dynamic, that the work deals with.

Freitas presents the set of ideas and policies that make up the “business education reform”, an expression coined by American scholars who are critical of the process of standardizing education, which in the United States is at an advanced stage, to the point of being questioned and revised. .

Already in the first pages, the author raises his flag – that of the defense of a public education of public management – ​​and reiterates that the project of a country and of life to be built, in which public education and public management is inscribed as a means and Finally, it is radically opposed to the current one, which aims to train individuals to work in industry 4.0 and resigned – employed or not – to a precarious life at all levels.

In addition to taking sides, the author strips the party that opposes the public school of public management of the alleged “apolitical” cover. To this end, it rigorously describes and analyzes the elements that make up the framework for implementing the reform and some of its results, especially in the United States and Chile,[ii] but also in Brazil.

The aforementioned reform is part of a broader context, in which there is a gradual conversion of all social rights into services. More radical liberal theorists such as James Buchanan, chicago boy supported by the Koch brothers who collaborated in the drafting of the Constitution of the Chilean dictatorship, would be the political articulators of this assault on social rights on a global scale.

This proposal is based roughly, on the premises that we are all hopelessly individualistic, that the State is a bad manager (but a good financier) and that the “winners”, when forced to pay taxes and comply with regulations that protect subordinates, are penalized on their merits .

From these assumptions unfolds a whole program of change in terms of relations between business, government and the working class, to some extent benefited by the economic crisis of the late 1970s and the rise of figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margareth Thatcher to power. In Latin America, there was some resistance to the model, mainly due to the brutal living conditions it imposed in a scenario of profound inequalities. In Brazil, however, the ultimatum was given in 2016, with the coup that removed Dilma Rousseff – and the coalition that the author calls “developmentalist capitalism” – from the presidency. The center-right coalition (PSDB and PFL/DEM) returns to power, and increases the speed of a process that had been developing since the 1990s.

The political front in this economic and ideological program is of great importance, as it enshrines the deregulation of work in the law and collaborates to reproduce the idea that we are all against all, inside and outside the school.

In this scenario of complete deregulation and reiteration that socioeconomic inequalities are irreversible and even acceptable, the school is both a means and an end: a means of disseminating the competitive ideal and a lucrative business in itself, as long as it is managed as a company.


Curriculum base, evaluation, accountability: private management and public funding

The author focuses on the role of curriculum bases and large-scale assessments, associated with the principle of accountability, or “accountability”, in the process of incorporating schools, especially public ones, into the market game. The assumption is always that what is out of the market tends to be abandoned and “ineffective”, without reservations about the conditions in which these institutions operate. According to this model, there is a set of contents, skills and competences, defined in the common national curriculum bases, that the student needs to master, regardless of the specificities of their context.

Compliance with this norm is verified through equally standardized assessments, whose function is to classify schools and students as “efficient” and “inefficient”. “Effective” schools are popular in the media and with parents; the “inefficient” ones, on the other hand, go through restructurings that involve closing the imposition of a private management, via outsourcing or privatization itself. As for students from “reformed” schools, those considered inadequate are led to abandon their studies, while those who adapt have little significant academic gains – the professor cites research based on metadata that reveals debatable academic results (even from the impoverishing perspective of the school neoliberal) and attempts to justify them without jeopardizing the credibility of the reform in public opinion.

Contortions in the educational process that focus on student success in assessments over all other dimensions of the school experience do not just affect students. Under private management, male and female teachers live under the pressure of goals that do not dialogue with reality. The “improvement” of teachers according to the terms of the reform becomes a condition for employability, which opens up a fertile field for the market of courses, training, consultancy and other ventures that promise to fill gaps that the reform itself creates, in an incessant process of distortions. and equally distorting corrections.

The author points out that the discourse of the “efficient” public school, of “quality” education, without further consideration of what “efficiency” and “quality” means, seduces a broader spectrum than that of the right, spreading to the center -left.[iii] Standardized tests and their results tend to be treated as undisputed information about the effectiveness of the educational process as a whole. As if their content and the interpretation of the data they generate were immune to ideology, as would the words “freedom”, “responsibility” and “innovation”, in addition to the aforementioned “efficiency” and “quality”, and also “education”. ”.

In short, this is a book committed to emancipatory education, which is only possible, as the author demonstrates, if it is public under public management. It offers an analysis of practices and diffuse discourses that have taken hold of the debate, and an assertive position against the neoliberal offensive on education and other dimensions of life.

In a passage in which he deals with the inevitable clash between the national curriculum and the school unit, Professor Freitas states: “There is intelligent life inside schools, enough to subject to criticism the ideas that surround the business reform of education.” The picture presented in this book reveals that those who are in schools, and not only these, need to have this intelligent life, they need to be this intelligent life.

* Marisa de Oliveira is a Portuguese language teacher.



Luiz Carlos de Freitas. The business reform of education: new right, old ideas. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2018, 160 pages.


[I] The BNCC for High School was approved on December 14, 2018.

[ii] On the Educational Assessment website, it is worth reading the article by professor Luiz Carlos de Freitas on President Gabriel Boric's program for education, whose objective is to “confront the business reform and privatization that the system has undergone since the Pinochet dictatorship and put the education in another direction.”

[iii] In the article “Three myths about public education – and what to do to change education in Brazil”, Priscila Cruz, executive president of the NGO Todos pela Educação, addresses the reforms in education that prepare young people for an “uncertain future”. It is a rhetorical piece rich in examples of how a proposal for a business education reform can be given a progressive veneer. The article was published in Revista Piauí, digital version, on 16/12/2021.

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