Accountability synopticism: How a think tank and the media developed a quasimarket for school choice in British Columbia


  • Michael Simmonds, EdD University of British Colombia
  • P.Taylor Webb, PhD University of British Colombia


school rankings, discourse, accountability, Foucault, surveillance


This paper describes how a locally developed school ranking system
affected student enrolment patterns in British Columbia over time.
In developing an annual school ‘report card’ that was published in
newspapers and online, the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute created
a marketplace for school choice by devising an accountability scheme
that highlighted and concealed visibility asymmetries between schools.
Against the backdrop of a shifting political landscape, report cards
helped focus the public’s attention on school achievement scores that
identified low-, mid-, and high-performing schools. A quasi-market for
education emerged in the non-place of language and discourse when
school ranking results became the basis by which parents made decisions
about where to send their children to school. When student achievement
data is used to identify British Columbia’s ‘best’ and ‘worst’ performing
secondary schools in this way, standardized assessment practices may be
considered high-stakes.