A reader in the U.K. points out that education issues in the U.S. and U.K. have evolved differently. I am not sure that other readers in the U.K. would agree. There, as here, we have debates about how to educate, what to teach, and who should be in charge. When I visited London a few years ago, I toured “city academies,” which are schools that the government “gives” to wealthy businessmen who are willing to put up about $2 million dollars to build a facility; those I saw were oriented toward vo-tech studies. That seemed to me a clear movement towards privatization.

I don’t know which country is leading and which is following, or whether neither is the right term.

The battles in the U.S. over curriculum content and pedagogy have taken a back seat to the battles over the future of public education and the survival of teaching as a profession.

I hope that other readers in the U.K. weigh in.

As a teacher in England, I follow your blog (and read your books) with a fascination about both the similarities and differences between our education systems. Ideologically the US and England often go through similar fads and exchange thinkers all the time. The current UK government has flirted (I think that’s the best word) with the ideas of the American school reform movement. Most recently Michelle Rhee was over here promoting her own legend and being praised by ministers. However, there are differences as well as similarities.Schools are governed at different levels in our countries. In England (I am glossing over what happens in the other nations of the UK) education is controlled by the UK government, with administrative powers delegated to Local Education Authorities (now just “Local Authorities”) which are the locally elected councils covering cities, London boroughs and counties. These never had as much power as American states (teachers pay and conditions and qualifications were decided nationally) and in many ways may be more comparable to school boards in the US, but were often seen as powerful and unaccountable particularly prior to the 1980s due to the lack of autonomy in individual schools. Power has shifted significantly over the years, with the 1980s seeing an increase in both centralisation (with the setting of the national curriculum and new tests and exams and creation of OFSTED, the national schools inspectorate) and decentralised to schools (with schools being given more responsibility to run their own finances).A lot of political debate since then has centred over where power should lie. The underlying agenda of that article is about the power of local authorities and also the perception of central government (particularly under the Tories) as supporting traditional education and local government as supporting progressive education. The New Statesman magazine (along with the Guardian newspaper) is the voice of the middle-class left in England and for that reason will assume both that local authorities are good and that traditional education is bad. None of this necessarily maps onto reality, nor onto comparisons with the US. The two new(er) types of school that the article opposes are Academies, which are former local authority schools given more power and autonomy, and Free Schools which are new schools set up by parents. While comparisons can be made with Charter Schools and the US situation the following differences are probably key:

1) The English National Curriculum and testing system are already in place. Far from being part of a movement for standardised tests, Academies and free schools are given more freedom from the National Curriculum.

2) The closing of “bad schools” is not yet on the agenda. This may be because demographics mean new schools can be introduced to cope with a rising school population without closing old schools. It might also reflect the fact that there are not, as yet, very many free schools.

3) The traditional vs. progressive faultlines are more clearly on display in the debate here. That is why the charter schools mentioned are KIPP (who are quite traditional on discipline) rather than, say, the online charter schools you have been describing recently. Although some of the free schools can easily be described as “progressive” this is not something the media says much about, and the last thing the New Statesman would admit to.

4) Despite a lot of controversy over exam standards here, our exams have not become mutiple-choice, short answer messes like the American ones and only one of our three main exam boards is private. The government has shown a preference for essay questions, and more challenging exams.

5) Our teaching unions are terrible. They oppose everything but stop nothing and are barely able to work together. The government finds them a useful scapegoat but they really count for nothing.

6) The government has held off on privatisation. A lot of the debate is not about what they are doing to involve private companies, but what they might do in the future.

There is definitely the potential for a US style reform movement lobbying for privatisation and union-busting. There is Teach First, an English equivalent of Teach For America, a lot of similar rhetoric and moves towards unqualified teachers. There are academy sponsors who resemble charter schools chains. But on the whole we are not there yet. I recognise more of the English debate in your older books like “Left Back”, than in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”. Curriculum content is more controversial than anything else. To give examples, the most heated debates in English education recently have been over whether to teach phonics and whether exams have got easier and what to do about that.