The following post was written by Mario Waissbluth, President of Educación 2020 Foundation, a Chilean citizen’s movement founded in 2008. Its latest reform proposals (in Spanish) are called “La Reforma Educativa que Chile Necesita”, and were published in April 2013. A book on this subject (in Spanish) is also available. These proposals were mostly adopted by and included in the educational program of the recently elected government of Michelle Bachelet, and are starting to be implemented now.

Valentina Quiroga (32) was one of the student founders of this organization and is now Undersecretary of Education.

Although Educación 2020 remains as a fully independent movement, the positions stated thereon are in many ways similar to those of the current government.

Chile: Dismantling the most pro-market education system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

In August 2013 I wrote in this blog a three piece series, called “Chile: The most pro-market system in the world.” The first described the origins and structure of the system. The second explained its educational and social results, good and bad. The third pointed the way Chile should choose to get out of this mess. If the reader wants to fully understand this situation (the most “Milton Friedmanish” in the world), incomparable with any other country, it is advisable to read those beforehand.
Although some might disagree, from both extremes of the political spectrum, we are happy to inform that the proposals we made are very similar to those being implemented now. However, the political, financial and cultural obstacles will be formidable.

Bachelet was elected by a large margin of voters and has a majority in both the House and the Senate. Nonetheless, positions within the government’s coalition are not fully homogeneous. In addition, there is an impending tax reform that is vital for funding these reforms, costing no less than 2% of gross national product in gradual increments.

Of course, many powerful companies, with strong lobbying capability, are not happy about that. The educational reforms will include dozens of new laws and budgets, covering from preschool to tertiary education.

A warning for American readers. I am fully aware that many of you are criticizing charter schools, profit, teaching to the test, skimming, and the destruction of the teaching profession. I myself have cited Diane Ravitch’s books many times. But you have to be aware that, after 30 years of neoliberal schemes in Chile, charter schools subsidized by government are a majority (55%). One third of them are religious. Two thirds of them are for-profit, and one half of them charge anywhere from US$ 10 to US$ 180 a month on top of the subsidy, therefore skimming quite efficiently.

Teaching to the test, with consequences, has been taken to the greatest extreme imaginable. Policies to destruct public education are too numerous to mention here, and the result is that this system is in acute crisis financially, managerially and emotionally. The teaching profession is in far worse condition than in the US, by any statistical criteria.

In this situation, it is simply not possible to pretend now that charter schools could vanish. Less so if millions of parents have chosen to send their children to highly segregated charters, in a country whose social inequalities are far worse than those in the US, which I know are ugly by themselves.

In short, if the US is navigating towards hell, we are already there and are trying to get out without sinking the ship. It is a very different situation.

The most difficult hurdle in front of us is not legal, political or financial, but cultural. Parents have been led to believe, for decades, that the “best” school is that which is segregated, both academically and socioeconomically. We have a true cultural and educational apartheid. Therefore, the changes will have to be gradual and careful. At the same time, the government is sending strong signals: this is not going to be a minor adjustment but a major change in the overall orientation of the school system; not to make it fully state owned, but simply to resemble the vast majority of OECD countries, probably in a way similar to that of Belgium or The Netherlands. The whole strategy is described in more detail in the above mentioned entries of this blog,

Recently, the Education Minister, Mr. Nicolás Eyzaguirre (with a powerful political and financial experience and profile) has announced the first wave of legislation, to be sent to Congress in May, whose details are now being drafted. They include, amongst other things, the radical ending of academic selection and skimming, the gradual elimination of cost-sharing (to reduce social skimming), the phasing out of 3,500 for-profit schools (to be converted into non-profits), the radical pruning of the standardized testing system, the strengthening and expansion of the public network of schools (so that they can compete in a better way with the charters) and a major reform to the teaching profession, from its training (completely unregulated so far), to improving salaries and working conditions.

This is an evolving situation. I will be most happy (if I can) to answer questions through this blog, and also to inform you about new developments in the future.