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Chris Lubienski has done comparative studies of public and private schools for years. In this latest study, he notes the paradox that choice schools tend to become standardized over time, betraying the claim that they would meet the differing needs and interests of students.

DOCUMENT RESUME
ED 439 519 EA 030 327
AUTHOR Lubienski, Chris
TITLE Diversification and Duplication in Charter Schools
PUBTYPE EDRS PRICE
Ontario,Canada,April14-18,19). InformationAnalyses(070) Speches/MetingPapers(150)
DESCRIPTORS
MF01/PCO2 Plus Postage. *CharterSchols;Diversity(Institutional);Educational
IDENTIFIERS
ABSTRACT
Change; *Educational Economics; Elementary Secondary Education;ForeignCountries;FreEnterpriseSystem; Privatization;School Choice Grant Maintained Schols (GreatBritain);*MarketSystems Aproach
Grant-MaintainedSchols:AnExplorationinthePolitical
EconomyofScholChoice. PUBDATE 19-04-0


NOTE


47p.;Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society (Toronto.)


This paper examines the political economy of charter schools to understand the tendencies toward standardization and emulation that these schools exhibit. It draws on the developed model of grant-maintained schools in the United Kingdom as an example of the market model’s evolution in mass education. It analyzes the promise of such approaches to explore reformers’ underlying assumptions and thus offers a window into perspectives that have driven these prolific reforms. The paper contrasts the emerging evidence with the public promises of reformers and contrasts these with the disappointing lack of diversification of options for education consumers. It states that widespread and controversial reforms in education across the globe entailed the introduction of market mechanisms of consumer choice and competition among providers in mass education. The text explores the promise of choice plans and charter schools, the effects of competition, and the reaction to uniformity. It concludes that there is a standardizing tendency inherent in markets that both accompanies and counteracts the potential for diversification that competitive markets can generate. The paper claims that market-oriented reformers generally ignore the constraining properties of competitive markets in their discussion of the potential effects of competition in education. (Containsaproximately25references.)(RJM)


Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made from the original document.

Diversification&DuplicationinCharter&GMSchols 20
ofsectionsofthemarket inefect,privatizedsuper-LEAswithprimaryacountabilityto shareholders,notcitizensoreven”consumers.”Thereisaneconomicincentivetolimitthe diversityofaproducttosomextent,becauseofresearch,development,production, distribution,andsuportcosts;asTeryMoenotes,”inovationscostmoney.Sometimes alotofmoney”(citedinMolnar,196,p.72).27Thus,thehated”one-size-fits-al” aproachtoeducationthatcriticsclaimisinherenttopublicontrolisalsolikelythrough thecostsavingfactorsofthe”cokie-cuter”aproachtomasprovisionofeducational services.Thesestandardizingtendenciesarebecomingmorevidentwithgrowthoflarge- scalenterprisessuchastheEdisonProject,TeseracT(formerlyEducationalAlternatives Inc.),AdvantageScholsInc.,orSabisInternationalSchols alofwhicharetryingto increasetheirshareofthecharterscholmarket,andalofwhichaveasetaproachto educatingchildren(Farber,198a;Hofman,198;Pole,198;Rhim,198;Sides& Decker,197;Toch,196;Vine,197).Inded,whenDykgraf&Lewis(198)studied charterscholsrunbymanagementcompaniessuchasthese,theyfoundstrongcentral controlexercisedbycorporateauthorities,andlitleopenesabouttheiractivities,which hinderspublicasesmentoftheirpractices.
Thistendencyfliesinthefaceoftheclaimthatcharterscholswilsharetheirinsightsand inovations.ThepromisewasmotivatedbyaperceptionthatLEAscholsareplaguedby adeadeninguniformity(Peterson,190),andnedinterventionsthatareproduced primarilyintheprivatesector(Coleman,190;West,195).28However,sucha perceptiondoesnotexplainhowalackofcompetitionecesarilyimposesuniformity acros15,0LEAsintheUS.Whatisthestandardizinginfluencefor15,0diferent bureaucraciesandmilionsofclasroms?Infact,theargumentcouldbemadethat, inasmuchasclasromsnowapearsimilaracrosdiferentcontexts,uniformaspectsmay beduetomarketinfluencesonthecuriculum,privatesectorcontrolofemployment posibilitiesforgraduates,theriseofindividualism,thecomodificationofpublic education,andothermarketefectsinstandardizingschols(Hogan,192;Labare, 197).Furthermore,itdeniesthemanyinovationsproducedinthepublicsector,and, moreover,ispremisedonhighlyhypotheticalpresumptionofinherentselfishnesof humanaturethatpositsthatinovationspringsfromtheposibilityofself-enrichment.
ButwhileadvocatesjustifiedcharterslargelyasR&Dcentersforpublicschols,itis becomingincreasinglyaparentthat evenifcharterscholsweretodevelopaplethora ofnewpedagogicalaproaches therearenotadequatemeansavailablethroughwhich otherscholscouldhaveacestothosediscoveries(Wels,etal.,198).Whilemarket-
orientedreformersclaimthatitissimplythefectsofcompetitionthatwilforceLEA scholstoimprove,thelogicofmarketsalsocounteractsanyrolethatcharterorGM
27Yet,thecomonlyapliedbusinesprincipleofeficiencyefectivelylimitstheresourcesrequiredfor inovationandexperimentation(seWelch,198).Inded,ironicaly,themarketizationofapublicsector institutionsuchaspubliceducationrepresentsanoveralstandardizationofoptions,chalengingtheunique aspectsofpublicscholsaspublicinstitutions,andforcingthemtoconformoretothedominant “eficiency”modelofaprivatebusines(seOetle,197). 28However,theasumptionthatinovationsareproducedintheprivatesectorignoresthextenttowhich inovativeideasandinstitutionshaveariseninthepublicsector,andthenexitedthepublicscholsystem (e.g.,Wiliams,19).Furthermore,thereismuchevidencethatmanyGMandcharterscholsused market-orientedreformstosimplyprovideaprivate-typeducationatpublicexpense.IntheUK,thishas benthecasewithGMscholsthatembracethegramarscholcuriculum,forexample.InNorth America,theownerofacharterscholmanagementcompanycaledtheEducationDevelopment Corporation(EDC)claimshedoesnotpursueinovativetechniques,but”usessucesfulChristianschols asaneconomicmodelforEDC’snonreligiouscharterschols”(MackinacCenterforPublicPolicy,197; sealso,Opel,19;Red,194;Sanchez,195;Schnaiberg,19;Simons,19;VanDunk, 198).
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scholsmayplayincontributingtotheoveralimprovementofscholing.Thatis,ina competitivemarket,scholssucedorfailbasedonhoweltheyatractandretain studentsrelativetothercompetingschols.Inacasewherecertainscholsare establishedtoproduceinsightsintoimprovingteachingandlearning,butalsoare dependentfortheirsurvivalonatractingconsumers,thereisaninherentincentivenotto shareimprovementsorinsightswithotherschols except,ofcourse,anyotherschols intheircorporatechain,asthecasemaybe.(Ontheotherhand,iftherewereadequate chanelssetuptodiseminateinovations,thefre-riderphenomenonsugeststhatmany schoblswouldnotasumethecostsofinovationifotherscholswildosoandshare withthemthediscoveries.)29
EmulationandDuplicationinConsumerMarkets Whilemarket-orientedreformersjustifytheiragendalargelyonthegroundsthatmarkets creatediversityofoptions,anexaminationinthepoliticaleconomyofconsumermarkets indicatesthattheyareignoringanequalyevidentstandardizingefectofcompetition. Dependingonthecircumstances,acompetitivemarketcanalsohaveconstrainingefectson experimentation,andfosterduplicationinsteadofdiversity.Inadynamicsystemofpublic choice,thelogicofmarketsdictatesthatproviderswiltrytostakeoutpositionsof advantageinordertocomandthepatronageofthemajorityofconsumers.Ifaprovider movestocornerasegmentofthemarket,thereissomeincentiveforotherprovidersalsoto moveinthatdirection,althoughnotquitetothesamextent,inordertocaptureal remainingbusinesuptoandposiblyincludingsomeofthemarketshareoftheirrivals (Hirschman,1970,p.63).Thiscanhavethefectofstandardizingoptionsavailableto consumers,asinasystemofscholchoice.
Forinstance,thisphenomenonisveryevidentinthearenaofpartypoliticsinrecentyears. InboththeUSandtheUK,”liberal/leftist”partiescametopowerlargelybyemulatingtheir oponentsonmanyisues.Ratherthanoferingvotersrealoptions,Clinton’sDemocrats (throughisDemocraticLeadershipCouncil)notonlyatractedvotes,butsimplycornered blocsofvotersbymimickingtheRepublicansoneconomicandsocialquestions.Thus, theytokforgrantedvotersfurthertotheleft,knowingthattherewasnotherviable alternativetowhichthosevoterscouldturn.Blair’snewLabourPartysucesfuly embracedClinton’sstrategyintheUK(Ford,19;Zakaria,198),andtheLiberalsin CanadandotherEnglish-speakingdemocracieshavelargelyembracedmarketprinciples previouslythoughttobethedomainoftheirconservative(clasicaly”liberal”)competitors. Whilesuchtrendsmayindicatethepresumptiononthepartofthesepartiesoftheloyaltyof theirmembers,italsosugeststhatviablealternativesarenotavailabletotemptthese peoplewiththeposibilityofexitingpartiesthatnolongerreflecttheirbeliefs.Regardles, theoveralefectistofervoterslesofaclearchoiceofdiferentoptions,andmany comentatorsfromboththerightandlefthavenotedthatthepoliticalmarketplacecurently
29Onceagain,Coulson(19) asapuremarketadvocate ofersbeterinsightsintotheworkingsof themarket.Whilehewritesoftheincentivesforcharterschols”balancingresearch-and-developmentcosts
againstthenedtokeptuitiondown”(p.305),healsonotesthatthe”onlywaytoenticeducational entrepreneurstotakeontheserisksistoprovidethemwithanincentivethatmakesthefortworthwhile”
(p.318).Yet,whileIagrewithisinsightsintothecorectdynamicsofthemarketpervertedbycharter scholdesigns,Icontinuetodisagrewithisprescriptionthatwemovetowardpurermarketstocorect thebastardizationofmarkettheory.Ifcharterscholsarepublicschols,astheyclaim,thentheyhavea responsibilitytothegreaterpublic,andnotjusttheirimediateclientele.ButunderCoulson’sfremarket model,ashenotes,charterscholswouldbeabletownandprofitfromtheirinovations,andexcludeal otherstudentsfromthenjoymentoftheirbenefits unlestheywerepersonalyabletoafordtopay. Thisistheantithesisofanyconceptionofapublicsystem.Furthermore,itdemeansthefortsandenies theinovationsofalwhoworkforchildrenbecauseofahumanitarianimpulse,insteadasumingthatonly personalgainmotivatesgodworks.
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ofersconsumersoptionsthatarelargelyindistinguishable.30Thus,whilestealingisues mayworkmostefectivelyinaduopoly,italsoapearstohavesomefectinmulti-party systems.InHirschman’sframework,isuemulationwilleadtodiscontentof peripheralizedconsumers/voters.31Butduopolisticorevenpolyopolisticpowerssystems canconstrainthatdiscontentmentthroughefectivecoperationexercisedby”competing” parties.Theirconfluenceofinterestsmayleadtointentionalyconcertedefortsor colusioncausedbythefectsoftheircomoninterestsinmaintaininganefective oligarchy.Thatis,evencompetingplayersmaycoperateinesenceinordertoprevent othersfromalsojoiningthegame.Thus,majorpartiesandproducershaveaninterestin themaintainingthe”thirdparty”statusofthirdparties.Whileattimestheymightlokfora minor-partyalyinordertotipthebalanceofpowerintheirfavor,theyalsohavean interestinremainingtheprimarypartnerinanycoalition.
Consumermarketsalsodemonstratethisconstrainingefectofcompetition,whetheritbe PCsandWindowsbothemulatingandcrowdingoutMacintoshproductsfromthe computermarket,VHSreducingandthenridingthemarketofthebeterBetasystems, bokstorechainsmimickingtheservicesofandtheneradicatingsmalneighborhod bokstores,JapaneseproducersintroducingtheminivanonlytohaveUSmanufacturers adoptstheideandthendominatethemarket,orlarge-scalevideochainscrowdingoutthe cornerstore.Whilesimplelogictelsusthattightcompetitioncaninhibitinovationin existingprovidersbylimitingresourcesavailableforexperimentation(whichisriskyand mayentailalos),evidencealsosugeststhataconfluenceofcompetitors’interestsand efortscanalsolimitinovationandoptions.Dunleavy(197,p.3)notesthese standardizingtendenciesforconsumerchoices(from”hamburgersorcomputers”)inwhat hetermsglobal”Macworld”capitalism:”Thescaleofmarketsandcompetitionhas decisivelyescalatedinsomeareas,screningoutlocalsolutionsandcorporationsinfavour oftransnationalcompanies,dominantbrandsandstandardizedsolutions.”32Whilehe notesadiversityofoptionsinsomeareas,thegeneral”resultisthatsingle-marketchoices
30Se,forexample,Fraser,198/19;Pres,196;Reves,197;andSobran,195. 31Hirschman discusingtwo-partysystems sesanycentralizingtendencylimitedbyideological
diferences,alertandvocalactivists,andpracticalconsiderationsofmaximizingvotersuport(ononehalf ofthepoliticalspectrum,withasmuchofanimperialisticforayintotheotherhalfascouldbereasonably puledofwithoutalienatingtheparty’snativebase):”adoptionofaplatformwhichisdesignedtogain votesatthecentercanbecounter-productive”(p.72).Yetacentralizingtendencycanbeunlimitedinan emulativecontextofnoveridingideologicaldiferences thatis,tacitagrement(perhapssubconscious) onmajorunderlyingisues,aswiththeneoliberalDLCapingRepublicansonisueslikeNAFTA,the deathpenalty,gaymariage,andefensespending.Thisunrestrictedcentraltendencyleavesthemore ideologicalyradicalwingofaparty(anditsnon-partyasociates/sympathizers)unrepresented.Voterson thextremearecertainly”captives”ofthemainpartiesintermsoftherealityoftheunlikelihodofsuces oflaunchinganalternativeparty,andthustheirpowerofexitislimited(bytheirnumbers)whiletheir powerofvoicewasoftenamplified(bytheiralertnes).Butwhenideologicalyemulativemainstream partiesdisowntheideologuesatthends,loyaltykepspeoplewithdiscernibleideologicalconvictions fromcreatingapotentialysucesfulpartythatwouldoferaclearlyideologicalalternativetothemasof votersinthecenter.Manysuchdisenfranchised”havetriedtoexertinfluencewithinoneofthemajor parties,havefailed,andlaterdecidedtoworkontheoutside”(p.85).Butmuchoftheirpotentialsuport restsinsimilarlyfrustratedpeoplewhorefusetoleavetheparty,despitethefactthattheirrapidly diminishingvoiceandpotentialorganizationalalternativepointstothexitsign.Thesealertvoters,even morethanthepotentialyfertilepolofinertvotersmoretothecenter,areletingtheirloyaltyprecludea “rational”option.Butthisaparentirationalityservesapurpose,asHirschmanstates:”Even though.partiesinatwo-partysystemareleslikelytomovetowardandresembleachotherthanhas sometimesbenpredicted,thetendencydoesasertitselfonocasion.Themorethisissothemore irationalandoutrightsilydoesthestubornpartyloyaltylok;yetthisispreciselywhenitismost useful.”(p.81)
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32Or”McWorld”capitalism.

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expand,buttheoveralrangeofchoicesacrosdiferentcountries’marketsmayreduce.” Inhisdiscusion,hepointstotherestaurantindustryasanexampleofaninstanceof globalizationwhichnoneanticipatedfourdecadesago,butwhichasheavily standardizednotjustfodchoices,but”howcustomersareserved.”Ritzer(196)writes ofthe”McDonaldization”ofmarketsocietyasmarketforcespursueandimposea predictabilitythatreducesalhumaneds,desires,andrelationshipstoacomon economicalculus.Otherobserversalsonotethe”Disneyfication”ofculturethatundercuts globaldiversity(Hanigan,198;Seabrok,198).Similarly,inthe”marketplaceof ideas,”severalauthorshaverecognizedtheconstrainingefectsofcorporatecontrolofthe mediainacompetitiveconsumermarket.Mazoco(194,p.5)writesthatthenarowing competitivefieldlimitsthescopeofwhatisconsideredreasonablebythenewsmedia,and thuswhatislegitimizedaspertinentforpopulardiscusionandebate(sealsoBagdikian, 197;Herman&Chomsky,198).
And,ofcourse,sucesbredsemulation.Whetherthroughinovationorthe reintroductionof”triedandtrue”practices(oranyotherinexplicablypopularproductor service),ifsomething”works”intermsofatractingconsumers,competitorswiltryto duplicatethatsucesbyduplicatingwhateverbroughtonthatsuces,uptoandincluding impingingonanyproprietaryrightsofthesucesfuloperation.Thisemulationisreadily aparentfromtheresearchonthechoicesystemintheUK.There,ratherthanengagingin educationalinovations,market-orientedproviderstendtoemulatesucesfulschols institutionscharacterizedbytheirup-marketclientele throughtheintroductionof inovationsoftenperipheraltotheclasromsuchasuniforms,disciplinecodes,symbols oftraditionalism,andotherformsofimagemanagement(Glater,etal.,197).Whenthey makechangesinclasrompractices,theygeneralydonotintroducenewpractices,but reintroduceolderaproachesasociatedwithmorexclusivelitescholing suchasthe academicemphasisofthegramarscholcuriculuminordertoatractthebeststudents withtheleastamountofproblems,whowouldbetheasiesttoeducateandcosttheleast amountofresources.InNorthAmerica,charterscholreformersalsonedtoshow results.JoeNathan(198,p.502),aleadingproponent,warnscharterscholstoconsider “bestpractices”alreadyproveninotherschols:”Charteradvocatesoughttolokat carefulyevaluated,provenaproaches.”Moreover,thejustificationforcharterschols thatcalsforthetodiseminatetheirinovationsasumesthatotherscholswilduplicate theirpractices(althoughitisnotclearwhatincentiveunderthelogicofmarketsmight encouragescholstosharesucesfulsecretswithcompetitors).
Partoftheisueinthesecasesmaybetheilegitimacyoftheasumptionofmarket-oriented reformersthatconsumerdemandshapesmarkets.IntheiradvocacyofcharterandGM schols,proponentsofscholchoicecontendthatscholswilriseinresponseto consumerpreferences.Theyasumethatapre-existinglandscapeofthewantsandneds ofeducationalconsumerswilbereflectedinthegeographyofareactivemarket.Schol choiceadvocatescontendthatconsumerscontrolthemarket.However,thereismuch evidencetoindicatethatthecausalarowalsopointsintheotherdirectionaswel;thatis, marketscanalsoshapeconsumerpreferences.Producerscultivatewantsandnedsin consumers.Inthatrespect,simplywitnesthebilionsthatmarketentitiesinvestin advertisingandimagemanufacturing,particularlyaroundproductsforwhichtherewasno pre-existingdemand.Furthermore,insomemarkets,producersorproviderscanselect theirconsumers.Ineducation,thismeansthatscholschosethestudents.Thishas increasinglybenthecaseintheUK,asscholsnowsetoutcriteriaforprospective studentsinordertobeterpursuetheschol’smisionorphilosophy(Dean,193b;Dean,
193c;Edwards&Whity,197;Fitz,etal.,197;Walford&Pring,196;Whity& Power,197).Whilethishasbenoficialyencouragedinrecentyears,itwasinitialy donethroughcovert-selectiontechniques e.g.,parentinterviews,requiredalegianceto disciplinecodesoraschol’sspecializedmision/philosophy,andsymbolictrapingsof
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traditionalism(Dean,192;Francis,190;Glater,etal.,197;Walford,197a;West, etal.,197).ThereisnoreasontoasumethatthesametrendwouldnotocurinNorth Americancharterschols,asmanyscholsnowrequireparentorstudentcontracts, volunterhours,adherencetomisionstatements,orothermeansthatencourageself- segregationbyparentstomaskselectionofstudentsbyschols(Carl,198;Farber, 198a;Farber,198b;McGhan,198;McKiben,19;McKiney,196;Rothstein, etal.,198).Itsemslikelythatregulationstoblockovertselectionwilbelargely inefectual,asmarketcompetitionencouragesorevenforcesparentsandscholstofind waysofsortingthemselves.
Inovation,Diferentiation,andImageManagement Thistendencytowardemulationincompetitivemarketsraisestheisueofthedegreto whichdiferencesbetwenchoicesarereal,orperceivedresultsofimagemanagement. Eveninamorestableorstaticmarketcontext,diferencesbetwencompetitorsin consumermarketsareoftenemphasizedorexageratedinmarketingandpresentation. ThereisnotmuchdiferencebetwenPepsiandCoke,orbetwenFord,Dodge,andGMC trucks.Asexperienceshows,therearetwowaystomakeaprofit:(1)inovationinorder toatracttheconsumerwithabetervalueonabeterproduct,(2)orbetermarketing.In situationswhereconsumerinformationisobscureorinacesible(orcanbemadethatway throughimagemanagement),thelaterismorelikely.So,producerstrytocultivatetheal- importantbrandloyalty(recently,byintroducingtheirproductstothecapturedclienteleof schols).Therefore,advertisingcampaignsoftenfocusonsmaldiferencesofdegres, andnotoverwhelmingsimilaritiesbetwencompetingproducts.Infact,thecoland hamburgerwarssugestthatthebigestcompetitorsareoftenthemostsimilar,withthe majorairlines,networkandlocalnewscasts,andbigthreautomakersalbut indistinguishablefromeachother.Butinsteadoffocusingonthequalityorcost- efectivenesofproductsasrational-choicetheoristswouldlike,thesecompetitorsoften emphasizequestionsofstyle,atitude,andasociationinapealingtocustomersand workingthemarket.3Whilesmaldiferencesandbels-and-whistle(orsmoke-and- miror)inovationsmaybeusefulandcost-efectiveforproducers(oftensimplyto enhanceprofitmargins),itisthefectivenesandcosteficiencyofmarketingthatdeters theincentivetoferrealimprovementsandcostlyinovationsinaproductline.34Itis oftencheapertocultivatediferencesinimage-asociationintheyesofconsumersthanto researchandevelopabeteralternativetoacompetitors’product.Andmarketingisoften (evenusualy)designedtobscurewhetherachangeinaproductisanimprovement,or simplyachange.
Thisaspectinthelogicofmarketswouldalsobepresentforcharterscholscompetingfor per-studentfunding.AsscholsintheUKandtheUSbecomemoreinvolvedin marketingthemselvestopotentialconsumers,itwilbeimportanttonotethextentto whichemphasizediferencesareamateroftruecuricularorpedagogicalinovations,or simplyrepackagingofolderideasandtargetingthemataparticularsegmentor demographicgroupofthemarket.Niche-marketingsimplylimitsproducerstonon-growth areasofthemarket.So,whilerationalconsumersmaysekoutascholbasedon academicriteria,muchevidencesugeststhatthisisnotthecase.Whilechoiceplansin theUKandmanyjurisdictioninNorthAmericaresuportedbythepublicationofleague tablesorotherindicatorsofrelativestudentachievement,itisverydificult,ifnot
3Inafascinatinganalysis,Wink(192,ch.10)observesthisphenomenoninmanyareasofhuman competitionandconflict includingpoliticsandwar asoposingpartiesoftenemploythesamemeans inacontest,therebyemulatingorimitatingeachotherinpractice,andbecomingmorealikeinesence, whilexageratingdiferencesinordertojustifytheirpublicpositions. 34Inded,aproductioncost-orientedincentivenednotbepasedontotheconsumerintheformof savingsexcepttothextentthatitwouldslightlyundercutacompetitor’spriceifatal.
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imposible,togiveconsumersasnapshotofhowmuchonescholenhancesthe achievementofastudentascomparedtotherschols.Suchefortsarebefudledby problemssuchasfindingtheapropriatecomonmetric,orcontrolingforconfounding variablessuchasper-efectsandsocioeconomicstatus.
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Inlieuofaneasyindicatorofaschol’sabilitytoenrichastudent’spotential,rational consumersareforcedtorelyonotherevidenceofaschol’sworth.Unfortunately, evidencefromtheUKsugeststhatsuchindicatorsareoftensymbolicreflectionsofre- emergingsocialhierarchiesuniforms,theracialandethnicompositionofaschol,etc.
ratherthanimediateacademicfactors.Inded,thereismuchevidencefromboth NorthAmericandtheUKthatconsumersactualygravitatetowardsthesenon-academic
criterianywaywhenchosingaschol(Bal&Gewirtz,197;Carol&Walford, 197a;Carol&Walford,197b;Glazerman,198;Hirsch,194;Petronio,196;
Smith&Meier,195;Walford,192).Manyifnotmostparentsarenotusualyloking forinovationorevenexcelence.Whilerational-choicetheoristsasumethatconsumers sekthemostefectiveducationaloptionfortheirchildren,real-worldexperienceshows parents constrainedbysuchfactorsasconvenience,transportation,location,work,and theabilityandesiretoparticipateinandvalueachild’seducation lokatotherfactors suchassportsteams,proximitytohomeorwork,tradition,astudentbodythatreflects theirchildracialyoreconomicaly,achild’sdesiretobewithfriends(orawayfrom enemies),andsoforth.Evenrational-choicetheoristimplicitlyafirmthisphenomenon, oftenusingracialcodewordsthatmaskretrenchedracism,orsegregationisttendencies basedonsocial-clas noteducational diferentiation.Forexample,Moe(194,p. 27)debatesthecontentionthatBritishparentsfocusoncriteriaperipheraltoacademic enrichment,denyingtheimportanceof”sportsanduniforms”andinsteadclaimingthat informedpeoplewant”disciplineandorder,achievement,andproximity”(Mano,etal., 198a;Mano,etal.,198b;Schneider,Marschal,Teske,&Roch,198;Vanourek,et al.,197).Whatisnoteworthyabouttheseparentalpreferenceshereisthat,asadvertising increasesinimportanceinacompetitivemarket,thesetendenciessugestthelikelihodthat scholswilfocusonon-academicriteriaintheirmarketingcampaigns,promoting imagesthatdonotfocusimediatelyonpotentialacademicenhancement,butonon- academicriteriasociatedwithracial,ethnic,andsocialclasdiferentiation.
ConstrainingEfectsofConsumerPerceptionsinaCompetitiveMarket Ontheotherhand,whilemarketsshapeconsumers,consumers’perceptionsofwhatare apropriateproductsoftenconstraininovationthroughmarketforces.Parental asumptionsofwhatagodproductorserviceis whethertothpasteorscholing providesincentiveforstandardization,notjustdiversificationofoptions.Ifpeoplethink thatcolashouldbecaramelcolored,thenPepsiClearwilfail.Ifpeoplequatediscipline, rotememorization,andhightestscoreswitha”god”education,thentheromfor inovationinamarketcontextisconstrained.ThiswasthecaseintheUK,wherepopular conceptionsofeducation(atleastforactiveconsumers)meantthatmoretraditionalismand elitismwouldbetheprimary”inovation”drivenbythemarket.Subsequently,intheUK, scholshavebenforcedtopayatentiontotheirimagemanagementthroughmarketing, administration,andpresentation,oftenatthexpenseofeducationalconcerns(Bal& Gewirtz,197;Gewirtz,etal.,195).Thismay,infact,beoneofthecentralelementsof themarketdynamicthatistheconstrainingfactorineducationquasi-marketsinNorth America,asparentalperceptionsofwhat”god”scholingisaremanifestedinaconfining demandfor”back-to-basics”scholing.Kohn(198),forexample,claimsthatafluent andambitiousparentsintheUSdonotwantinovationsintheirchildren’seducation,but, instead,whatarecomonlysenassolid,tried-and-trueducationalpractices.Onthe otherhand,peopleoftencanotreachacomonunderstandingoftruly”inovative” education.GlobalLearningAcademyinCalgarywasestablishedtotry”diferentiated”
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learning,an”inovative”aproachtoeducation.Butthescholclosedafterparentsand evendiferentteacherscouldnotagreonwhatthatmeans(Shepard,198).
Discusion Thisesayshouldnotbeunderstodasanargumentagainstthepotentialformarket-
orientedscholstofosterdiverseandinovativeoptions.Instead,Ihaveatemptedto demonstratethattherearestandardizingtendenciesalsoinherentinthemarketmechanisms importedintopubliceducation,andthatacountingforthesetendencieshelpsus understandtheunexceptionalrecordofcharterscholsinpromotingexperimentationin teachingandlearning.However,theprecedingdiscusionraisesbothimplicationsand questionsthatdeservefurtheratention.
Diversity Diverseoptionsareoftenaparentincharterschols,GMscholsandCTCs.Inded,
someofthesescholsapeartoembraceintensiveuseoftechnology,ofervarious pedagogicalaproachessuchasa”back-to-basics”ordiscipline-areaorientedcuriculum,
andsmalerclasandscholsizes.However,whileIhavenotedthatnoneofthese “inovations”arerealynew,anothertrendistowardethnic-basedandhome-scholed instruction.Theseoptionsdefinitelyoferadiferentiatedsetofoptionstoconsumers. Althoughscholsegregation(bylaw,tradition,residency,orevenself-segregation)isnot neworinovative,whatisuniqueaboutsuchtrendsisthattheylegitimizeresegregationof “public”scholsinthepost-Brownv.Boardera.Ofcourse,publicscholshaveben notoriouslysegregatedbyraceandclasinrecentdecades.Butpursuingthediferentiation ofprovisionthroughtheoptionofrace-andethnic-basedscholsrepresentsalegal institutionalizationofthatsegregationthroughtheauspicesofademocraticaly-run institutionthathadoncebenknownasthe”comon”schol.Likewise,”home- instruction”islargelyamovebyhome-scholerstopt-intopublicfinancingofprivately- orientededucationafterhavingexitedpublicschols(se.g.,AmericansUnitedfor SeparationofChurchandState,197;Fin,etal.,197;Rothstein,etal.,198).These newconsumeroptionsraisequestionsaboutthebalanceofpublicly-fundedprivate consumerrightsagainstthepublicinterestincultivatingacomonculture,tolerance,and socialcohesionwithpublicresourcesforthepublicgod.Such”diversity”ofconsumer choicesincharterscholoptionsstandsinstarkcontrasttoliberalefortstoachieve diversityoverthelastseveraldecades.
ContrastingSourcesofInovation Charterscholreformerspubliclyadvancetheiragendasaconsumer-orientedreform measure.However,experiencewithconsumermarketsindicatesthatmarketscanalsobe producer-oriented aphenomenonthatturnsthecausaltablesoncharterreformers’ asumptions.Yetthisfactisignoredbymarket-orientedreformersintheiradvocacyof charterschols.Furthermore,asitbecomesmorevidentthatprivatebureaucraciescanbe justasinflexibleaspublicbureaucracies,onewonderswhythisisnotalsoreflectedinthe rhetoricpromotingcharterschols.Ifgovernmentbureaucraciessquashinovative tendenciesduetoself-interest,donotloyaltiestostockholdersalsodivertinovative potentialitiesthatarisearoundcustomerserviceinprivatebureaucracies?Yetmanycharter scholreformerspersistinadvancingthesimplisticimageofaninovativeprivatesector juxtaposedtoaconstrainingpublicsector.Thisstarksimplificationisreminiscentof Orwel’sAnimalFarmtwofet,bad;fourfet,god(Chomsky&Barsamian,196,p. 121).Butthisasumptionignoresconsiderablevidenceoftheinovativepowersof publicsectors,constrainingfactorsinprivatesectors,andthefolyofautomaticaly opositionalizingthemalofwhichshouldproblematizeandcomplexifysuchclaims (Cohen,1982;Kutner,197;se,e.g.,Coulson,196).
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Inded,thisquestionofinovationleadingtodiversityineducationparalelsevidencein theconsumermarketsthatcharterscholreformersoftenhighlight.Buttheirreferencesto thesemarketsonlyapeartoconsideronesideofthequation.Anotherexamplemightbe seninthedialecticalprocesoutlinedbyDarwin’stheoryofevolution(and,inded,much ofmarkettheoryreflectsthisinitssurvival-of-the-fitestethos).Oneofthethrebasic dynamicsonwhichthistheoryoforganicprocesesisbasedisstandardization(asthe synthesis).Thatis,evolutionpositsthatthethesisofuniformityischalengedbyan aberation(theanti-thesis),which,dependingontheconditions,maychalengeoreven overwhelmthestatusquo,resultinginanewsynthesis.Thus,standardizationisjustas muchanesentialpartofsuchaprocesasisinovation,andisnecesaryfortheproces ofchangetounfold.35Bothpublicandprivateinstitutionsareoftenlikenedtorganisms, andtheycanbeflexibleintheiryouth,andstagnantandefensiveinmaturity.Wink (192)usesareligiousanalogytodescribethispatern:institutionsarecreated,falen, and/orredemed.
Market Fundamentalism Religiousimagerymayalsohelpexplainthetreatment,orde-emphasis,ofevidencein market-orientedreformers’advocacyoftheiragenda.Thesingle-mindednesofmarket- orientedreformersinperceivingonlyfavorablevidencefromconsumermarketssugests azealotryoffaithinmarketmechanisms.Inded,theprolificaplicationofmarketmodels topublicscholswasprecededbyverylitlehardevidenceastotheirefectsinmodern education.Whilethiswaspartlyduetothefactthattherearevirtualynocomprehensive andanalogousmodelsfromwhichtodrawpolicyinferencesonhowmarketswouldwork inschols,36itisalsoindicativeofanideologicalfaithinmarketprocesesabelief systemthatasuresthefaithfulofthepowerofmarketdisciplineasacorectiveto waywardpublicsectorinstitutions(thusdiscountingthenedforevidence).Infact,the discourseisliteredwithreferencesto”beliefs”onthisisue,inlieuofhardorcompeling evidenceonthepowerofmarketstodiversifyandinovateprovisionofeducation.37But, aswithanyfundamentalist,market-orientedreformersapearcapableofselective perceptionlimitedtoconfirmingevidence.Theyareabletoignoreorexplainawayany confoundingevidencethatchalengestheirbeliefsinthepowerofmarketstoprovide.38 Charterscholadvocatesdonotdemonstratethatmarketsfosterinovationincharter scholclasroms,becausetheyhavealreadysenenoughevidencefrom(aone-sided viewof)theautoindustryto”prove”thatdiversificationandinovationfalwithinthe purviewofmarkets.Hence,marketreformersareunableorunwilingtoconsider,much lesembrace,contradictorytendenciesinmarketsthatbothdiversifyandstandardize consumer options.
35Naturalprocesesareparticularlypertinenthere,sincemanymarket-orientedreformerspromotetheir agendasanaturalororganicalternativetoartificialstateregulation premisedontheasumptionofa universalhumanaturepreocupiedwithpursuingone’sownself-interest.Forafascinatingdiscusionof standardizationindynamicorganicproceses,seGould(1989). 36Coulsondisputesthelackofevidence(196;194;19). 37Ironicaly,thisissimilartohowscholexpansioningeneralisoftenforwardedbyreligious-likefaith andrhetoricregardingthepowerofeducation(Bowen,19;Meyer,1986;Mockler,194;Tyack,Kirst, &Hansot,1980;Walkom,190). 38AfterDisneyboughttheAmericanBroadcastingCorporation,MexicanovelistCarlosFuenteswrote: “Inaworldtornbyeverykindoffundamentalismreligious,ethnic,nationalistandtribal wemust grantfirstplacetoeconomicfundamentalism,withitsreligiousconvictionthatthemarket,lefttoitsown devices,iscapableofresolvingalourproblems.Thisfaithasitsownayatolahs.Itschurchisneo- liberalism;itscredisprofit;itsprayersareformonopolies;andnowitshalosareMickeyMousears.” (quotedinTheMenonite,196,p.17;sealsoWalkom,190)
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Moreover,likeanyfaith,marketfundamentalismestablishesaversionofhumanatureasa universaltruth.Theirclaimthatinovationwilflowfromindividualswhentheyare unleashedtonaturalypursuethenhancementoftheirself-interestdependsonavery debatableasumptionofauniversalhumanature.Whilemarket-orientedreformersclaim thatmaximizingself-interestisthedrivingforceofhumanprogres,thereisalsoevidence tosugestthat,inded,”humanature”isshapedbysocial,cultural,andinstitutional conditionsaswel.Furthermore,itapearsthatsomepeoplearewilingtotakerisksand pursueinovationsoutofphilanthropicandhumanitarianimpulses,orsimplecuriosity.
ResearchandPolicyBorowing Whilethelackofcompelingevidencefromeducationsugeststheideological(asoposed
toempirical)natureofthisreformagenda,theglobalscaleofmarketreformsraisesisues regardingtheroleorresearch,evidence,andideologyacrossocio-politicalcontexts. ParticularlyinthecasesoftheUKandNorthAmerica,thesimilaritiesofthesereforms pointtoeitherintentionalpolicysharingoraplicationsofuniversalaspectsofmarket ideology.Forthemostpart,theUKledthewaywiththesereforms,fromThatcher’s governmentthroughthepresentBlairadministration.YetthegeneralycriticalBritish researchliteraturehasfailedtopenetratetheUSdiscoursetoanygreatextent(Moe,194). Thatis,whilepolicyborowingapearstobeprevalent,policymakersdemonstratea concurentandcurioushesitancytoengageinserious”researchborowing.”Whilepartof thismaybeduetoachronicethnocentrismonthepartofAmericanpolicymakers,such parochialismisincreasinglyinexcusableinatimewhenresearchiswidelyacesible,and contextsandpoliciesarebecomingmoresimilar.Whity,forinstance,whohasbenvocal inhisobservationofthelackofinovationintheUKmarketreforms,hasbenquite wilingtosharehisinsightswithNorthAmericanaudiences(e.g.,Miner,197).Itis unclearwhytherehasnotbenmorediscusioninNorthAmericaoftheUKexperience beforembarkingonrapidandwidespreadmarket-orientedreforms,andonecanonly speculateabouttheknowledgeandintentionsofpolicymakersandmarketreformers.This raisesquestionsabouttheabilityofresearchandevidencetoinfluenceanideologicaly- drivenreformagenda.Butitalsoraisesquestionsabout”hegemonic”controlofthe discourse;thatis,whataretheinterestsofthepeoplewhohavethemicrophone,andhow aretheirinterestsandagendaservedandchalengedbyresearchevidence?
Ontheotherhand,someobserversspeculateonthexistenceof”policynetworks”to explaintheaparentpolicycopyingbetwendiferentcontexts(Carl,194;Whity& Edwards,198).Inded,thereisevidenceoftrans-Atlanticolusionandcoperationof like-mindedthinktanksandotherinterests.Yetwecanotdiscounttheposibilitythat similaritiesinmarket-orientedpoliciesareindicativeoftheideologicalparadigmofthe times reflectingnotsomuchpolicy-borowingaswhatLevin(198)sesasadiseaseor “epidemic”ofsuchpolicymakingintheraitdefines.However,whilehisanalogy discountsintentionallearningandaplicationbypolicymakersofthemarketzeitgeist explanation,otherevidenceindicatesthatrecently,deliberatepolicy-copyingisnow ocuringinaneasterlydirection.AlthoughtheUKsettheprecedentforquasi-market reformsofeducation,thelectionofBlair’sLabourPartysetthestagefortheUSto becomeamodel.ItapearsthatBlairhasmodeledmuchofhispoliticalstrategyonhis neoliberalmentorinClintononisuessuchaswelfarereform(Jones,198;McGuire,
198/19).Ineducation,likewise,there-emergenceof”crisis”rhetoricintheUK sugestsnotadisatisfactionwiththeresultsoftheToryeducationpoliciessomuchasa desiretocontinuetocultivatepopularsuportforreforms(e.g.,BritishBroadcasting Corporation,19).IntheNewStatesman aforumforNewLabour”modernizers” Bilefsky(198)recentlyadvancedtheposibilityofemulatingUSfor-profitmodelfor charterscholsintheUK.Nowitapearsthatthismodelwilbeimportedasthe corectivedisciplinarianforporlyperformingschols(MacLeod,19a;MacLeod,
19b;Raferty,19),therebylegitimizingthelocationofblameasthefaultofindividual 30

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schols(seThrup,198).Moreover,theEdisonProjecthasplansforinternational expansion,includingtheUK(Walsh,198a).
Questions for Further Investigation Thisexplorationalsoraisesseveralquestionforwhichasearchforanswersisbeyondthe scopeofthispaper.Isuesdeservingoffurtheratentioninclude:
Whatmarketconditionspromoteitherthediversificationorstandardizationof consumeroptions?Whatconditionssuportorconstraininovations?Towhatextentcan thoseconditionsbemanipulatedthroughpolicyinstruments?Howouldtheyaplyto educationquasi-markets?
WhatprecedentsareavailableregardingpublicfinancingofR&Defortsby privateproviders,particularlyexamplesthatspeaktothepotentialbenefitsandangers
inherentinthecharterscholmodel?Whilepublicmoneyhaslongonetonon-profit researchfoundationsanduniversities,whatlesonscanbelearnedfromthexamplessetin publicresourcesandprerogativesgoingtofor-profitendeavors?Somemightclaimthatthe defenseindustry,forexample,hasabuseditspositionwithwastefulandfraudulentuseof publicmoniesforresearchandevelopment(e.g.,MultinationalMonitor,19).Others mightpointtothegeneralbeneficialefectsofpublicfunding,proprietaryalowances,or privateprerogativesgrantedtoprivatendeavorsinpharmaceuticalresearch,forinstance (e.g.,Tulock,196).
Towhatextentdoestheparticipationorpenetrationofinvestmentcapitalpromoteor constraininovationsinmarket-orientedschols?Dosucesfulinvestmentcapital operationstendtobecomecautious,lokingforwaystomaintainposition?Oraresuch endeavorsmorelikelytopursuerisksandsuportentrepreneurialeforts?(Onthistrendin education,seWalsh,198b)
Whatistheroleofthecomongodinconstrainingandcultivatinginovationand diversification?Furthermore,whatistheroleofthestateorthepublicindefiningthe comongodanditsaplicationtothisquestion?Thereapearstobeapresumptionthat diversificationisinherentlygod.Butaremorechoicesalwaysbeter?Towhatextent doesthediversificationofconsumeroptionsencourageamovetowardthelowestcomon denominator,andrivedownthegeneralqualityofchoices?Forexample,some neoconservativesmightclaimthestatehasaninterestinregulatingthentertainment industrytothextentthatthepursuitofprofitspromoteslicentiousnes,hedonism,andbad taste.Similarly,healthadvocatesmightmakeaparalelclaimregardingthedutyofthestate tomonitororregulatethefastfodortobacoindustries,therebyconstrainingconsumer choices.Abeterexample,perhaps,involvesconsumerrightsintheautoindustry. Benetetal.(198)claimthatamonopolisticDetroitautoindustryfailedtohedconsumer preferencebybuildingtomany”expensive,gas-guzlingvehicles”inthe1970sand
1980s(p.28).WhiletheDetroitautoindustrydideventualyrespondtothechalenge posedbymorefuel-eficientJapaneseimports,recenttrendsindicatethat atleast partialybecauseofconsumerdemandandmarketingalautomakersarenowbuilding more”expensive,gas-guzlingvehicles”thaneverbefore,aslighttrucksandsportutility vehiclesnowoutnumbercarsinewvehiclesales.Doesanyoneclaimthatmore dangerous,leseficient,morepolutingvehicles(drivenbyconsumerpreferenceand imagemanufacturing)enhancethecomongod?Theagregatefectsmaybe detrimentaltoal.Butwhatistheroleofthestateandthepublicsetagainsttherightsofthe consumerinthisquestion?Theanswerwouldhaveimplicationsfortheroleofthestate andpublicintheregulationofconsumerchoiceandcompetitiveprovisioninmarket- orientededucation.
Finaly,whatistheapropriateroleofthestateinademocraticsocietyinrequiring rationalchoice?Theimplicationsofthisquestionareimportant.Sinceitisnotalways cleartoconsumerswhenevermarketingrepresentsinformationoninovationsorthe obfuscationofalackofimprovements,doesthestatehavearoleinregulatingthis informationintheinterestoffuldisclosure?Ifafre-marketsocietyispremisedonthe
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fre-flowofinformationtoalowfulexerciseofrationalchoice,doesthestatenedto intervene,ironicaly,inordertodefendthelaisez-fairelementsinherentinacompetitive systemofinformation-basedchoice?Furthermore,doesthestatenedtorequirethe provisionoftruechoice,ortheguaranteofarangeofoptions,ifmarketfailureconstrains thoseaspectsofasystemofconsumerchoiceinanarealikeducation?
Inconclusion,thisesaydemonstratesthatthereisastandardizingtendencyinherentin marketsthatbothacompaniesandcounteractsthepotentialfordiversificationthat competitivemarketscangenerate.Thisanalysisisanatempttoprovideamorebalanced viewofthelogicaldynamicsofmarketprocesesineducationthanthatwhichisnow evidentinpolicydiscourseofchoiceineducation.Thus,whilenotdisputingthatthereare someconomicincentivesforinovationandexperimentationembededinthelogicof markets,thexamplesdiscusedhereindicatethattendenciesneglectedinpolicydiscourse canalsohaveoposingefects.Market-orientedreformersgeneralyignorethe constrainingpropertiesofcompetitivemarketsintheirdiscusionofthepotentialefectsof competitionineducation.Theirasumptionsofdiverseandinovativeoptionsareoverly optimisticandsimplistic.Inlieuofevidenceontheworkingsofmarketmechanismsin education,theymakeone-sidedalusionstoconsumermarkets,orideologicalasumptions abouthowmarketsshouldworkineducation.
ThexperiencesofcharterscholreformersinNorthAmericahasledtoareconfiguration oftheclaimsforcharterschols.Premisedontheclaimthatpublicscholclasroms wereinherentlyunproductivebecauseofbureaucraticLEAgovernance,charterschol reformerspromisedthatachangeingovernancewouldleadtoinovationsinthe clasrom.Asreal-worldproblemsandcompetitivemarketsdynamicsconstraintheability todeliverinovations,theyefectivelyretracttheirpromiseofclasromexperimentationin favorofthemoreasilyatainablegoalofoferingoptionsinvariouslocalities.Reformers ignorethexamplesofcompetitivequasi-marketsintheUK,andfailtotakeamore balancedviewofconsumermarkets.Thisanalysiscalsintoquestiontheclaimthatthe lackofeducationalinovationwasunpredictable.Thus,whilepromisesofeducational inovationcanbesenasharmlesorwel-intentionedinthemselves,theactual standardizationtrendsexposetheimprecisionofsuchclaims.Andtheirpredictability highlightstheservicethatthosefalseclaimsprovidedforinvestorsinopeningupublic educationasamarketforprofit-makingventures.
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I recently posted a long article by Michael Fullan that proposed a new paradigm for education reform. I found Fullan’s dismissal of the status quo persuasive, as well as his description of a forward-looking approach.

Laura Chapman, inveterate researcher and loyal reader, reviewed Fullan’s recent work and was disappointed with what she found:

If ever any paper needed close reading this is it, especially Fullan’s discussion of the 6C’s, 21st Century Skills, and vague references to some ancillary research in California and Australia.

I am working on learning more about at least one of Fullan’s California projects. Unfortunately there are no peer-reviewed summary of accomplishments.

Here is a link if you also want to see what assessment looked like in one Fullan project, a three-year $10 million effort to improve the performance of English Learners including long-term English Learners, funded by the California School Boards Association and several non-profits.  https://michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Coherence-Framework-in-Action.pdf

You will see that the main measures of accomplishment are expressed as percentages, and that these percentages changed over the three-year project.

100% of Long-Term English Learners will access new curriculum supported with adequate technology, instructional materials, and assessments.

5% annual increase in English Learner language proficiency.

3% annual increase in English Learner A-G completion. (A-G refers to courses required for admission to either the California State University or University of California systems with a grade of C or better).

50% increase in Long-Term English Learner students reporting they feel positively connected to the school environment and experience success.

Year-to-year changes in these percentages appear to be framed as if evidence for continuous improvement.

This brief suggests that more detail can be found in specific pages of Fullan’s 2016 book: The Taking Action Guide to Building Coherence in Schools, Districts, and Systems. You have to buy or borrow the book to see the details.

Although some of the Fullan’s paper is appealing, it also represents another proposal for managing learning as if there are no redeeming features in our public schools and the principle of democratic governance for these.

It is worth noting that Joanne Quinn, a frequent collaborator with Fullan, has an MBA in Marketing and Human Resource Management. According to LinkedIn for 16 years she has been President of Quinn Consultants in Toronto. She also served for ten years as the Superintendent of Education for four schools in a district with 65,000 students.

Fullan is think-big thinker: “This paper is intended to provide a comprehensive solution to what ails the current public school system and its place in societal development – a system that is failing badly in the face of ever complex fundamental challenges to our survival, let alone our thriving as a species.”

I am uncomfortable with anyone who claims to have a “comprehensive solution” to the current public school system (including the USA) and who fails to address the fiscal and policy constraints that have been imposed on that system for decades along with a pattern of denial that planet earth and human survival is at risk.

If you want a better and brief jargon-free article on doable reforms, find “Twenty Years of Failing Schools” in The Progressive, February/March issue (pages 50-51. This article includes specific suggestions for the Biden administration and the new Secretary of Education. The author is Diane Ravitch.

In this post, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle respond to a recent article that pitted civil rights groups against advocates for the Finnish model of education. They found the dichotomy puzzling. They wrote this article for this blog.

They write:

Two decades ago, Finland made big news in international education circles. Against all odds it became a top-performer in OECD’s first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study that compared 15-year-olds’ knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacies. Since about 2010 education experts and pundits in the United States have debated whether there is anything at all that American school systems could learn from that small Nordic nation’s school system. Ten years on and these debates still go on.


In their March 15, 2021 essay “Finland Meets Civil Rights”, Professor Jal Mehta and co-author Krista Galleberg make good points, including “we can draw on Finnish lessons while making them more relevant to our complex, multi-racial, and systemically inequitable context”, and “build shared responsibility instead of finger pointing, policies based in trust instead of distrust, and schools where Black and Brown students thrive instead of merely survive.”


But in framing their argument, Mehta and Gallebergmake the curious claim that “Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era, there has been a schism between what you might think of as the ‘Finland folks’ and much of the civil rights community, particularly its policy and legal advocates.”


We are aware of no such schism. We are curious to know which civil rights advocates would oppose the key foundations of the Finnish education system that are adaptable to the American context – such as comprehensive healthservices for every child and mother from birth, teachers trained and respected as professionals, free healthy school lunches for all, regular play and physical activity as part of every schools’ workplan, smaller class sizes, early indidualized special education support throughout schooling, equitable funding of schools, universal early childhood education and care as a basic right of every child, and highly collaborative schools that strive to integrate students of different capabilities and backgrounds.


According to Mehta and Galleberg, “accountability in the U.S. has historically been promoted by civil rights advocates and bemoaned by the Finland folks.” In fact, the opposite is true in Finland, which places the highest national emphasis on accountability– based on trust and constant productive dialogue between highly professional teachers, children, parents and policymakers. Moreover, Mehta and Galleberg also fail to explain to their readers that in Finland all schools and teachers operate under professional responsibility that expands far beyond the typical punitive,vertical accountability mechanisms that are typical in U.S. education administration.


What Finland does not is waste time or money on so-called “test-based accountability,” or basing its school system on the low-quality, expensive and ineffective governing metric of the universal standardized testing of children, as the United States has done under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, and seems to be continuing under President Biden, despite his clear campaign promise to stop it. Instead, the performance of Finland’s education system is monitored by multiple measures that include state-led sample-based standardized student assessments and locally managed school self-evaluations and peer reviews.


 The verdict is in on test-based accountability – it doesn’t work. Twenty years of it has achieved little to no sustained improvement in reading and math outcomes or in reducing achievement gaps in the United States, which were its main objectives. Today, the main driving forces behind “doubling down” on this failure are not civil rights organizations but under-informed philanthropists, politicians and business leaders.

We also find claims by Mehta and Galleberg that “Even today, educational reforms in Finland are framed as part of the country’s national defense plan” and “Excellent education for all is part of the nation’s response to Russian aggression” strange and without factual basis. It is a mistake to believe that Finland’s education policies are designed primarily to serve economic or national security interests. Furthermore, arguing that “Educational equity is therefore not treated as a national security imperative in the United States as it is in Finland” is simply not true. Promoting equity and social justice through education in all Nordic countries is based on human rights imperatives before anything else, certainly something that any civil rights advocate in the United States would wholeheartedly support.


The main lesson of Finland for any nation is that it is possible – and indeed necessary – to strive for both excellence and equity for all students. According to recent data from the OECD, Finland achieves both the highest efficiency of all the developed world’s education systems as measured by hours of study and learning outcomes, and the least performance variation between schools. “The neighborhood school is the best school” is a mantra often heard in Finland, and it is a reality that is widely achieved.


 Finland has deliberately designed its education system, from primary school to higher education, on the values and principles of equal rights to education. Finland upgraded the teaching profession in the 1980s to serve that purpose, so that each and every child would have a great public school in their neighborhood.

In the context of civil rights, Finland is the ultimate American school system.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case of 1954 declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, but it also stipulated in its order that public education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” That simple, beautiful phrase is settled national policy in the United States, but it has never been fully honored.
 

Those words should be symbolically carved onto the entranceways of every school, legislature and education ministry on Earth.

In Finland, they already are.

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator who has researched and examined education policies in Finland and the United States. His book “Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from Educational change in Finland”published by Teachers College Press won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award issued by the University of Louisville for an idea that has potential to change the world. He is currently Professor of Education Policy at the UNSWSydney.


William Doyle has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Finland, as a lecturer at Finland’s largest teacher training university, and as an advisor to the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. In the last three years he has been a public school father in New York City and Tokyo, and currently in Helsinki, where he lives with his family.


Sahlberg and Doyle are co-authors of “Let the Children Play: For the learning, well-being, and life success of every child” (2019), published by Oxford University Press.

The BBC reports that the British Psychological Society warns that policymakers should emphasize children’s well-being rather than “catching up” with academics. They are concerned that children are facing too much pressure as the adults make decisions about what to do next. All schools in England are expected to open by March 8.

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the BPS division of educational and child psychology, said it was “absolutely understandable” that parents are concerned children have “been missing out on many aspects of their formal education” – but warned against setting expectations too high.

“The notion that children need to catch up or are ‘behind’ at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have ‘one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone,” he told the PA News agency.

This is a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to Angela Merkel, who recently stepped down as leader of Germany and (for now) leader of the western world (Trump abdicated that position). Angela Dorothea Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as Leader of the Opposition from 2002 to 2005 and as Leader of the Christian Democratic Union from 2000 to 2018. A member of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany. (Not sure why the post says 18 years; she was Chancellor for 16 years.) She was born in Hamburg (in West Germany) but moved as an infant to East Germany when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, had a pastorate there. She earned a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry, then worked in research until the democratic revolution of 1989, when she became involved in political life. The story below about her domestic life reminds me of what Harry S Truman said, when a reporter asked what he would do when he got home to Independence, Missouri. He said he would carry the empty luggage to the attic.

The Financial Times reports on a new phenomenon: educators around the world see the pandemic as an opportunity to break free of standardized exams.

Tony Stack, a Canadian educator, was developing a new way to assess children even before coronavirus. The decision to scrap end-of-year assessments after the pandemic struck presented the chance to put the “deep learning” approach into practice. “It offered an opportunity for an authentic learning experience, outside some of the constraints of an exam,” said Mr Stack, director of education for Newfoundland and Labrador province. This alternative model, used in 1,300 schools across eight countries, that prioritises skills and independent thinking “set a way forward for a more ethical approach to assessment,” he explained. “Skills that students need to learn through the pandemic cannot be assessed in a single test,” he added.

Most viewed the abrupt cancellation of exams in countries around the world as a regrettable loss that would diminish learning and life chances for a cohort of young people. A vocal group of educators also saw an opportunity to call time on the traditional exams system they say is unjust and outdated. “The pandemic has exacerbated all these problems that were already there with exams,” said Bill Lucas, director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the UK’s Winchester university.

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

https://www.ft.com/content/9d64e479-182c-4dbd-96fe-0c26272a5875

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

John Thompson writes below about the ongoing confusion about whether it is safe to reopen schools. Trump and DeVos demanded that schools reopen without the resources to reopen safely. Now, the debate continues, with a mixture of science, hope, and fear. I am not a public health expert, and I offer no advice. But common sense suggests that teachers should be vaccinated first, along with other essential workers. Teaching in a room with a large group of students all day long, it seems to me, is materially different than shopping in a store where one enters and leaves within 15-20 minutes. If we expect teachers to be frontline workers, they should get the vaccinations and PPE equipment they need.

He writes:

Today we’re in a situation in regard to reopening schools that is similar and different to that of the first six months of the Covid pandemic. Then, it seemed likely that schools could reopen by the fall semester as long as we respected public health evidence, and set smart priorities, such as reopening schools not bars. But Trump and his acolytes politicized the pandemic, even leading the way to super-spreadings by holding crowded political and motorcycle rallies, as well as pushing the premature reopenings of indoor dining and partying.

I’m afraid, however, that we’re also in a situation similar to last November when it should have been obvious that the holidays were coming, bringing super-spreads. Rarely do we face school reopening issues that lead to obvious conclusions. However, it would have been crazy to reopen schools as Thanksgiving approached, prompting the surge which would feed the super-surges of Christmas and New Years. Even so, true believers in the claim that educators were being too cautious often continued to ramp up the blame game. In “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong” (Nov 18), Nick Kristof criticized Democrats for failing to learn from Europeans who had safely kept their schools open.

Ironically, Kristof’s editorial was published 6 days after Spiegel International’s “Reevaluating Children’s Role in the Pandemic.” It explained in great detail that “a large study from Austria shows that SARS-CoV-2 infects just as many schoolchildren as it does teachers. Other surveys indicate that while young children may show no symptoms, they are quite efficient at spreading the virus.”  

Spiegel explained, “‘Schools are not islands of serenity,’ says study leader Michael Wagner, a professor of microbiology at the University of Vienna. Leaving them open is ‘a significant risk.’” Moreover, “‘Children reflect the infection levels they are surrounded by,’ says microbiologist Wagner. But because they are so often asymptomatic, they are ‘severely undertested,’ leading him to believe that there are a rather significant number of unreported cases.”

In fairness, even if Kristof had read about and contemplated the new situation in Europe, he could not have known that it would foreshadow the most important pandemic challenge we face today. But he no longer has an excuse for sticking with his simplistic attacks on teachers.

As the super-spread that took off in November subsides, and given the fact that President Biden has replaced Trump, it could be argued that we should be able to safely reopen schools over the next 100 days. As was true in the summer and the fall, new scientific research keeps producing evidence that schools can operate safely in person, especially in places where masking, social distancing, and public health guidelines are respected when dealing with community transmissions. Recent studies documented successes in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and European schools. Research keeps confirming that schools for the youngest children are the least likely to spread the virus. And a recent JAMA study concludes “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

On the other hand, the path JAMA describes toward “return primarily or fully to in-person instructional delivery” also requires “steps to reduce community transmission and limiting school-related activities such as indoor sports practice or competition that could increase transmission risk.” For instance, it cites a recent wrestling tournament where, “Among the 130 tournament participants, 38 (30%) had laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosed, but less than half the participants were tested. At least 446 contacts of these cases have been identified.” These and secondary transmissions are still being studied.

Sadly, we’re also seeing a repeat of the politicization of public health which contributed so much to the super-spreads that made it impossible for so many urban districts to reopen in the fall. One of the worst examples is Derek Thompson’s article published online with the title, “Open Schools, Already.” Thompson began with an oversimplified characterization of the Center for Disease Control’s call to reopen schools “as soon as possible,” and asserted, “the CDC seems to be shouting: Enough! To which, I would add: What took you so long”?

I always follow the links in these reports, and almost always I find a story more complicated than anticipated. But, these reports tend to start with the conclusion about whether schools can reopen safely, followed by a number of disclaimers and warnings. Thompson turned out to be one of the most extreme examples of a respected reporter misrepresenting the complexities documented in the sources he cited. 

Rather than get into the weeds of methodology, before addressing Thompson’s misleading arguments, I’ll just mention a few more differences between today’s questions and those of the summer and fall. New research estimates that 59 percent of transmissions, not 35 percent as previously estimated, are by asymptomatic persons. Moreover, we now have evidence that teens are more likely to spread the virus than originally thought. And a new study of infections in Florida and China shows that children may be more likely to be asymptomatic, and they may be 60% more likely than adults over 60 to spread the infection. 

These findings, combined with the lack of testing and contact tracing in many places, call into question the previously understandable conclusions by some that schools aren’t major contributors to community transmission.

Also, there are new reasons to worry about the unknown, but potentially serious, harm done by Covid to asymptomatic persons.   

Getting back to Thompson’s article as a case study in misrepresenting complex science, North Carolina and Wisconsin offer just two of many examples of studies of small samples of committed school systems that are not representative of many other districts. In “Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools,” Duke University researchers found that infections were rare in “35 North Carolina schools that offered in-person teaching for at least some of the 9 weeks, with only 17 staying open to students for the entire quarter.” 

The researchers acknowledged that the sample of schools “may select for school districts that enforce adherence to preventative measures, emphasize transparency, and cooperate with peers.” These characteristics “are likely associated with greater adherence to masking, reduced secondary transmission, and lower risks.” And, when two districts faced reduced compliance with masking and distancing, a nonprofit stepped in to reinforce those policies.

In response to my questions on methodology, co-author Daniel Benjamin volunteered that the key to success:

Is that there is 99% mask compliance for every person in the mainstream curriculum that steps on school property. It’s the mitigation strategies—distancing, masking, hand hygiene that are crucially important. If a school district does not do these things, they will likely make the pandemic worse by being open. This is why we don’t advise “you should open” or “you should go remote”…. It’s all about the public health measures.

And while we’re reading more optimistic reports by reliable researchers like JAMA and the CDC, let’s not forget their qualifying statements, such as the CDC’s summary of Wisconsin infections from Sept 3 to Nov16. Schools were the 4th largest source of infections, following long term care and corrections facilities, and colleges; an estimated 14% of infections were linked to schools.

These are just a few of the new pieces of evidence that schools may not be super-spreaders, but they are spreaders. But, how fast do we want to reopen those spreaders as the virus variant comes to the United States? The New York Times cites the CDC and other institutions that predict the more contagious U.K. variant will be predominant by March. If so, will it make sense to not reclose the schools that contribute to spread, even if they don’t drive the increase in infections?  

The reopening of schools in 100 days is a reasonable goal, but decisions on the pace of reopenings and when it is necessary to reclose schools, should not be politicized. My sense, however, is that more of the press, and public health and education advocates are now discussing politics more, and complicated science relatively less. For instance, there has been a steady increase in charter school advocates implicitly or explicitly blaming shutdowns on unions. Robert Pondiscio’s “How Anger Over Covid Closures Can Fuel the School Choice Movement” is just one recent example.

At the same time, more journalists are focusing on the differences between statements by some of Biden’s public health experts, and his apparently more balanced approach, as well that of teachers and unions, than the nuances of medical science conclusions. Moreover,, the Washington Post explains, “CDC researchers looked to Europe’s experience in the fall to inform their conclusion that ‘there has been (emphasis mine) little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.’”

But new research from Europe leads towards a new conclusion, articulated by Celso Cunha, director of the medical microbiology unit at Nova University of Lisbon’s Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “By themselves, schools are not the main problem, but it makes sense to close them when the numbers are so high that anything can have an impact on the health system as a whole,” 

The Wall Street Journal also reports:

A consensus is emerging in Europe that children are a considerable factor in the spread of Covid-19—and more countries are shutting schools for the first time since the spring.

Closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns. …

The Journal quoted the director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health, “In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others.”

And as Spiegel reported in November, Europeans have had to ask, “Might children, in fact, be mini-superspreaders running around without so much as a sore throat as they pass the virus on to classmates, parents and siblings?”

I sure can’t anticipate the answer to that question, but unless we can discuss it in a non-ideological manner, we might fail at both the reopening of schools within 100 days, and contribute to a resurgence of Covid. 

This article was written by Swedish teacher Filippa Mannerheim and translated by retired Swedish educator Sara Hjelm. It appeared in the Swedish publication EXPRESSEN.

Mannerheim expresses her outrage at the corruption and inequity that have flowed from the Swedish policy of privatization. Her articles are a warning to those of us in the United States, as many states are now considering legislation to copy the Swedish free-market model, allowing anyone–including for-profit enterprises–to supply educational services to student.

Politicians let schools sink into a swamp of corruption 

Published 8 Feb 2021 

High school teacher Filippa Mannerheim. 

The Swedish Parliament. 

Photo: OLLE SPORRONG

Teacher Filippa Mannerheim sparked a great debate with her indictment against Swedish parliamentary politicians about the market school. 

All parties – except M and KD have responded – and Mannerheim is now writing her closing remarks. 

This is a cultural article, where writers can express personal opinions and make assessments of works of art. 

DEBT DEBATE. 

There was once a farmer who was terribly hard of hearing, something he was ashamed of. One day, while standing carving on an ax handle, he saw the surveyor coming walking on the road. “First he probably asks what I do and then I answer ‘Ax handle'”, the old man thought. Then he asks if he can borrow my mare and then I say: “The riders have ridden her back off”. And when he asks about my old echo, I answer “She is completely ruined and holds neither weather nor water.”  

– Good day! said the surveyor.  

“Ax shaft,” replied the old man.  

This story my father read to me when I was a child and I remember that we laughed a lot at the old man’s determined but damned answers. That the saga is now revived within me again, after 40 years, is no coincidence.  

After reading the six (non) answers from our parliamentary parties after my article “I accuse…!”, I am saddened by school policy. What is positive is that our Riksdag politicians have answers to all my questions. What is negative is that their answers rarely have to do with the questions.  

The Center Party proudly claims (after three months of reflection, while their formulations have gone back and forth between communicators and party leadership), that they at least want to increase freedom of choice and transparency in Swedish schools, but then make proposals that lead to the exact opposite – slippery as eels in their struggle to defend the corporations’ dividends. The Liberals write an answer so full of empty phrases that I have already forgotten what the message was. I think there was something about teachers being very important. 

The Social Democrats and the Green Party agree with me in substance but unfortunately can do nothing, “very boring, really.” The Western Party is outraged, the Sweden Democrats, as usual, blame the immigrants and the 

Moderates and Christian Democrats don’t bother to even put together an answer. Probably they have none.  

– Swedish schools are in deep crisis! Politicians, you must act! 

– Good day, ax handle, little friend. 

What exactly is politics for our politicians? I ask myself. Is it a polished, trembling index finger in the air, or is it a sincere description of the problem and a long-term and well-thought-out vision of what Sweden can become, based on knowledge, a sense of responsibility and an honest will to improve our society?  

Who knows? Not me anyway.  

In another fairy tale I recently read with my 

students, HC Andersen lets the little child 

shout the obvious: “The emperor is naked!” 

Many of us are shouting now, but without our 

rulers hearing us.  

Photo: CSABA BENE PERLENBERG / 

But this is not a fairytale. This is 2021 in a  small but extreme country in the north, where the majority of our parliamentary parties have made it clear to us voters that the Swedish school market, with its destructive consequences, will remain. The limited companies’ expansion at the expense of the municipal school, the unfair school choice system, the extreme and skewed construction of school fees that are running Swedish schools at the bottom, grade inflation, a rejected principle of openness and an increasingly segregated school system – all this we must continue to live with.  

This was not what we thought of the free school reform!  

Nevertheless, the majority of our political parties are determined to continue on the path that has led Swedish, tax-financed schools deeper and deeper into the dunes of corruption. The partners’ profits are too important to be legislated away. At the same time, meaningless messages are drummed out to voters as pale, Orwellian mantras: “All schools must be good!” “Free schools are good!”  

– Good day, ax handle.  

The fact remains: We are the only country in the world with this school model. No party, neither right-wing nor left-wing parties in the rest of the world, pushes the idea of ​​free establishment for commercial companies, an almost unlimited profit, lack of democratic transparency about how tax money is used and free for profit companies to choose and reject which children to teach. The Swedish school system is rigged.  

Several bourgeois opinion leaders and leading writers have happily begun to raise their voices against the market school. Even the Liberals have very recently expressed concern about venture capitalists as school owners. It gives a certain hope. But the fact that an overwhelming majority of our parliamentary parties cannot unanimously express that they are prepared to take responsibility and do something about the problems is nothing but outrageous. They simply do not want to stop being the only country in the world that prioritizes foreign venture capitalists over the country’s children.  

But Swedish schools are not the private property of politicians or limited companies to milk money and power out of. The schools belongs to us. The Swedish people. We pay for the party.  

In the 2022 election, we voters have the opportunity to use our votes wisely with the socially important school issue in focus. If we vote for a party that does not want to change the school system but only pretends to poke at it for the sake of visibility, the system will remain. And it will leave huge traces in our Swedish society.  

Parliamentary politician: I have nothing more to add in the matter. 

My accusation remains.  

By Filippa Mannerheim 

Filippa Mannerheim is a high school teacher of Swedish and history, as well as a writer and school debater.

The following article was written by Swedish high school teacher Filippa Mannherheim and translated by retired Swedish educator Sara Hjelm. It appeared in the Swedish publication Expressen. Sweden adopted a free-market system of schooling in the early 1990s, and the results have increased segregation without improving the quality of education or access to good schools. The free-market model, she writes, began with extravagant promises but has turned into a bonanza for entrepreneurs and profiteers.

Swedish education is a shame – you politicians have failed

Published 17 Nov 2020 at 06.15, updated 18 Nov at 10.05

Teacher and school debater Filippa Mannerheim.Photo: Press

Teacher and school debater Filippa Mannerheim today publishes an open letter on Expressen’s culture page to Sweden’s Riksdag politicians. “It is time to merge across party lines and stop the expansion of limited companies,” she writes.

This is a cultural article, where writers can express personal opinions and make assessments of works of art.


Parliamentary politicians!

I am a Swedish citizen. I am a teacher. I’m a parent. And I am deeply concerned about the future of Swedish schools. 

The Swedish school has been subjected to a world-unique experiment. In the rest of the world, it is unreasonable for limited companies to make unregulated profits on tax money. Despite this, we in Sweden donate hundreds of millions of kronor to shareholders in company groups year after year – money that was intended for our children’s education.

With the deregulation of the 1990s, the ambition was to create thriving, independent schools, foundations, parent cooperatives and small limited company schools with educational alternatives. Today, this vision has turned into an uncontrollable market where venture capital companies are expanding and devouring tax money at breakneck speed. 

The business model is simple: you buy smaller independent schools and incorporate them into the growing groups and then make a profit by targeting marketing to easy-to-teach, independent students, through special dress codes, requirements for high tempo and great drive or through English as a study language. With a sold-out, simpler student base, the corporation schools can reduce salaries, teacher density, resource staff and – to attract even more lucrative student customers – sprinkle with joy-ratings to show the school’s “high results”.

When the profitable students have been absorbed by the independent school, the municipal school is left with a more difficult student base and with the overall responsibility for all the municipality’s students. And when the municipal school’s student allowance must be increased due to the task becoming more demanding, the independent schools ‘student allowance is also increased and the groups’ profits can increase even more. A bomb-proof business model for venture capital companies but a devastating tax waste for the Swedish citizens. 

You, politicians, have made our common school a wet dream for venture capital companies.

Because while the school giant Academedia, now listed on the stock exchange, makes a profit of SEK 556 million before tax, the size of the children’s groups in the preschool increases and greatly exceeds the National Agency for Education’s benchmarks. While the International English School (IES) presents a profit of 254 million, many children are in classrooms without teaching materials and are taught by foreign teachers without Swedish qualification or by qualified teachers who earn SEK 3,000 less a month than their municipal colleagues. While schools and colleges are sounding the alarm about declining knowledge results, joy grades are rising, as grades have become a competitive tool on the market. While the independent school giants receive a rent discount for establishing themselves in the municipalities, children with diagnoses or a mother tongue other than Swedish are rejected, as they are more expensive to teach.

Before the National Agency for Education made all statistics about individual schools secret – because it became a “trade secret” – all this information was available to us. Today it does not do that anymore, which threatens our democracy. 

I accuse you of that.

Swedish schools bleed at the same time as resources are available. But the tax money that was intended to go to student support, small groups, more teachers, more resource staff, teaching materials and smaller classes ends up in tax havens instead. 

You, politicians, have made our common school a wet dream for venture capital companies. It’s shameful. It’s sad. It is unworthy of a knowledge nation. 

After Chile abolished profit-driven independent schools four years ago, we are left alone in the world with our school system. Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, England all have independent schools but profits are prohibited or strictly regulated. If the rest of the world can have well-functioning independent schools for parents to choose from, without the owners being allowed to pick out millions in profits – why can’t we? 

The company magnates have the money. Nine politicians have the power. I have, apart from my furious despair over the state of affairs, only my pen and my conviction that the truth about Sweden’s school system must emerge.

I’m accusing …! was written by Émile Zola and published January 13, 1898. Zola turned in the letter to the President of France and took a stand for the Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus who had been convicted of high treason.

Parliamentary politicians. This letter has become long and it is time to summarize: 

I accuse you, the Social Democrats! Your party name is a pathetic remnant from the time when you defended an equal school – for all children from all walks of life. Today you have voluntarily put your gag on one of Sweden’s most important issues – the marketing school. It is not democracy but its exact opposite: it is political pity.

I accuse you, the Moderates! You are talking about more controls, even though it obviously does not help against the corruption-like elements that the market school has produced, where joy grades, instead of education, have become a competitive tool in the fight for the most easily taught students. You have with your nonchalance betrayed our nation and its youngest citizens.

I accuse you, Liberals. You call yourself a “school party” and claim that teachers should be authorities in the classrooms. At the same time, you have turned children and parents into school customers and “grade shoppers” and teachers into servile sellers of grades, with the task of keeping customers happy for their own school’s survival. The system is morally corrupt and you are partly responsible. 

I accuse you, the Christian Democrats. Your reluctance to see how the interest in profit hits the school is depressing. You earn money when you should serve our children. To you, I have only one thing to say: Drive the traders out of the temple!

I accuse you, the Green Party. In 2013, your congress voted no to welfare gains. After that, your school policy has consisted of hand hearts on Youtube, despite the fact that you held the post of Minister of Education. Your contribution on the school grounds has been an unfunded “Read-write-count-guarantee” and a struggle for more sex and cohabitation education, while the school falls. 

I accuse you, the Sweden Democrats. You talk about assimilation, community and security. Yet you support a school system that increases segregation and allows jihadist schools run by people with links to Islamism and violent extremism and schools with religious indoctrination of children. And after a special lunch at Riche, you turned to the issue of banning profiteering and sat yourself on lap in the independent school lobby. 

I accuse you, the Left Party. You have been passive and have not even indicated that you would like to overthrow the government on this issue. The school groups’ profit-taking and expansion is a matter of destiny for our country and no matter how outrageous alone you are here in Sweden, you have the rest of the world on your side. Overthrow the government! This issue is not negotiable.

I accuse you, Center Party! You put venture capital companies’ right to millions in profits ahead of future generations and call Sweden’s principle of openness – the foundation of our democracy – a “hot pursuit of free enterprise”. You let your friends in business management legally steal our taxes – millions that were meant for education. You pose shamelessly with the groups great in photo, without being ashamed. You have let Sweden down. 

Knowledge, education and upbringing should be at the center of this socially important activity – not money.

My questions to you politicians are the following: What will happen to Sweden when more and more children do not get the education they need? When foreign venture capital companies gain more and more influence over the school and we citizens lose both transparency and the principle of openness? When tax money, through independent school groups, ends up in the pockets of fundamentalists and shareholders in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malta? What opportunities will we have to govern the school in a democratic way when the power of foreign owners over our education system increases through the expansion of the school groups? 

One last reflection. Whatever it may now be worth to you: Schools are not just buildings with children and teachers inside. Schools are not just childcare while parents work. The school is a common community building, where we adults prepare future generations for the future. Knowledge, education and upbringing should be at the center of this socially important activity – not money. 

If we demolish this common building, which you, politicians, are well on your way to doing, society will also fall to pieces, slowly but surely. Your society, just like mine. Your children’s society, just like my children’s society. 

Parliamentary politicians. The time has come. It is time to merge across party lines and stop the expansion of venture companies and take back the tax millions and education to the Swedish people.

While we still can. 

By Filippa Mannerheim

Filippa Mannerheim is a high school teacher of Swedish and history, and a school debater.

This is a fascinating report on the state of education in Iran, forty years after the revolution, emphasizing the resistance to privatization. The authors are Mohammad Reza Niknejad and Behnam Zoghi Roudsari. The authors shared the article with me. I was surprised and delighted to learn that my book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools was translated into Persian. I almost cried as I thought about the madness of international politics, preventing likeminded educators and scholars from communicating about shared concerns.

An excerpt:

The privatization of education is hotly debated across the world. It hardly represents a uniform set of policies with experts, economists, civil society organizers, and state officials weighing potential gains and losses. Iran has been no exception to this pattern. As most theoretical literature predicts, the privatization of education in Iran has caused harm. According to experts, it exacerbates class divisions, consolidates social gaps, and leads to serious detrimental consequences in the classroom. With over a century of experience with institutions of modern education, Iran has its own unique history of debate and struggle over privatization and its implementation. This article provides an overview of that history and an assessment of the current state of education in Iran.

Sharp critiques of privatized education are voiced across the political spectrum in Iran. The Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Syndicates of Iran, for instance, an umbrella organization consisting of forty-four teachers’ unions across the country, released a statement on 2 May 2019 bringing to fruition a mass protest that had called for the “suspension of outsourcing plans and the abolition of private school licensing.” It called on the state to “[provide] higher quality, free and equal educational services in public schools.

Months later, in November 2019, after mass protests against fuel hikes, the Coordinating Council denounced “shock therapy,” joining the resistance against austerity measures. They remarked that privatization had “[transferred] national wealth and resources to powerful groups…and had pushed more children from classrooms into the streets and into work.”

The failure of privatization represents one of the few agreed-upon issues between reformist and conservative politicians over the past three decades. Its failure can be measured with reference to the goals outlined in “the 20-Year Prospect of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Issued by the Expediency Council, it constitutes a key legal document encouraging privatization in Iran. The goals it outlines include: achieving full employment, controlling inflation, and expanding GDP and per capita income. Fifteen years after it was issued, Iran is far from achieving these goals...

Despite antagonism between the Islamic Republic and the United States, Iranian education officials have followed the lead of their American counterparts in privatization efforts. They have done this in various ways, placing teachers on short-term contracts; commercializing the educational sphere; and outsourcing the design, implementation and assessment of exams to private contractors.

Before the era of privatization, teachers received formal training in teacher training colleges and universities and were granted thirty-year contracts. Legal adjustments have changed former institutional settings to the extent that under new outsourcing contracts with specific conditions (which are widened daily), schools can employ teachers on day-to-day contracts. These teachers are paid for by the day and in some cases by the hour. They are neither paid for their three-month summer vacations, nor for holidays and weekends. They are typically paid a small fraction of formally employed teachers and can be dismissed at any time without notice. Numbering around forty thousand, these teachers were especially hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

The Deputy Minister of Education Mojtaba Zeinivand notes that, at present, 10.18 percent of students in Iran are in private schools and that, by March 2021, the figure will reach fifteen percent. This trend might result in irreversible harm to the quality of education. Poorer classes and to a lesser extent urban middle classes will be deprived of educational opportunities.

The government’s tenacious efforts to enforce privatization plans have been matched with strong opposition by officials from different parts of government, academics, and education experts. In recent years, teacher’s guilds have organized against the privatization of education with widespread protests, as with the Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Syndicates of Iran in 2019...

As this narrative demonstrates, the privatization of education in Iran is a consequence of the lack of a well-defined role of education in a broader strategy of developmental planning, rather than a result of centralized decision-making by right wing policy-makers with a neoliberal agenda. The privatization of education has been part of a broader privatization process that can be described as a paragon of overloading a low capacity state with complex tasks resulting in increased corruption and insignificant developmental outcomes. A minority of closed circles of educational officials, acting in coalition with the highest classes of society and who maintain strong access to policy-makers, are still pushing these policies at the expense of the majority of society and in defiance of social cohesion and national prosperity. In a recent unprecedented reform initiative, more than two hundred educational decision-makers have been identified as holding a specific conflict of interest, shareholding, or an ownership stake in private education institutions.

These self-serving policies have serious and long-lasting consequences, including but not limited to political grievances and instabilities as well as the consolidation of class divides and inequalities. The current, myopic horizon of Iranian politics, primarily concerned with factional competition and the disastrous economic consequences of sanctions, all too easily overlook these consequences. Educational reform should not be postponed until other components of the system of governance are reformed. An alternative path forward can materialize by forming inclusive coalitions that give voice to key stakeholders in education and empowering them to formulate better policies. This would, in turn, signal a feedback to higher levels of decision-makers. The surprising power of small changes would, we hope, lead to a virtuous cycle of reform.