Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus
Case studies in the field of education often eschew comparison. However, when scholars forego comparison, they are missing an important opportunity to bolster case studies’ theoretical generalizability. Scholars must examine how disparate epistemologies lead to distinct kinds of qualitative research and different notions of comparison. Expanded notions of comparison include not only the usual logic of contrast or juxtaposition but also a logic of tracing, in order to embrace approaches to comparison that are coherent with critical, constructivist, and interpretive qualitative traditions. Finally, comparative case study researchers consider three axes of comparison: the vertical, which pays attention across levels or scales, from the local through the regional, state, federal, and global; the horizontal, which examines how similar phenomena or policies unfold in distinct locations that are socially produced; and the transversal, which compares over time.
There exists today a critical discourse on educational policy, as it has evolved alongside dominant notions of development and its critique. This dominant notion of development emerged following the Second World War. At that time, the global order was characterized by a cold war, with its bipolar division of a “First World” and a “Second World,” based on ideological grounds. There emerged simultaneously, a conglomerate of countries referred to as the “Third World,” sharing a common colonial past, located mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and viewed to be in need of development. Underdevelopment in these countries was a construct—understood as descriptive structural features of poverty, illiteracy, traditional orientation, among others. Economic growth and modernization were the prescribed measures for development—as if the “Third World” would progress by following the structural features of more “evolved” Western countries.
Education was an important tool in this project, responsible for creating the appropriate civic attitudes both for modernization and for stimulating economic growth. The human capital theory was an economic variant of the ideas of modernization—it underscored the notion that investments in education were akin to physical capital; these would yield future benefits to society. There was an abundant desire amongst the political elites of these newly independent countries to provide for mass education as a way of liberation and progress. National education policies, and systems to implement them, were set up incorporating these ideas. Leading international organizations—such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), later the World Bank, and now the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), helped translate these ideas into policy choices and influence agenda setting for educational policy.
By the 1990s, there was abundant critique of modernization as development and of national systems of education as systems of power bereft of normative ideas about the intrinsic value of education. This gap was filled by the capabilities approach enunciated by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. The capabilities approach argues that the ends of development are not simply economic growth, but the expansion of opportunities and substantive freedoms. Education is intrinsic to the development of capabilities and for substantive freedoms. Since the 1990s, the capabilities approach and the human development paradigm have been guiding influences in development policy and education. Education policies influenced by the human development paradigm recognize the complex challenges poor people face and do not advance a fixed template of policy prescriptions in the name of development.
Following the Education For All conference in 1990 and, a decade later, the adoption of Millennium Development Goals in 2000, there have been significant efforts, on a global scale, toward converging the educational policy ideas and actions of international agencies and national governments. Simultaneously, the expansion of globalization on an unprecedented scale now influences education policy in unanticipated ways, as the nation-state declines in importance. In an era of global governance, transnational policies on education that emphasize learning achievements, benchmarking, and testing are gaining currency. National education systems may no longer matter. Globalization, especially its alliance with neo-liberalism, also finds strong criticism from social movements and from scholars who question development, argue in favor of post-development, and call for respect and recognition of diversity of competing epistemes of learning.
The number of homeschooling families in the United States has been growing at a steady rate since the early 1990s. Attempts to make sense of homeschooling—including research—are inherently political. These attempts are, therefore, highly contested. It is impossible to provide an agreed-upon definition of homeschooling, much less a precise number of families that homeschool, why they homeschool, or what the learning outcomes of that homeschooling might entail. Instead, homeschooling is best understood as a set of educative practices that exists in and between institutional schooling and family life. As families and schools evolve and change, so will the meaning and significance of homeschooling.
Shibao Guo and Yan Guo
China has experienced major shifts from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, from centralization to decentralization, from state ownership to privatization, and from a decisive state to a weakened state. Despite China’s economic miracle, the country also faces unprecedented challenges, including rising social inequality, rural-urban divide, regional disparity, environmental degradation, declining health and education conditions, and polarization between the rich and poor. China’s profound socioeconomic and political transformations have led to significant fundamental changes to education in China, as manifested in its decentralization, marketization, and privatization. One significant paradigm change relates to the devolution of education power and policy from a centralized governance model to local governments. With the privatization and marketization of its education system, China has adopted a market-oriented approach with the orientation, provision, student enrollment, curriculum, and financing of education. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that there has been a withdrawal of the mighty state from its paternalistic role in the provision and subsidy of public education. Unfortunately, the market economy has further increased education inequalities. The maldistribution of resources and education opportunities raises important questions about issues of social justice and equity regarding who gets how much education as the social good.
Educational biopolitics is a growing field of study that explores the intersections of education, life, and power. A central question this literature has formed is a powerful, albeit familiar one: what types of life do schools validate, and what types of life do schools attempt to negate? Given this focus, the concept of educational life has emerged as one of the key units of analysis that informs inquiries in this field. There are two predominant modes of engagement that characterize studies in educational biopolitics: (a) analytical endeavors that seek to understand the operation of contemporary logics of biopower (a power over life) in schools and (b) affirmative educational endeavors that seek to highlight the potential of life to create power. Each approach begins with an understanding that schools do more than transmit knowledge; they are sites of struggle over the production, reproduction, and management of subjectivity. These approaches have led to unique inquiries that explore a number of tangentially related themes and make use of various concepts, including disposability, extractive schooling, and the common.
Urban charter schools are public schools located in major metropolitan areas with high population densities. The majority of urban charter school students identify as Black or Latinx and often live in under-resourced communities. Urban charter schools are touted as high-quality educational options in the school choice market, yet debates about the merits of charter schools versus traditional public schools yield mixed results that substantiate arguments on both sides of the political aisle.
However, even high-performing urban charter schools have a bad reputation as mechanisms of school segregation and cogs in the school-to-prison pipeline. Higher than average test scores and graduation and college enrollment rates do little to mollify those who complain about severe discipline, racial segregation, unqualified teachers, teacher attrition, rigid scheduling, and a narrow curriculum. Urban charter schools’ emphasis on standardized testing and college preparation may overlook the culturally relevant educational experiences that low-income, racially diverse students need to compete with their wealthier, White peers.
As such, education reformers have offered a myriad of suggestions to improve urban charter schools. Most prominently is the need to racially and economically desegregate urban charter schools to enhance the social and material resources that supplement students’ learning. This includes increasing teacher diversity, which research demonstrates minimizes the frequency of suspensions and expulsions of racial minority students. Urban charter school teachers should also be knowledgeable about the sociocultural landscape of the community in which their school exists so that they understand how students’ out of school lives affect their learning processes. Finally, curricular revisions are necessary to support students’ post-high school goals beyond college enrollment. Enacting such reforms would facilitate equitable, rather than equal, learning opportunities that may help narrow racial and economic achievement gaps in the United States.
Marina Schwimmer and Kevin McDonough
Mindfulness meditation is a growing social phenomenon in Western countries and is now also becoming a common part of life in public schools. The concept of mindfulness originated in Buddhist thinking and meditation practices over 2,500 years ago. Its original purpose was mainly to alleviate people’s suffering by providing a path to inner wisdom and vitality, which implied the development of compassion, patience, and forgiveness, as well as other values conducive to inner peace. In the 1970s, this practice was popularized in the West as it was adapted to and integrated with secular intervention programs aimed at reducing stress and dealing with chronic pain.
Packages promoting mindfulness practices are disseminated commercially, backed by research in neuroscience and developmental psychology, for use in schools through programs like MindUp and Mindful Schools. In recent years, there has been a marked uptick of interest from educational researchers in mindfulness education. Several distinct research orientations or approaches can be discerned—mindfulness-based intervention (MBI), an instrumental approach that views mindfulness practices in clinical or therapeutic terms; a spiritualist approach, which emphasizes the rootedness of MBIs in ancient religious traditions and focuses on the benefits of mindfulness practices for individual spiritual growth; and a political approach, which highlights the potential benefits of MBIs to develop students’ capacities for democratic deliberation and participation.
Contemporary mindfulness education in schools also sometimes reflects the cultural influence of New Age values, an orientation distinct from the instrumental, spiritualist, and political approaches, and whose impact may raise troubling questions about the purported educational benefits of MBIs. Accordingly, the alliance between New Age values, neoliberal economic and cultural values, and mindfulness practices in contemporary democratic societies and schools should be given due consideration in assessing the relative educational costs and benefits of MBIs. In particular, cultural and educational values at the intersection of neoliberal values entrepreneurialism and New Age values of personal and spiritual growth may have corrosive rather than benevolent effects on the pursuit of democratic values in schools.
Katherine Crawford-Garrett and Matthew A.M. Thomas
Over the past two decades, teacher education has been increasingly conceptualized as a policy problem in response to what school reformers, policy makers, and philanthropists have depicted as a global education crisis necessitating national and international solutions. Teach For All (TFAll), an organization that has sought to respond to global achievement disparities by recruiting elite university graduates to teach in underperforming schools has a presence in more than 45 countries and is a key player in education reform worldwide. In enacting its vision of educational change, TFAll has reshaped notions of teaching at the classroom level by positioning teachers as saviors, leaders, and social engineers; reconfigured city school systems through promoting privatization and deregulation; and contributed to the rapid neoliberalization of education internationally by fundamentally altering educational policies and discourses on a global scale.
Roseli R. Mello, Marcondy M. de Sousa, and Thaís J. Palomino
Self-determination of the original peoples of any nation, preservation of their territories, preservation of traditions, and negotiation of customs facing national cultures are central themes in the debate about and among indigenous peoples in the world. School education is directly linked to such themes as an instrument of acculturation or self-determination and emancipation. As in other countries of the globe, throughout history, what happened and is happening in Brazil is not isolated fact. Current conditions are the product of colonization processes, the development of industrial society, and more recently of globalization. Such historical processes bring struggles, confrontations, transformations, and solidarity. In the legal sphere, international conventions, declarations, and treaties have influenced more or less directly the norms and laws on the subject: from the papal bull and treaties between colonizing kingdoms, to the Declaration of Human Rights, to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the Brazilian indigenous issue, like that of many other countries, is also based on, supported by, or held back by actions, debates, and international interests.
But what makes the case of Brazil worthy of relevance for thinking about indigenous education? Two elements make up an answer: the specific way the governors establish relations with the original peoples, and the fact that Brazil has the greatest diversity of indigenous communities.
Satoshi P. Watanabe, Machi Sato, and Masataka Murasawa
The aim of internationalization for Japan during the early postwar period, still emerging from being an ODA (Official Development Assistance) recipient nation, was to promote student exchanges and mutual understanding across nations. Japan then successfully shifted its role to that of an ODA provider in the 1970s, engaging as a responsible citizen in the international community. However, the nation’s competitive edge has slipped with a long-stagnating economy from the mid-1990s onward, the national target has shifted from the ODA provider role towards desperate attempts to regain the lost edge through public investment in research and development as well as promoting internationalization of the nation.
As the notions of world-class universities and global university rankings have prevailed worldwide over the last decade or so, the recent policies established by the Japanese government in response to an increasingly competitive and globalizing environment of higher education have transformed to leveraging domestic universities to compete for placement in the global university rankings. Balancing the reputation demonstrated in the global university rankings and generated inequalities in the service and quality of education provided among these institutions seems to be critically lacking in the current debate and hasty movement toward internationalization by the Japanese government. These hastily made policies do have some strong potential to build Japan’s universities into stronger institutions for learning, research, and producing globally competitive graduates. However, thorough long-range planning, keen insight into the overall impact of the policies, and clear long-term goals will be critical in attaining success.