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Systems Theory Approaches to Researching Educational Organizations  

Raf Vanderstraeten

In modern society, organizations are present in almost every social domain. From the end of the 18th century onward, education has predominantly taken place in school organizations. Of course, education still takes place within families, but to send a child to school was from around that time onward no longer seen to reflect unfavorably on its family. Schools are no longer a symptom of the family’s failure. The family and the school, rather, have become perceived as different but coexisting settings within which education takes place. Moreover, the way school organizations operate has generally come to be seen as more in accord with the needs of our modern “(post)industrial” society. Educational organizations, such as schools, build upon their own decision-making histories, but the organizational order which they produce is thought to be in line with the kinds of order that dominate in other social domains. More so than families, schools are expected to prepare children for the present and the future. Using systems theory, the consequences of the organizational framing of education can be examined more closely. Developments within systems theory draw particular attention to the relation between organizations and their environment. Informed by this literature, we discuss, on the one hand, how the relation between schools and society can be adequately conceptualized, and, on the other hand, how the growing societal status of school organizations is affecting nonorganized families. Rather than focusing on the ways in which school organizations adapt to their environments, the interest in systems theory approaches is shifting to the ways in which the environments of school organizations must adapt to the expansion of these organizations. Topics that may be fruitfully tackled in future educational research are also explored.


Institutional Dis/Continuities in Higher Education Changes During the Soviet and Post-Soviet Periods in Kazakhstan  

Gulzhan Azimbayeva

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) higher education system has undergone radical change since the perestroika period—the Gorbachev period (1985–1991). Perestroika means restructuring in Russian. In this period, the institutional context of higher education was fundamentally transformed by the major upheavals of the political and socioeconomic institutions of the USSR. The changes in the USSR higher education had a major impact on the higher education of Kazakhstan—a former Republic of the USSR. Thus, to understand the changes in higher education in Kazakhstan, it is important to locate them in the stages of the collapse of the USSR. It could be argued that the “institutional dis/continuities” theory would allow a careful examination of the educational changes in the postsocialist context. The “institutional dis/continuities” of the perestroika period draw on path-dependency and critical juncture concepts within historical institutionalism theory. Perestroika period can be seen as a critical juncture in the historical development of higher education. Also, the policy choices which were made during the perestroika period could establish further path-dependencies in policy-making.


Inclusive Education as a Human Right  

Ignacio Calderón-Almendros and Gerardo Echeita-Sarrionandia

Inclusive education has been internationally recognized as a fundamental human right for all, without exception. This international recognition seeks to address the dramatic inequality in current societies, since the enjoyment of the right to education for many disadvantaged people depends on it being inclusive. The recognition and enjoyment of this right requires a detailed analysis of the meaning and scope of inclusive education, as well as of the barriers and the main challenges faced. The consideration of inclusive education as a right, with its moral and legal implications, has been achieved to a large extent thanks to the political impact of diverse association movements of people with (dis)abilities. Paradoxically, many students with disabilities continue to be systematically segregated into special schools and classrooms, which violates their right to inclusive education. There is therefore much to learn from this contradiction. A lot also needs to be done to ensure the equal dignity and rights of people that experience exclusion and segregation associated with gender, social class, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, ability, etc. To this end, it is important to conceptually delimit the neoliberal domestication of a profoundly transformative term. The historical evolution of the recognition of inclusive education as a human right needs to be understood. There is also a need to consider the strength of the scientific evidence supporting it in order to counter certain views that question its relevance, despite them having been soundly refuted. Untangling these knots enables a more situated and realistic analysis to address some of the problems to be tackled in the implementation of inclusive education. This is a social and political endeavor that must break away from the market-oriented logic in education systems. It involves accepting that it is a fundamental right to be guaranteed through collective responsibility.


Current Debates Over the Teaching of Phonics  

Greg Brooks

Phonics is a method of teaching people to read and spell (and therefore write) in an alphabetic writing system by associating symbols (letters/graphemes) with sounds (phonemes). The place of phonics in teaching children to read and spell is vigorously debated among researchers, often spilling over into the popular press. Advocates of principally comprehension-based (e.g., whole language) teaching have maintained that little or no phonics instruction is needed; others are of the view that it is essential and must be systematic. Analysis of the most rigorous evidence from research reviews and meta-analyses suggests that systematic phonics teaching is effective for teaching children to read and spell in English, and that the combination of systematic phonics teaching and comprehension-based approaches is probably more effective than either alone. Research has therefore begun on integrated teaching of literacy that incorporates both code and meaning emphases, but currently the requisite professional knowledge and teacher capacity are challenges for many school systems. The principal forms of phonics teaching are synthetic, where children are taught to sound out the letters of a word and to blend (synthesize) the sounds together to form a word; and analytic, in which sounding-out is not taught to start with, but children identify the phonic element from a set of words in which each word contains the element under study, for example, pat, park, push, and pen. There is not yet sufficient convincing research evidence to decide which of these is more effective. Systematic phonics teaching in general is effective across the primary age range, for normally developing and most at-risk children, and probably for children whose first language is not English; and its effects last, at least in the crucial early years. Nonetheless, government policy and reform interventions in this area are sometimes heavy-handed, frequently influenced by political and community pressure, and may face difficulties of scale, resources, and implementation that hamper their effectiveness and generalizability across school systems. A new, large systematic review may be needed to clarify various outstanding issues.


Critical Race Theory and STEM Education  

Terrell R. Morton

Critical race theory (CRT) is a framework that attends to the prevalence, permanence, and impact of racism embedded within and manifested through the policies, practices, norms, and expectations of U.S. social institutions and how those concepts have differentially impacted the lived experiences of Black and Brown individuals. CRT bore out of the legal studies—complemented by philosophical and sociological fields—and has since been applied to a multitude of disciplines including education. Composed of several tenets or principles, CRT approaches to research, scholarship, and praxis take a structural, systematic, or systemic perspective rather than an individual or isolated perspective. CRT provides scholars and practitioners the ability to acknowledge and challenge structural racism and intersectional forms of oppression as foundational to the perceived and experienced inequities outlined by various constituents. In providing such a perspective, CRT facilitates the opportunity for future ideologies that promote radical and transformative change to systems and structures that perpetuate racial and intersectional-based oppression. STEM education—representing the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from inter- and intradisciplinary perspectives—constitutes the norms, ideologies, beliefs, and practices hallmarked by and within these fields, examined both separately as individual disciplines (e.g., science) and collectively (i.e., STEM). These concepts comprise what is noted as the culture of STEM. Scholarship on STEM education, broadly conceived, discusses the influence and impact of STEM culture across P–20+ education on access, engagement, teaching, and learning. These components are noted through examining student experiences; teachers’ (faculty) engagement, pedagogy, and practice; leadership and administration’s implementation of the aforementioned structures; and the creation and reinforcement of policies that regulate STEM culture. Critical race theoretical approaches to STEM education thus critique how the culture of STEM differentially addresses the needs and desires of various racially minoritized communities in and through STEM disciplines. These critiques are based on the fact that the power to disenfranchise individuals is facilitated by the culture of whiteness embedded within STEM culture, a perspective that is codified and protected by society to favor and privilege White people. CRT in STEM education research tackles the influence and impact of racism and intersectional oppression on racially minoritized individuals in and through STEM by revealing the manifestation and implications of racism and intersectional oppression on racially minoritized individuals’ STEM interactions. CRT in STEM also provides opportunities to reclaim and create space that more appropriately serves racially minoritized individuals through the use of counterstories that center the lived experience of said individuals at the crux of epistemological and ontological understandings, as well as the formation of policies, programs, and other actions. Such conceptions strive to challenge stakeholders within STEM to alter their individual and collective beliefs and perspectives of how and why race is a contending factor for access, engagement, and learning in STEM. These conceptions also strive to challenge stakeholders within STEM to reconfigure STEM structures to redress race-based inequity and oppression.


Autonomy and Higher Education in Africa  

Joseph Jinja Divala

In an age of increasing automation, what separates a human process from automation is the flexibility and autonomy human beings have and operate with in real time. Despite the fact that humans are driven by autonomy to operate and process things, such autonomy is often taken for granted and at times is only alluded to as an afterthought. But what is autonomy? How does autonomy make a person’s actions differ from those of an automated, inanimate being? Autonomy is often talked about as synonymous with freedom. This basic characterization partially responds to the fuller meaning of autonomy. This is the case when freedom is confined to freedom from, which is most often how this concept is used. Autonomy as an internal drive to determine one’s actions necessarily combines both freedom from as well as freedom to. It is no simpler to discuss or pin down “autonomy” within the context of university traditions and practices. The variability of practices and traditions has resulted in different formulations of what autonomy would mean in a university context. Similar to what determines autonomy as concept at an individual personal level, the autonomy of the academic or the academic institution, in this case the university, also brings forth specific understandings of life and its processes. Just as autonomy cannot exist without any forms of life to exercise it, the conditions in African universities today mean that neither traditional communitarian positions nor liberal conceptions are necessarily amenable to the progress of autonomy within these institutions. A neo-communitarian position serves as a more tenable concept that can represent forms of autonomy that are neither alienating nor too deterministic.


Curriculum Ideologies  

Christopher B. Crowley

The study of the curriculum and educational knowledge is a study of ideology. The curriculum is never neutral. It always reflects or embodies ideological positions. Ideologies present within the curriculum are negotiated and formulated through multilayered processes of strategic compromise, assent, and resistance. And as such, the curriculum ideologies become operationalized in both overt and hidden means—constructing subjects and objects of knowledge in active as well as passive ways. Teaching is always a political act, and discussions and debates over curriculum ideologies have a long history within the field of curriculum studies. In terms of its function related to the organization and valuing of knowledge, it remains important to recognize not only the contested nature of the curriculum but also how such contestations have ideological dimensions in the framing of the curriculum. Curriculum ideologies manifest in terms of what might be thought of as values, visions of the future, and venues or forms. This is to say, the curriculum is imbued with processes for valuing assumed choices related to its design, development, and implementation. These choices draw from ideologically based assumptions about the curriculum’s basis in political, economic, historical, sociocultural, psychological, and other realities—whether they be discursive or material in effect. Additionally, these curriculum choices also pertain to the means by which the curriculum achieves these goals or objectives through the formulation of designed experiences, activities, or other forms of learning opportunities. The curriculum—in certain regards as finding principle in the conveying of knowledge through a system of organization related to an outset purpose—has, as a central component to some degree, a vision of a future. The curriculum is something simultaneously constructed and enacted in the present, with often the expressed purpose of having implications and ramifications for the future. The curriculum’s role and purpose in constructing both tested and untested or imagined feasibilities again has to do with some type of vision of learning inflected by ideology. This may even take the form of envisioning a future that is actually a vision of the past in some form, or perhaps a returning to a remembered time that may have existed for some but not others, or by extension a similarly romanticized remembering of a mythic past, for instance. Ultimately, the curriculum, whether translated into practice or in being developed conceptually, is in all likelihood never exclusively one of these, but instead is in all probability an amalgamation of such to differing degrees wherein a multitude of possibilities and combinations exist. Among the key questions of curriculum studies that remain central in terms of both analyzing and theorizing the curriculum are: Whose knowledge counts and what is worthwhile? These questions help to raise to a level of concern the ideological underpinnings of all curricula in ways that through sustained critical dialog might work to collectively build a more sustainably just and equitable world.


Bringing a Humanistic Approach to Special Education Curriculum  

Michelle Parker-Katz and Joseph Passi

Special education curriculum is often viewed as an effort to provide ways for students with disabilities to meet specific academic and socio-/behavioral goals and is also heavily influenced by compliance with multiple legislative policies. Critical paths forward are needed to reshape a special education curriculum by using a humanizing approach in which students’ lived experiences and relatedness to self and others is at the core of study. Intentional study of how students and their families draw upon, develop, and help shape local supports and services that are provided through schools, along with community and governmental agencies and organizations, would become a major part of the new curricular narrative. However, the field of special education has been in large part derived from an epistemology rooted in science, positivism, and the medical model. The dominance of these coalescing epistemologies in educational systems has produced a myriad of structures and processes that implicitly dictate the ways special educators instruct, gather data, and practice. Core among those is a view that disability is synonymous with deficit and abnormality. What emerges is an entrenched and often implicit view that the person with disabilities must be fixed. In adopting a humanistic approach in which we value relationships, the funds of knowledge families have helped develop in their children and the identities individuals shape, and the linkages of persons with multiple community networks, the groundwork could be laid for a new curricular narrative to form. In so doing, the field could get closer to the grounding principle of helping all students with disabilities to thrive. For it is in communities that people can thrive and choose to participate in numerous life opportunities. In such a way curriculum is integral to lived experience, to the fullness and richness of lived experiences—lived experiences that include the study of academic subject matter along with the development of social and emotional learning.


De/colonizing Educational Research  

Kakali Bhattacharya

Decolonizing educational research encompasses the understanding and entanglement of colonialism and decolonizing agendas. Such an understanding includes the colonial history of the world, in which once-colonized and settler colonial nations configure varied, divergent, and overlapping decolonial agendas that can inform educational research. However, such divergent agendas are always in relation to resisting colonizing forces and imagining a utopian future free of colonizing and other interconnected structures of oppression. To represent the shuttling between the present and the utopian imagination, de/colonizing is written with a slash and theorized. De/colonizing educational research requires understanding western intellectual canon-building dating back to the European Enlightenment and disrupting such superiority of knowledge construction through knowledge democracy, intellectual diversity, and pluriversity. De/colonizing educational research is committed to negating and erasing the ontoepistemic violence caused by colonizing and related structures of oppression. Engaging de/colonial approaches to inquiry in education requires restructuring both education and educational research. De/colonizing educational research must include a global agenda while simultaneously marking specific localized agendas. This is how the violence in settler colonial and once-colonized nations can be disrupted, mitigated, and eradicated in educational research, education, and nation-states. Calling for liminal and border work and recognizing that colonizing forces of oppression are not static, de/colonizing educational research advocates for an understanding of fluidity in resistance.


Principals’ and School Leaders’ Roles in Inclusive Education  

Barbara Pazey and Bertina Combes

The United States and other developed countries have acknowledged and supported the rights of students with disabilities to receive an appropriate education for decades. The role of the principal and school leader in overseeing educational programs and ensuring these entitlements become a reality for students with disabilities has taken center stage. Discussions related to principals and school leaders fulfilling the roles of leader and manager on behalf of students with disabilities linked the complementary disciplines of general and special education leadership. The leadership approach they adopted led to debates surrounding the concept of inclusion and the provision of an inclusive education on behalf of students with disabilities. Current definitions of inclusive education are typically linked to concepts of equity, social justice, and recognition of the student’s civil right to be granted full membership in all aspects of the educational enterprise. The processes involved in creating an inclusive school environment require principals and school leaders to examine the values and beliefs that influence their own thinking and behaviors before they can communicate a vision of inclusion. Principals and school leaders must be willing to act in concert with others to create the type of school culture that unanimously and positively responds to difference so every student can achieve full membership and feel welcomed and valued.