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Article

Elite School Education Group Policy and Low-Performing Schools in China  

Yu Zhang and Xuan Qi

Education inequality has been a challenging issue worldwide, and disparity across schools constitutes a significant proportion of total inequality. Effective policies to turn around low-performing schools (LPS) are therefore of great importance to both governments and students. The Elite School Education Group (ESEG) policy is an emerging one, and it has quickly become very influential in China, a country with one of the largest and most diversified education systems in the world. Under this policy, elite public schools (EPS), which have exceptionally enriched educational resources (i.e., high-quality teachers, strong principal leadership, excellent school cultures, etc.), are encouraged by the government to build school groups with LPS. Within the school group under the elite school brand, branch schools (i.e., the previous LPS) can share all kinds of resources from the EPS (including teachers and principals), and they may even utilize the prestige of the brand itself as a means to attract high-performing students. The ESEG policy enables the delivery of multiple turnaround interventions to LPS in an autonomous way, through building partnerships between EPS and LPS. While some LPS are successfully turned around, some are not. It depends on the effectiveness of the reforms undertaken in the branch schools. Of particular importance is the access to strong principal leadership, excellent teachers, and the school cultures from EPS. Incentives for EPS to participate in this reform include obtaining flexibility in personnel management, expanding school scale and influence, and mobilizing other resources. Despite the potential positive influence on the branch schools, the ESEG policy may have a more complex influence on the entire education ecology than initially expected. Indeed, there are now some concerns that the ESEG is creating new LPS, because more and more high-performing students are drawn out of normal schools and attracted to the ESEG-partnered schools during admission. Thus, the effectiveness of the ESEG policy should not be solely based on attracting high-performing students, but on improving overall education quality.

Article

Comparison in Qualitative Research  

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.