Since 1970, education reform in Spain and many other countries has proposed changes to existing school-family relationships. Such school reforms and subsequent legislation are key to the production of norms; that is, they define what a “good” school is and what “good” parents are and, consequently, determine the sort of “good” connections and associations between them. Critical analyses of school-family relationships in school reforms have been carried out in different countries, especially England, questioning their neutrality. Such analyses highlight how power relations are deeply embedded in family-school relationships and throughout different processes and bodies (e.g., interviews, meetings, parents’ associations, and school governing body). Thus, all school reforms have strong implications in terms of inclusion/exclusion, heterogeneity/homogeneity, and equality/inequality. Following a critical policy sociological approach, family-school relations are analyzed in the context of Spanish school reforms since the democratic transition in the 1970s up to the present. In the 1970s and all the way through the 1980s, schools were conceived, at least discursively, as a democratic community where parents, as a collective and as diverse actors, played an important role. Since the 1990s, and especially in the first decade of the 21st century, through small shifts in school reforms and laws, families have become managers and consumers in the form of rational choosers. As in many other countries, notably England, in the first decades of the 21st century, neoliberal rationality sees good parenting and good family-school relations as a neutral issue, hiding behind them a push toward managerialism, individualization, and depoliticization. This involves a new model that has strong and broader implications, particularly in terms of social exclusion, homogenization, and inequalities. The implications of this new model and future research directions are considered in order to rethink current school-family relationships with the aim of promoting more democratic, equitable, and inclusive practices.
The Need for a Critical School-Family Policy Analysis Perspective in the Spanish School Reform Framework
Jordi Collet-Sabé and Antonio Olmedo
Urban Charter Schools
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.
School Choice and Educational Pluralism
Giuseppe Bertagna and Francesco Magni
The early 21st century is an age in which freedoms seem to expand continuously and without limits; in addition to the traditional market freedoms, there is freedom of choice related to gender, to sex, to family, to health, to life and to end of life—to name just a few domains that have embraced the ethos of individual freedom. Nonetheless, in this context of growing freedom for everybody, there is a particular freedom whose “domain” has been limited, especially in Italy: the freedom of choice related to school and education. The constraints placed upon freedom of educational choice defaults, perhaps unintentionally, to a standard orthodoxy enforced by the state and its supposedly omniscient bureaucracy. What is meant by “school choice”? It means the freedom to choose the school, the teachers, the educators, the experiences, and the educational pathways that one supposes best for one’s children, without incurring legal and economic penalties. It also means accepting that the government may regulate the system of state and non-state schools (i.e., it sets out the rules and main goals in terms of the learning and educational values with which teaching institutions should comply). Yet, to balance this, the government, except in cases of exceptional and regulated substitution according to the subsidiarity principle, may not ordinarily manage the organization and functioning of state schools and—more evidently—of non-state schools through a centralized governmental administration. These activities should be left to the individual responsibility of schools, families, companies, private investors, and the institutions of civil society. Last but not least, “school choice” means that the government bears the key responsibility of checking that schools comply with the established rules and values, and that students receive a satisfactory education, and of then making the results of those checks transparent and available for the public. This way, the government can give families very useful information that equips them to make their school choice responsibly.
School Choice and Inclusive Education
The reform of public education through the application of principles of free-market capitalism, particularly notions of competition and choice, has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, reflecting trends in other industrialized countries. The basic assumption is that the competitive pressures of the market, instantiated through various forms of school choice and high-stakes accountability, will necessarily lead to more efficient and effective schools while honoring parents’ right to determine what is best for their children. Concurrently, another group of educational reformers, advocating for the rights of students with disabilities, have pushed for the transformation of schools, with the goal of creating spaces congenial to the range of human differences, including disability. The problem is that the basic assumptions that underpin free-market reforms and the principles of inclusion are incompatible. One of the requirements of school choice, for example, is the production and marketing of data based on standardized assessment practices and standardized curricula. This tendency toward standardization in market-oriented schools, saturated with the ideology of normality, is antithetical to the conception of diversity that informs the desire for inclusive schools.
School Choice Policies in Postapartheid South Africa
Bekisizwe S. Ndimande
School choice is a fairly new phenomenon among Black communities in postapartheid South Africa. “Choice” has historically been state-determined; in other words, parents were instructed where to send their children to school based on race and based on the urban/rural homeland division of Black South Africans. Even after 1994, the new and democratically elected government gave very little direction to schools or school districts as to school choice for the purpose of desegregating public schools; there was no bussing, for example, as in the United States when desegregation started in the 1960s. Nor was there a strong rezoning policy that would force White public schools to give Black students access to White schools. In theory and according to the law, parents could choose to send their children to any school regardless of race. In practice, White schools determined who gained access to their schools through self-created policies based on high tuition fees, exclusive language policies, and self-defined “catchment areas” from which students would be chosen. Together, these strategies effectively excluded the Black poor, even though it provided access to the small numbers of Black middle class parents in the mainly English-medium White schools.
Structural Reforms and Equity in Chilean Schools
Juan Pablo Valenzuela and Carmen Montecinos
After over 30 years of a market model for the provision of educational services in Chile, the expansion of private providers financed through state vouchers, a decrease in public school enrollments, and a highly segregated educational system with unequal learning opportunities sparked in 2006 a social movement demanding changes to the model. In this article we discuss three structural reforms implemented between the years of 2008 and 2016 aiming to increase educational quality, reverse declining enrollments in public schools, the inequitable distribution of learning opportunities, and school segregation. The Preferential School Subsidy Law, passed in 2008, acknowledges that students who are growing up under conditions of social exclusion require extra support, thus in addition to the regular voucher a subsidy is provided to vulnerable students. The Law for School Inclusion, approved in May 2015, involves four main components: expansion of state subsidies, elimination of parental co-payment, elimination of for-profit voucher schools, and elimination of school practices to select students. The National System for Teachers’ Professional Development Law, approved in 2016, addresses improvements in teachers’ working conditions as well as more rigorous requirements for university-based initial teacher preparation programs. After presenting the antecedents and key provisions of each law, we analyze their potential impacts and the risk factors that may attenuate them. Three main areas of risks are addressed: externalities, institutional capacities at various levels of the system, and changes in the economic and political support needed for long-term sustainability.
Parties in Privatizing American Public Education
Leslie S. Kaplan and William A. Owings
The education privatizers (school choice advocates) see public education as a resource-rich marketplace, with charter schools and voucher programs as ways to redirect public dollars to support private ends. By contrast, privatization opponents believe this approach does not improve student outcomes while it undermines public schools and democratic citizenship. Understanding the education privatization agenda and recognizing the political forces shaping it, the players at national and state levels advancing it (often without public awareness), and the research findings on charter school and voucher effectiveness can help educators identify education privatization proposals and comprehend their implications for public schools and communities. In 1999, The Economist touted education as the next big investment zone, “ripe for privatization,” similar to private takeovers in the defense and healthcare industries. Likewise, in his 2012 annual report, Pearson CEO John Fallan asserted, “education will … be the great growth industry of the 21st Century.” It is easy to see why. American public schools spent over $600 billion for the 2013–2014 school year, representing 9% of the U.S. economy. From 2005 to 2011, private venture capital in the education market grew from $13 million to $389 million. With so much public money on the table, investors find tapping into education dollars—with little oversight or liability—an attractive prospect.
Urban Inequalities in Swedish Schools
Segregation, aspects of school choice policy, and symbolic representations are principal structural traits, although not the only ones, that generate and sustain the system of differences and urban inequalities in Swedish schools. Pertinent to all three traits are objectively and symbolically constructed boundaries between places, institutions, and groups. Segregation in an urban context means not just a physical separation of groups with unequal access to material resources and the means of their acquisition (education, network), but also a symbolic collapse of a society into place-making dichotomies: we and them, Swedes and immigrants, suburbs and inner-cities. Assets ostensibly appreciated in the school market, such as a good school and a positive school culture, express the arbitrary nature of their symbolic construction. What is recognized as a good school is equally a matter of statistical figures proving its competitiveness and the assumed qualities of its student composition. Major policy interventions for reducing urban inequalities in schools could be divided into two segments: (a) the reinforcement-oriented policy provides additional support to schools and students in structurally disadvantaged areas, for example, more school personnel, higher salaries for teachers, more teachers in Swedish as a second language; (b) the close down and disperse-oriented policy identifies the very existence of schools with persistently low results in urban contexts as an inequality generating factor. Consequently, in the name of integration and reducing inequalities, those schools are increasingly being closed down and their students dispersed elsewhere. Neither policy has proven its capacity to unwaveringly address urban inequalities in Swedish schools.
Homeschooling in the United States
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.
Private Initiatives in School Reform in India
Disha Nawani and Shinjini Sanyal
School education in independent India was recognized as an important priority for state support, as it was neglected under the colonial regime. However, due to perceived financial challenges, it was placed in the newly (1950) drafted Constitution under Directive Principles of State Policy, which were nonjusticiable. Although the state provided for school education for the majority of Indian children, there remained several limitations in terms of access, equity, and equality for children belonging to disadvantaged communities. As a result, in India, the private sector, both for profit and nonprofit, played an important role in providing educational access to children. Between 1950 and the 1990s, the government school system struggled, and several learning surveys reported poor learning of school children, especially those studying in government schools. Concurrently, the private sector spread its influence and work in spaces not just for the rich but for the poor as well, and profit became a legitimate central concern. In the mid-1990s, the state initiated a rather aggressive policy of structural economic reform, leading to liberalization, privatization, and globalization. All this was justified in a neoliberal environment where the state started to withdraw from social sectors like health and education, on one hand, and private sector participation was hailed, on the other, in the name of efficiency, accountability, and performance. Public–private partnership became the new buzzword justifying any kind of relationship between the state and private actors.
School Markets and Educational Inequality in the Republic of Ireland
Educational inequality is a persistent feature on the landscape of Irish educational history, and it remains a significant issue in the early part of the 21st century. There have been significant efforts at school reform in recent decades to intervene in a system that continues to provide significantly different outcomes based on socioeconomic position and background. These differentiated outcomes continue to be exacerbated by structural inequalities in the lives of people as well as by an increasing focus on neoliberal market principles in education. Interschool competition, particularly at the postprimary level, has fueled an ever-increasing marketplace where schools vie for desirable middle-class students through media-published school league tables. Indeed, this competitive landscape is partly constructed by an intense and high stakes race for third level places in Ireland. Nevertheless, significant policy measures have also been aimed at leveling the playing field and providing opportunities for people in communities that are more marginalized in terms of economic status and educational outcomes. Some of these policy interventions have had some impact in terms of retention in postprimary school, including the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools program; curricular interventions into education such as the Junior Certificate Schools Programme; the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme; and the allocation of additional teaching resources to schools experiencing marginalization. Schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route and the Disability Access Route to Education have also done important work in terms of ameliorating opportunities for students from marginalized economic groups and students with disabilities, respectively. However, there are overarching sociopolitical ideologies that work to maintain educational inequality in Ireland, such as the significant impact of neoliberal choice policies on schools in communities experiencing poverty and educational marginalization. These neoliberal ideas are characterized by increasing focus on outcomes, testing and assessment, school and teacher accountabilities, within-school and between-school competition in terms of admissions policies, and “syphoningoff” high-achieving students (academically, musically, sports, etc.), and they often manifest in blunt instruments such as school league tables. These policies often benefit citizens with wealth and cultural capital who use their position to distance themselves educationally from the complexity and diversity of everyday society in favor of academic and cultural silos that work to reproduce advantage for the elite sectors of society.