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The Norwegian Case of School Reform, External Quality Control, and the Call for Democratic Practice  

Ann Elisabeth Gunnulfsen and Eivind Larsen

Traditionally, the Norwegian education system has been built on equality and democracy as core values, but the disappointing results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) introduced the perception of a “crisis in education” and increased the occurrence of national reform initiatives. New assessment policies with an emphasis on performance measurement and emerging accountability practices have characterized the transition processes over the last decade. With increasing focus on monitoring based on performance indicators, there is a risk that the purpose of promoting democracy in schools will be downplayed by instrumental and managerial regulations. However, the Norwegian school reform of curriculum renewal in 2020 also highlights democracy and participation as separate interdisciplinary themes and includes a concrete elaboration of this topic, which strongly emphasizes that schools should promote democratic values and attitudes as a counterweight to prejudice and discrimination. To obtain more knowledge about how school professionals deal with possible tensions and dilemmas in their work with the contemporary reform, it is important to unpack the interplay between managerial accountability based on performance indicators and identify how educators legitimize their work on promoting democracy in schools. To capture the dynamic nature of educational leadership and the daily subtle negotiation, a micropolitical perspective and theory on democratic agency were used to analyze theoretical and empirical material from two larger studies focusing on certain aspects of school reforms in Norwegian lower secondary schools. The findings suggest that educational professionals respond to the policy of inclusion through negotiating and translating tensions between equalizing students’ life chances and being subjected to collective monitoring and control. The findings also illuminate stories characterized by a predominantly individualistic interpretation of the democratic purpose of education and the challenges and opportunities involved in balancing academic achievement with students’ well-being.

Article

School Boards  

Michael Ford

School boards are a fixture of America’s public education system. The vast majority of public school students obtain an education overseen by one of over 13,000 locally elected school boards. Yet scholars and advocates continue to debate the legitimacy, efficacy, and even need for school boards. Supporters argue that school boards are bastions of local control designed to represent citizen values. Critics dismiss school boards as under qualified, overly political, and generally not up to the task of improving student outcomes. Key areas of school board research include board zones of discretion, superintendent relations, the link between school board governance and outcomes, and role of special interest groups in board elections. All of these research areas relate to the larger question of whether school boards are the appropriate model for the oversight of public education.

Article

School Culture  

Diana Gonçalves Vidal and André Paulilo

Over the past several decades, scholars have focused special attention on the relationship between schooling and culture. The first forays focused on curriculum matters, trying to understand how educational policies affected the selection of content and its dissemination in schools. More recently, the concept of school culture has emerged as a frame for researchers, thanks to its ability to problematize how teachers and pupils experience school in terms of time and space. Placing these individuals in the center of the schooling process, the concept of school culture enables scholars to create a more comprehensive analysis of what happens inside classrooms and schoolyards. This tool offers an opportunity for researchers and teachers to debate the merits of tradition and innovation in education, pay attention to material culture as a part of school practices, and consider school community as a social actor. The concept has become commonplace in the academic production in many areas, such as educational sociology, history of education, educational anthropology, philosophy of education, and educational psychology.

Article

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and School Leadership in Action  

Tomoko Takahashi

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) was a geographer, elementary school teacher and principal, and educational reformer, who was active in the early-to-mid 1900s in Japan. As a school leader and scholar-practitioner guided by a passion for supporting teachers and improving education for the happiness of children, Makiguchi scrutinized pedagogy as a science and proposed a number of reforms of the Japanese education system, key elements of which, he believed, were failing teachers and students alike. His proposals included, among many: the establishment of standards of competency expected of school principals as well as a system of examination to uphold these standards; the abolition of a government-led school inspection system that pressured and restricted teachers from freely conducting teaching activities; and the establishment of an “education research institute” and an organization for the training of teachers. The growing number of modern educational scholars and practitioners paying attention to Makiguchi’s work and philosophy find his ideas not only valid and applicable to education in the 21st century but also remarkably innovative and insightful. His proposal for school leadership was still but a voice in the wilderness in the 1930s. It was also a bold and audacious attempt for him, especially at the time of the militarist regime. Makiguchi is often compared with his contemporary John Dewey (1859–1952). Evidently, Makiguchi and Dewey were both visionaries, passionate school leaders, and fearless reformers. Bearing this in mind, Makiguchi deserves much more attention than he has received thus far—at least as much as Dewey, if we are to balance the historical account of progressive education as a transnational phenomenon.