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.
Neoliberalism is a political project carried out by the capitalist class to consolidate their ability to generate profits by exercising influence in political processes, such as elections, in order to privatize or direct state institutions and regulatory powers in ways favorable to their interests. These efforts coincide the propagation of a neoliberal common sense that is grounded in an understanding of all aspects of society in economic terms of competition in markets and return on investment. However, in practice, neoliberalism does not promote competitive markets as much as it results in the privatization of public institutions and creation of new sites for private investment through state policies. The field of education, traditionally a site of local democratic control, is increasingly subject to neoliberal governance, as elected school boards are consolidated under appointed leadership, district schools are replaced by charter schools, and school resources, such as curriculum, testing, and even the training of teachers, are provided by private companies. Neoliberalism frames the purpose of education in terms of investments made in the development of students’ human capital. What students should learn and the value of education is relative to their individual prospects for future earnings. This narrowed conception of education raises important questions about the purpose of education and the relationship between schools, democratic life, and state governance. Developing a critical relationship with neoliberal common sense is necessary in order to recognize both how actually existing neoliberal policies primarily serve the interests of capitalists and that there are other, democratic, sources of value and purpose that can ground debates and efforts in the field of education.
It is evident that in many educational systems there has been a partial dissolution of the traditional single school model towards more flexible modes of organizational link-up, taking the form of increased collaboration among schools. The early 21st-century climate of rapid technological change creates a need for collective knowledge creation and information sharing at classroom, school, and system level. Different forms of networks, collaboratives, and federations have become an established part of many educational landscapes and have arisen for a number of reasons. Some have been “imposed” on schools, others have been “incentivized” by the offer of external funding, but many have arisen because of the efforts of educational leaders who want to “make a difference” in their locality, which assumes their essential “good.” Within education, networks are regarded as one of the most promising levers for large-scale reform due to their potential to re-culture both the environment and the system in which policy-makers operate through increased cooperation, interconnectedness, and multi-agency. School networks contribute to capacity-building across the education service through the production of multiple solutions for potential, multifaceted, and intractable problems. Networks foster innovation, providing a test bed for new ideas while offering a platform for gradual innovation, distributing the risks and the workloads among different schools. Moreover, they provide capacity-building, reflective practice, and an inquiry frame of mind besides raising achievement and enhancing student outcomes through the sharing of resources and professional expertise. Networks enable schools to overcome their isolationism and move to form community relationships. Notwithstanding the benefits generated by collaboration, some of the ambiguities surrounding the setting up of school networks focus on: network purpose; collaborative inertia; collaboration and accountability; trust and relationships; conscription and volunteerism; identity and autonomy; competition and cooperation; lateral agency; and power inequality. There is no simple, single solution to leading networks, due to the very nature of a network making it difficult to define who its leaders are, resulting in leadership that is defined by activity rather than by formal position.
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.
There is an integral and reciprocal relationship between democracy and education. Democracy is more than a political system or process, it is also a way of life that requires certain habits and dispositions of citizens, including the need to balance individual rights with commitments and responsibilities toward others. Currently, democracy is under threat, in part because of the shallow and reductive ways it has been taken up in practice. Understanding the historical relationship between democracy and education, particularly how democracy was positioned as part of the development of public schools, as well as current approaches to democratic schooling, can help to revitalize the democratic mission of education. Specifically, schools have an important civic role in cultivating in students the habits and dispositions of citizenship, including how to access information, determine the veracity of claims, think critically, research problems, ask questions, collaborate with others, communicate ideas, and act to improve the world. Curriculum, pedagogy, and organizational structures are unique in democratic schools. Developing an active, inquiry-based curriculum; using a problem-posing pedagogy; and organizing schools such that students develop habits of responsibility and social engagement provide our best hope for revitalizing democracy and ensuring that it is not simply an empty slogan but a rich, participatory, justice-oriented way of life.
Harald Thuen and Nina Volckmar
Comprehensive schooling has been a cornerstone in the development of the Norwegian welfare state since World War II. Over the years it has been extended, initially from 7 to 9 years and later to 10-year compulsory schooling, since the late 1990s including virtually all Norwegian children between the ages of 6 and 16. In education policy, the interests of the community versus the individual have played a key role, reflected in a line of conflict between the political left and right. During the first three to four decades after the war, through the Labor Party, the left wing was in power and developed education policy according to a social-democratic model. The ideal of equality and community in schools had precedence. The vision was to create a school for all that had a socially and culturally unifying effect on the nation and its people. Social background, gender, and geographical location should no longer create barriers between pupils. Ideally, school was to be understood as a “miniature democracy,” where pupils would be trained in solidarity and cooperation. Compulsory schooling was thus regarded as an instrument for social integration and for evening out social inequalities. But one challenge remained: How could a common school for all best take care of the individual needs of each pupil? The principle of individualized teaching within the framework of a common school was incorporated in the education policy of social democracy and was subjected to experimentation and research from an early stage. But with the political shift to the right toward the 2000s, a sharper polarization can be observed between the interests of the community versus the interests of the individual. The political right profiles education policy in opposition to the left-wing emphasis on the social purpose of the school system. In the early 21st century, the interests of knowledge, the classroom as a learning arena, and the performance of each pupil take precedence. Based on the model of New Public Management, a new organizational culture is taking shape in the school system. Where the political left formed its policy from the perspective of “equality” during the first postwar decades, the right is now forming it from the perspective of “freedom.” And this is taking place without significant opposition from the left. The terms “equality” and “equity” provide the framework for the analysis of the changing polarity between collective and individual considerations and between pupils’ freedom and social solidarity in postwar education.
Sarah M. Stitzlein
Public schools are intricately connected to the stability and vitality of our democracy in the United States. The important relationship between public schooling and democracy began as a foundational idea in our fledgling republic, and it grew slowly over the course of our country’s history. Along the way, the relationship has been tested and challenged, encountering significant problems and limitations over time, including some that continue today. Despite these struggles and the many ways in which we’ve failed to fully fulfill the relationship, it has become a key one for maintaining the strength of our society and our political system. Unlike a monarchy and other forms of government, it is difficult to maintain a democracy. Democracies take work; they rely upon the ongoing effort of elected officials and citizens, because they cannot run themselves or rely on just one person to lead. While democracy may be a highly desirable political system, its benefits are not always self-evident to children, and the pursuant skills and work it requires do not come naturally to most people. This is the rather precarious position of democracy; in order to maintain it, we have to educate children about its benefits and rationale while also equipping them with the skills and dispositions they need in order to for them to perpetuate it well. This is why we must link education and democracy. Democracy requires informed and active voters who seek information to make wise decisions on behalf of themselves and the common good. Such voters must understand their own rights and freedoms, as well as those of others, as they deliberate together to reach mutually agreeable policies and practices. They must be equipped to engage in free and critical inquiry about the world and the problems surrounding them. And, they need the imagination and creativity to construct, revise, add to, and share the story of democracy with others, including the next generation. The relationship between public schooling and democracy is best understood and fulfilled when it is not just a unidirectional one, where public schools support democracy, but rather when it moves in both directions, with the formal and cultural elements of democracy shaping the governance, content, and practices of schools. In this way, democracy is not just the end of public schooling, but also the means by which we achieve it.
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.