Symposium on Applying Market Principles to Education

The Swedish Academy of Sciences held an international symposium on the ideas and consequences of market principles in education earlier this month. It covered two themes: consequences of school choice for the efficiency and equity of schooling; and the consequences of market principles for systems of governance, accountability and the teaching professions.

Several papers were presented by internationally renowned scholars. Here are short summaries of some of the papers.

Does ‘school choice’ increase the social good?
This presentation outlines the rationale for school choice and how it works ‘on the ground’, with a particular focus on the UK experience. School choice is intrinsically linked to efforts to make the school system more competitive. Broadly speaking, parents have greater freedom to choose schools and institutions that don’t attract pupils pay the price in terms of reduced funding. This is supposed to make schools try harder to improve their performance.

Although ‘school choice’ is meant to increase parental freedom, in practice it benefits higher socio-economic groups more than others. Furthermore, UK evidence suggests that increased choice and competition has not led to higher educational standards.

Sandra McNally, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London.

Evaluating the consequences of educational privatization
Although market approaches to education have typically been evaluated along only a single dimension, educational achievement, the goals of education in a democratic society require a more comprehensive system of evaluation. In the last two decades, we have set out four criteria for evaluation based upon societal goals for education: (1) magnitude and range of freedom of choice; (2) productive efficiency including a range of educational outcomes relative to resource constraints; (3) equity in distribution of access, resources, and outcomes; and (4) social cohesion in forming a society with common values and participation in major institu¬tions. We have identified three policy levers to design choice systems that meet these criteria: finance, regulation, and support services. These analytic features and their implications will be described and applied to the Swedish, Dutch, and Chilean educational systems. Emphasis will be placed upon the potential tradeoffs among the criteria and their consequences.

Henry M. Levin, William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

School decentralisation as a process of differentiation, hierarchization and selection
The lecture will take the Austrian “school autonomy policy” as an example for discussing pos-sible processes and effects of school decentralisation policies. Data from school case studies based on qualitative interviews and document analysis) will be used to analyse and interpret the processes by which schools and teachers take up policy innovations and translate it into action and structures on school and classroom level. The argument will be complemented by additional performance and student classroom perception data from quantitative studies. The main argument will be that Austrian decentralization policy – although not explicitly based on a market approach – has resulted in processes of differentiation and hierarchization of schools and classes and has offered new legitimatory and practical opportunities for student selection.

Herbert Altrichter, Professor of Education at the Department of Education and Psychology, University of Linz, Austria.

Impacts of student testing on standards of achievement: myths and reality
Starting with the myth that ‘testing drives up standards’, evidence is considered from re-search into the effects of student testing programmes in England and the USA. We also look at impacts of such programmes on the curriculum content and pedagogy experienced by students. The consequences of setting targets for student achievement include widening the gap between the higher and lower achieving students, degrading the quality of data about students’ learning (as captured in Goodhart’s Law) and using ‘levels’ to label students. Tests that can be taken by every individual student are of lower reliability and validity than is usually recognised. Monitoring standards at national, local and school levels requires a wider range of data than can be obtained from such tests if the data are to be of use in educational policy and decision-making.

Wynne Harlen, Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Bristol.

For more information on the symposium see the Swedish Academey of Sciences

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