Whitty, G., Power, S. & Halpin, D. (1998). Devolution and choice: The school, the state and the market. Melbourne: The Australian Council for Educational Research.Despite being considered 'early days' in the restructuring of our educational system, already a significant body of research has been conducted into its effects. 'Devolution and Choice in Education' is a wonderfully readable review of the emergent research - with some timely warnings and suggestions. 'Empirical details' and the 'theoretical bigger picture' are brought together to allow the reader not merely an understanding of the restructuring but also the wider societal impact. The provision of thought-provoking findings is valuable for guiding present decision making so the positive outcomes that are expected are encouraged.
From the outset the authors declare their perspective as sociologists of education and comment that current writings in their field regarding devolution emit negative convictions. Research findings on many facets of devolution are reported and discussed, however the authors' particular focus is on how equity of educational provision is affected.
The initial section of the book is devoted to an account of the process of devolution in five countries - England and Wales, Australia, USA, New Zealand and Sweden. Comparisons are made with a view to noting similarities in policy and allowing critical evaluation of our own developments. It was enlightening to review progress and findings from the four other nations, however the information on the Australian situation was sufficient in itself to be seen as a valuable summary of our state of development at the time of writing.
The much touted 'liberating' policies of devolution - of localised control of finances and management, of parental rights to choice of schools and of the encouragement of school diversity were discussed. Schools are clearly to operate in more of a business-like way, administering and marketing themselves. Paradoxically though, research findings showed central control had actually increased in each of the five countries through curriculum and performance edicts.
The next section of the book concentrates on the effects of devolved systems on school staff. The new roles Principals are expected to adopt as financial and administrative managers and marketers indicate their power is consolidating and hierarchical school profiles are developing. This is in contrast to the 'flatter' professional profiles promised by devolution advocates. Indeed, the gap between teachers and Principals is seen as broadening as the latter devote more time to the above duties and are forced to shed academic leadership.
Of great concern is the evidence presented denying support for claims that devolution will increase teacher autonomy and professionalism, or, even more alarmingly, student attainments. There was one aspect that had increased in Australia as well as other countries - yes, you guessed it - workload! Teachers perceived those actively involved in committees were viewed more favourably, hence the pressure to devote time to activities outside the classroom.
Also worrying is the increased emphasis on 'outcomes' causing 'product' to be the centre of attention in curriculum at the cost of 'process'. Unfortunately the relative paucity of research conducted on the effects of the restructuring in the classroom doesn't allow a clear overview of this important sphere. Changes in the degree and style of community involvement also concerned the authors as they predicted parents with 'expertise', time and/or money being valued above less willing or able parents thus encouraging divisions that are already in society.
The final section of the book encourages the reader to apply their conclusions from the research to the institutional level and the communities in which they are found.
The authors highlight concerns that advantaged areas and their schools will go from strength to strength while disadvantaged schools will find it difficult to break out of a downward spiral. Various ameliorating strategies that have been trialled in times past are discussed. In conclusion the argument is presented that the imbalance in societies cannot be healed by individual schools acting in self-centred ways but by authorities fulfilling their duty to make equal education practically available to all. Can we achieve a better balance between collective responsibility (bureaucratic control) and schools being in the market place?
Faculty of Education
Sturman, A. (1997). Social justice in education. Melbourne: The Australian Council for Educational Research.Any publication with social justice in the title is welcome in 'hard times'. To those of us who cut our academic teeth during the heady days of the Whitlam government and the establishment of the Schools Commission, it has been dismaying and disorienting to see how the social democratic discourses which shaped educational policy have given way to alien (once!) discourses of managerialism and economic rationalism. Much of this happened, paradoxically, under the subsequent Labor government of Hawke and Keating, and many saw ourselves as entering the 'Age of Dawkeness'.
Sturman's book provides a conceptual mapping of social justice and education policy, as well as an attempt to reconstruct these policies in the prevailing time of economic restraint.
Chapter 1 is difficult to understand but nevertheless important. Social justice is a slippery concept and Sturman draws a map of the political, intellectual and discourse heritage which has shaped our construction of this key policy issue in Australian education. He traces how policy has shifted from a 'formalist' emphasis on provision and access to universal education, through to 'compensatory actualism' brought about by the Schools Commission's introduction of the Rawlsian notion of the distribution social goods on the basis of need. Sturman then documents how the downturn in global capitalism has led policy makers to turn their attention away from the redistribution of resources in the interest of equality, to the harnessing of resources for wealth production.
Chapters 2-4 are useful as sources of information about the various policies, programmes and strategies that have operated during the last two decades. It's great to have this detail in one publication rather than having to shift and search between texts and web-sites.
Chapter 5 is one that - as a silly old social democrat, who has been somewhat depressed by the hegemonic power of the "new order" - I was looking forward to. In the introduction to the book Sturman wrote that in Chapter 5 he was going to draw together the themes covered "in order to provide a reconceptualisation of social justice and a consideration of some of the possible strategies that may lead to greater equities in outcomes from education" (p. xiv)
Does Sturman provide us with the intellectual and strategic insight necessary to regenerate hope? Maybe this is asking too much? As we run from the godzilla of global capitalism is it possible to have fair and just educational policies? I'm afraid Chapter 5 disappoints me. Not that Sturman fails to highlight what seem to be key concerns. He argues that a commitment to needs-based funding and to increased funding for government schools is a sin qua non of a broad social justice policy. I agree. He also draws our attention to the problems of targeting programmes - are individuals, groups, or regions appropriate? - and evaluating their impact. In the final analysis, however, I feel the chapter lacks a 'big picture' synthesis and coherence. There are too many subheadings and the overall structure of the argument is lost in the detail. Lingard's (1997) treatment of similar territory is much more elegant and conceptually clear.
Perhaps I am being unfair. The terrain covered in this book is vast and complex and Sturman is to be congratulated on getting social justice back in the publications.
School of Education
Edith Cowan University
Piper, K. (1997). Riders in the chariot: Curriculum reform and the national interest, 1965-1995. Melbourne: The Australian Council for Educational Research.Riders in the chariot is the thirty-eighth in the Australian Education Review series on issues of critical importance to Australian education published by the Australian Council for Educational Research. This series is written for a general audience and endeavours to present a broad discussion of national education issues.
The author has served as Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, where he was coordinator of research on the compulsory years of schooling and head of the Program Evaluation Unit. He clearly outlines the structure of the review in a brief introductory chapter, which is followed by four substantial chapters, which critically analyse the key areas of the review:
The process of curriculum development is explored in Chapter 2 .... Chapter 3 tackles the contentious issue of curriculum content ... Chapter 4 looks at issues of structure and function ... Chapter 5 is concerned with the vexed question of assessment and its relationship to curriculum ... The final chapter attempts to bring the various threads of the argument together to provide a more integrated and cohesive overview of the issues surrounding national curriculum development and reform (pp. 4-6).
The administrators of Australian Education Departments have generally been hesitant to relinquish any control over matters of school education. Thus while calls for a national approach to curriculum have been increasing in recent decades no coherent plan has been implemented. The debate over the national curriculum has been complicated by an educational philosophy that emerged from the 1960's in which the responsibility for the school curriculum has been increasingly regarded as an area of local school accountability. Piper critically analyses the involvement of successive Australian Federal Governments in the shaping of school curriculum. The Commonwealth Government has over the past three decades increasingly come to regard education as important to the well-being of the nation. The author argues that the challenge facing curriculum reformers is to reconcile demands for professional curriculum autonomy, which is essential to the implementation and maintenance of any reform process, with the emerging demand that all Australian students should be entitled to adequate access to valid and reliable knowledge during their schooling which is compatible with the well-being of the nation.
The review is handled with a measure of expertise and clarity. The chapters flow logically from one to the next climaxing in the final chapter appropriately titled, "Nostalgia for the Future". In particular the chapter on assessment is logical, highly relevant, current and clearly delineates how assessment is interwoven and interlocked with curriculum development and reform.
While most publications on educational topics can be dull for readers with little or no professional interest in education, they should find this book both interesting and worthwhile. Much of the writing style is not easily recognisable as that of an academic researcher. Occasionally memorable quotations are interwoven into the text. For example the quotes that introduce each chapter such as "changing the curriculum entails all the physical and psychological difficulties of shifting a cemetery" give the reader an Ausubelian advance organiser for the chapter content. Other memorable quotes and statements assist the publication to be more than merely another text on curriculum issues. For example: "one person's collaboration is another person's conspiracy; one person's reform is another person's vandalism; one person's quality is another's elitism," and "change within institutions does not occur because of the old fear that in expanding their vision (individuals) may lose their grasp," and the inclusion of Garth Boomer's statement that "assessment packages should be required to carry toxicity warnings," all add a touch of humour, interest and readability to the text. Also the homespun philosophical statements that conclude each chapter leaves the reader with a clearer understanding of the preceding discussion. For example the conclusion of the first chapter introduces the significance of the review: "it is almost as if each new generation must re-invent the curriculum wheel before it can repair its chariot. It is the perception of a rather rickety chariot in urgent need of an overhaul that has prompted this review."
Piper reveals a fine level of scholarship and research with few evident weaknesses. The book is thoroughly researched and the sources are intelligently and thoroughly pursued. The list of references is extensive. In short, the writer achieves his objectives. It is highly recommended to all professional educators and non-professionals alike who are interested not only in curricular reform in Australian schools but also social history.
Edith Cowan University
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