Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy and School Outcomes
reviewed by John G. Boswell - October 04, 2006
Title: Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy and School Outcomes
Author(s): Wayne Hoy and Cecil Miskel (Eds)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 159311477X , Pages: 243, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com
Research in education is in a struggle with historical knowledge and practice, politics, capitalism (as in textbook and testing companies desire to make a profit), and sheer inertia for the attention of the professional audience. Public policy making itself is permeated by half lies, outright lies, manipulation, conniving, single-mindedness, power wielding, fear mongering, etc., with an occasional dollop of rational information. A question those of us in academe are faced with is how to insert a dollop of rational information into this highly political and often unethical decision-making process.
This book is a collection of well done research studies, most of which have earlier appeared in Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy and School Outcomes. The nine studies look into a broad range of issues. The first deals with formation of professional coalitions around state reading policy and is followed immediately with one on extreme advocacy coalitions around state reading policy. Another study is built around the proposition that values politics are becoming more central in political discourse. The authors focus on the No Child Left Behind program, specifically on the use of the morality of closing the achievement gap in silencing questions and opposition.
Another reports on the democratic representativeness, or lack thereof, of charter schools. Using a framework developed by R. A. Dahl (Allen, 2006) on the necessary characteristics of democratic representation, they conclude thatthough their data is not conclusivecharter schools are not really representative. Finally, there is an examination of kindergarten education in an era of accountability. The conclusion is that teaching content is driving activities that foster natural development out of the curriculum.
Well done though these studies are, they deal more with prescriptions than with propositional knowledge that is the basis of ultimate goals. For example, why are we still battling over two methods of teaching reading? If we really believe that children have individual styles of learning, there can be no one best method of teaching reading. The ultimate goal of teaching reading is not just high test scores, but self-motivated, continued reading. Arguing over methodology will not get us there.
Herbert Hoover ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1931 using economics to argue his way out of the Great Depression. Roosevelt used the immorality of letting the marketplace make little people suffer and won a crushing victory. Actually, Hoover initiated a number of the programs that Roosevelt later took credit for, but Roosevelt was simply in a long line of those who beat their opponents to a pulp with half truths. And, the use of morality to shut up opponents of No Child Left Behind is old news.
As far as lack of representativeness of charter schools is concerned, there are two observations to be made. One is that state legislatures regularly redraw congressional district lines to ensure that the party that controls the state legislature also controls the congressional delegation. That used to be called gerrymandering and was bad, but times have changed and fairness in representation is mostly an academic preoccupation. Second, when Congress has difficult decisions to make, such as military base closings, it hands them off to an appointed commission with the stipulation that the commissions decision will be voted on as a whole, and not in pieces. Participants in the democratic process are now presumed to act in their own self interest.
Finally, in 1972, Harry Gracey published Curriculum or Craftsmanship in which he studied teaching styles in several elementary schools. He divided teachers into two categories: craftsmen who concentrated on tailoring the curriculum to the child, and production teachers who taught what was in the curriculum to the child whose task was to absorb it. His conclusion was that craftsman teachers, with their emphasis on natural development, were losing the battle.
The reason for this is that we live in a society that is dominated by capitalistic enterprise, and the production method is projected into every social endeavor. In the February 1975 issue of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphias Business Review, the topic was Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools. The economist authors of this report put the production model this way:
Economists have something to say about the efficiency and equity in education because they look at learning in a way which is analogous to a production process. Educational achievement, like shoes, canned tuna, and clean streets can be regarded as the output of a production process.
The process begins with something in a relatively unfinished state-the genetically and environmentally developed first grader, the leather, the writhing tuna, and the littered streets. Inputs of labor, capital and organization are applied and an output results. (Summers & Wolfe, 1975).
Actually, the authors went on to report some findings that the professional community would find agreeable: smaller schools, small classes, and teacher education were positive inputs. Why is it taking so long for these latter observations to trickle into school practice?
An issue that is integral to every study in this collection is the difference in assessing performance in private and public institutions. GM knew it had a problem when its costs exceeded its income, when its products were not being purchased, and when its shares on the stock market dropped. Bankruptcy loomed; changes had to be made. In public institutions there is no substitute for money as the method of measurement. Any standard can be argued as being unfair, inadequate, ineffective, and just plain wrong. There is no incentive for bureaucrats to deal with failure.
The major goal for programs in education policy has to be how to make the knowledge generated by research accessible and relevant to society. Questions such as who is our audience, how can we catch their attention, and how can we broaden our reach are questions to which faculty and students need to devote attention. The studies in this book are perfect for a professor who is interested not only in the studies as research, but also as places from which to examine the broad context in which education policy is made. The profession has to get beyond providing an occasional dollop of rational information for others to interpret.
Allen, A. (2006). Representation in the Age of Choice: Implications for Policy and Research. In W. Hoy & C. Miskel (Eds.), Contemporary Issues in Educational Policy and School Outcomes (pp. 51-73). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Gracey, H. L. (1972). Curriculum or Craftsmanship. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
Summers, A. A. & Wolfe, B. L. (1975, February). Which school resources help learning? Efficiency and equity in Philadelphia public schools. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Business Review, p. 6.