Saturday, March 19, 2011

Education Policy

All the countries discussed in the Adolino and Blake text have expressed a concern about the ability of their education systems to produce a highly educated, flexible and skilled workforce, a workforce that is competitive in an increasingly interdependent world. Some variability does exist on the locus of attention, whereas the U.S. has concentrated on the primary and secondary levels (as did the Blair government in its first term); others have been more concerned with the tertiary level. U.S. policy makers and stakeholders have identified the Achilles heel of the education system to be the primary-secondary levels, whereas, the other countries have identified the tertiary level to be the most problematic level.

This variability can partly be explained by the fact that the U.S. higher education system is broadly construed to be effective in producing highly qualified and skilled individuals, and to be the dominant force in global higher education, consider for example, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) which has 17 American universities in the top twenty (54 in the top 100. The fact that American universities seem to be at the top of the higher education totem pole, means that concern over this area of education policy is not acute (though concern does exist especially in the science and engineering fields). It is also possible that the more open and independent higher education system (broad mix of private and public institutions) in America, where government plays a largely support role (funding), is less amenable to public policy interventions than other countries. Where government is responsible for the provision of higher education, governments can more easily influence and reform the activities of these entities. This is the case in the other nations, though not the United States.

A “crisis” may not have been identified at the American tertiary level, but one has existed at the primary and secondary levels for quite sometime (Sputnik) and numerous attempts have been made to reform these sectors. The current push has been focused on introducing more competition, choice and other market oriented accountability systems to the overall provision and management of the education system. The NCLB introduced a focus on math, science and meeting state and federal standards. Arguments have been made that this has turned schools into test-prep academies, where education has been reduced to only the core subjects (math, English and science) with other subjects (art, music) neglected much to the detriment of the students. There has also been a push toward holding teachers and schools accountable for the failures of their students to achieve state/federal standards. This has meant principals losing jobs, failing schools being shutdown et cetera. With both Republicans and Democrats singing from the same hymnal on accountability and choice (witness NCLB and elements of the Race to the Top), it is clear that these elements of school reform shall continue into the future.


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