23 SES 08 A, Policies of Parental School Choice
Finland has a long tradition in constructing an equal, homogenous and unified public comprehensive school. The global neoliberal ideas adopted in education policy in the 1990’s were embodied in various measures for restructuring the unified comprehensive school. One element of the new policy was the opening up of opportunities for free school choice, which was a major change in Finnish comprehensive education and a departure in the Nordic-style ideology of educational equality, in general. The new policy encourages schools to differentiate and to specialize in their own areas of strength. “Taking profiles” and developing strong areas are thought to improve the overall level of education. It is now considered equally important that a number of top schools known for their excellence can be created.
The role of the parents in the emergence of the school choice policy deserves special attention in that they have been more bystanders than initiating actors. The school choice policy has not been implemented due to demand from the public or parents of school-aged children. The power players behind the neoliberal policy changes in Finland are the national power elite, employer and business interest groups, as well as the high level state officials in the central administration, and the representatives of the political right. Today, increasing the individual freedom to choose is one of the strongest slogans of the political right.
School choice in Finland, as well as in most countries, is particularly exercised by highly educated, well-off families whose children do well in school. The school choice is quite strongly classed. In many qualification-conscious societies that have reached far in their aim for equality, speaking of social class and inequalities between classes is considered to be "politically incorrect". Researchers emphasizing the importance of individualization and cultural values see that class has lost its explanatory power in the study of people’s careers and societal divisions (e.g. Waters 1994; Beck 2001). The decreasing relevance of social class in explaining social differences can also be seen in the weakening link between one’s class position and his/her identity, life style, and consumption. The critics of the relevance social class also point out that people no longer identify with political and ideological ideas on class basis: the class position no longer determines one’s voting behavior and political thinking. However, the association between social class and voting behaviour varies from country to another, and is a matter of empirical research.
In this paper, we analyze the effects of social class and party identification of the parents on the exercise of school choice, and on attitudes towards school choice policy and educational equality.
The research problem of the study can be formulated as follows: What kind of relationship is there between political identification and the strength of support of school choice policy, schooling strategies and educational values and attitudes of parents? The research problem, in turn, can be devided in three questions: (1) How do the schooling strategies and the school choice behaviour differ between parents identifying themselves with different political parties? (2) How do the attitudes towards school choice policies, educational values and attitudes differ between parents identifying themselves with different political parties? (3) What kind of effect does the party identification of parents have on school choice and educational values and attitudes in different class positions?
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