23 SES 07 D, School Choice
Is school choice fair? The main argument is to give citizens greater influence over their lives and to promote a more pluralistic and pedagogically innovative education system through competition. At the same time, research as well as OECD-reports show that some choice and school funding arrangements tend to strengthen the segregation within and between schools (Ambrose, 2016; OECD, 2012a, 2012b; Trumberg, 2013). Ultimately, school choice concerns issues of what education pupils should have access to, where, and how this should be decided. From this point of view, school choice is to be regarded an issue of justice.
Justice, however, is certainly an essentially contested concept, with Gallie’s (1956) terminology. The essence of the concept, as well as the approaches to explore it, varies greatly. One could though, with education philosopher Harry Brighouse (2004), claim that the most fundamental task of a theory of justice concerns: “assigning relative weights to different values to decide exactly which value should prevail and how in particular situations” (Brighouse, 2004, s. 4). A central aspect of exploring the justice dimensions of school choice therefore has to do with identifying the values underpinning it, then arguing how these values should be weighted in relation to each other.
The subject of this paper can be described as the value base of school choice (cf. Schüllerqvist, 1996). School choice, in some form, is present in most European education systems. Sweden, however, constitutes a historically interesting case, since the education system during the past 50 years has undergone a shift from strong state control to a deregulated choice system with great freedom of establishment for independent schools. The Swedish case is also especially relevant from a policy perspective, since the reform can be described solely as a policy reform, and thus not a result of religious or historical traditions.
The aim of the paper is to characterize the value base of school choice in Sweden during the period 1975-2018, with the following research question: What discursive shifts and continuities can be seen in the debate on school choice and independent schools when studying policy documents from the investigated period? Discourse here refers to a certain way of speaking of something, here represented by the values obtaining recognition and legitimacy in a certain time (cf. Foucault, 1993). Given Apple’s (2004) understanding of the education system as ideologically and politically contested, I view policy documents as valuable empirical assets, since their inherent discourses can be viewed as carriers of these contentions.
The paper constitutes an empirical step in a thesis project with the overall purpose of exploring and critically discussing the justice dimensions of school choice. At this point I explore the "public discourse" of school choice, identifying the values historically and currently supporting school choice policy in Sweden. Following this, I will later critically discuss the value base from a philosophical point of view, using three conceptions of justice. I will apply John Rawls’ (1971/2005, 2001) theory of justice as fairness to examine education and school choice as fundamental rights within the society’s basic structure. Amartya Sen’s (1980, 1992) and Martha Nussbaum’s (2011) capability approach will provide a discussion on how education contributes to functions and capabilities in people’s lives and whether school choice could promote or inhibit them. Finally, Nancy Fraser’s (2008; Fraser & Honneth, 2003) principle of parity of participation will complement the distribution-oriented theories with a perspective on recognition.
The analysis is based on a comprehensive reading of policy documents (government bills, motions, official reports and other policy texts). The search and selection of documents was made mainly through the Swedish Parliament's website, and based on certain keywords (independent school, individual schooling, individual education, school choice). In the selection, I also used the concept of intertextuality (Fairclough, 1992), searching for the chain of meaning and content between different texts. From a practical point of view, this mean that I have continuously supplemented my material with documents frequently referred to in my first text selection. Since emphasis is put on characterizing the value base of school choice, and not particularly to outline the views of specific political parties, government bills and official reports of the government have been prioritized in the analysis. The government bills are usually based on one or a few reports, which contains policy suggestions as well as statements from different stakeholders. The distinction 1975-2018 is made due to the official report conducted 1973-1975 with the subject of civil rights and freedoms (SOU 1975:75). In the after play of the investigation, political voices were raised to claim the constitutional right for parents to choose school for their children (Mot. 1975:75:2553). The presentation will cover this issue, as well as other prominent discussions on school choice and independent schools in Swedish politics. To emphasize the global perspective and the influence from transnational policy actors, the presentation will also include OECD reports. The analysis is of a more conceptual kind, aiming to generate useful value concepts that can be used for further philosophical thought in relation to the justice conceptions mentioned. The discussion will therefore center around the broader historical strokes. Excerpts from the documents will be used to highlight the characteristics of the value base as well as the discursive shifts and continuities that can be seen during the investigated period of time.
The value base of school choice is characterized by three core values: equality, pluralism and individual freedom (cf. Godwin et al., 1998; Perry, 2009). These values are present during the entire period, but with a change of meaning and status due to a discursive displacement from a "public good" to a "private good" discourse on education. In the 70s and 80s, until the actual reform in 1992, school choice was part of a more democratic and public agenda. The introduction of school choice was considered a way of decentralize the state's decision power over people's lives. By extended governmental grants to independent alternatives - with the requirement of charge-free education - the idea was to create a more equal education system where all families could exert influence over their education. That school choice could create a more pluralistic orientation was also framed as a somewhat collective argument, meaning that pluralism revitalizes the school system as a whole, benefiting everyone. During the 00s, the value base is defined with regards to a more individualistic conception of education, emphasizing the individual responsibility as well as the "private good" side schooling. Choice is here viewed more or less as something fundamental in Western democracies. In the documents, this means that choice is primarily there for individual life projects. Within this line of thought, pluralism is regarded as important mostly because it enables a wider range of individual opportunities of choice. In the policy documents of recent years, a shift towards a strengthened (in)equality discourse can be seen. This applies to both domestic and transnational actors (OECD, 2015; SOU 2017:35) and concerns especially the possibility of using school choice to counteract segregation. It is worth noting, however, that the confidence in rational choices and market mechanisms remains strong.
Ambrose, A. (2016). Att navigera på en lokal skolmarknad: en studie av valfrihetens geografi i tre skolor. Stockholms universitet: Barn- och ungdomsvetenskapliga institutionen Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and Curriculum. New York Routledge Brighouse, H. (2004). Justice. Oxford: Polity Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity press Foucault, M. (1993). Diskursens ordning: installationsföreläsning vid Collège de France den 2 december 1970. Stockholm: Stehag Fraser, N. & Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-philosophical Exchange. London: Verso Fraser, N. (2008). Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Cambridge: Polity Gallie, W. B. (1956). Essentially Contested Concepts. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56, pp. 167-198. Godwin, K., Kemerer, F., Martinez, V., & Ruderman, R. (1998). Liberal Equity in Education: A Comparison of Choice Options. Social Science Quarterly, 79(3), pp. 502-522. Motion 1975:75:2553 av herr Bohman m. fl. med anledning av propositionen 1975/76:209 om ändring i regeringsformen Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating Capabilities: the Human Development Approach. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University OECD. (2012a). School Choice and Equity. Current Policies in OECD Countries and a Litterature Review OECD. (2012b). Public and Private Schools. How Management and Funding Relate to Their Socio-economic Profile OECD. (2015). Improving Schools in Sweden. An OECD Perspective. Perry, L. B. (2009). Conceptualizing Education Policy in Democratic Societies. Educational Policy, 23(3), pp. 423-450. Rawls, J. (1971/2005). A Theory of Justice. Cambride: Harvard University Press Rawls, J. (2001). Justice as Fairness: a Restatement. Cambridge: Belknap Sen, A. (1980). Equality of What? In: McMurrin, Sterling (Ed). The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, 1. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press Sen, A. (1992). Inequality Reexamined. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Schüllerqvist, U. (1996). Förskjutningen i svensk skolpolitisk debatt under det senaste decenniet. In: Englund, T. (Ed.). Utbildningspolitiskt systemskifte? Stockholm: HLS Förlag SOU 1975:75 Medborgerliga fri- och rättigheter. Regeringsformen. Betänkande av 1973 års fri- och rättighetsutredning SOU 2017:35 Samling för skolan. Nationell strategi för kunskap och likvärdighet Trumberg, A. (2013). Den delade skolan: segregationsprocesser I det svenska skolsystemet. Örebro: Akademin för humaniora, utbildning och samhällsvetenskap
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