23 SES 06 A, Evidence and Practice
The objective of this paper is to map similarities and differences in how ‘evidence’ and perceptions of ‘what works’ are interpreted and made use of in school policy at various levels of the education system, including associated educational research in the Nordic countries. This initiative includes a comparative view regarding the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). In doing so we ask simultaneously whether it makes sense to talk about a Nordic dimension that would as differ from policies in other parts of the world (Andersen et al, 2007; Krejsler 2014; Telhaug et al., 2006; Uljens & Nyman, 2013). Here, we argue that school comes across as exemplary in relation to discussing ‘the Nordic dimension’ in the sense that it deals with basic socialization, is closely related to building national narratives, and hereby becomes particularly sensitive as an issue for public and policy debate.
Theoretically much debate about ‘evidence’ in education deals with the binary between commonalities and differences: Can one identify causal relations or at least correlations in education that shows what works? One may approach that question conceptually or theoretically, i.e. how is educational activity thought of as influencing the learner in reaching competence or knowledge? Or one may focus on context, whereby the question arises whether causes are inherently related to context, or whether causes should be viewed as context neutral or context-transcending. Is it possible to establish “causal” relations irrespective of context, or does context matter so much that talking about ‘evidence’ without reference to national and local contexts makes no sense (Eryaman & Schneider, 2017)?
Within policy and associated research paradigms (often school effectiveness) the Nordic countries have often tilted more towards ‘context matters’ approaches as opposed to mainstream Anglo-saxon approaches that have more often tilted towards looking for context-independent commonalities. The former often gives more room to qualitative (hermeneutic) and historical approaches whereas the latter more often gives more preference to quantitative approaches. In addition to reflecting a possible Nordic approach to evidence based policies and practicies, it has become obvious that also clear differences exist within the Nordic family. The long tradition of talking about the Nordic countries as a coherent region in terms of common history, culture, religion and education is no longer obvious. This discourse was to change drastically from the 1990s onwards as more discipline-oriented standards-based education discourse gained momentum internationally. And, since the millennium shift and with plenty of PISA shocks focus on testing and basic skills has returned, albeit in the cloak of knowledge economy demands for a better qualified and more flexible work force in terms life-long and life-wide learners (Hopmann, 2008; Telhaug, Mediås, & Aasen, 2006)
Thus, to identify possible features of what might be called a Nordic policy approach to evidence requires comparisons between the Nordic countries. It includes identifying the particularities of different societal and historical contexts and their configurations of dominant players in relation to school and educational research (Uljens, Wolff & Frontini, 2016; Moos, 2013).
This study includes two mutually dependents aspects of the evidence issue: (1) it identifies variations in policy discourse in Nordic countries, and how various actors are invited to participate and position themselves in the discourse. (2) it explores how the evidence issue morphs as policy transforms into an educational issue about pedagogy, didactics and curriculum.
The second question is whether national policy discourses can be observed as Nordic when you get closer to school policy and associated educational research, or is it rather a myth that dissolves when the differences of different national contexts appear in their irreconcilable complexities?
In terms of methodology we map, supported by poststructuralist policy theory evidence discourse in relation to school policy and educational research policy discourse in order to make visible new relations of school and educational research to market, state and civil society (Krejsler, 2017). Subsequently, we problematize the results from this mapping and its consequences in relation to the general didactics and curriculum theory debate. This study sees policy not only as being about reflecting (a) the reform discourses of initiation or enactment of policies, but also about reflecting (b) the contents of the policy. For analytical reasons initiation of a policy is assumed being more of a political process, while implementation and enactment of the policies is more of a pedagogical/educational one. In ‘policy development’, mechanisms through which cultural and political ideas, initiatives and positions transform into a ‘pedagogical agenda’ are studied. This paper argues that in order for grasping the (a) the initiation phase of policy, it may be wise to include insights from political theory. Then, aiming at understanding both (b) the implementation/enactment of policy (c) the contents of curriculum (aims, contents and methods of teaching) we need educational theory. In order to handle the initiation phase (a), and partly the enactment phase, the concepts of ‘discourse’, ‘regimes of practice’ and ‘ideas’, as developed by Dean (2007) in governmentality studies and Schmidt (2008) in discursive institutionalism are considered fruitful. The other two policy questions i.e. (b) enactment and (c) the policy contents (e.g. aims, contents and methods teaching) are pedagogical topics requiring educational theory. This paper explores a non-affirmative theory of education (Benner, 1991; Uljens, 2002; Uljens & Ylimaki, 2017) as potentially fit for those purposes. This debate, nonetheless, is related the study of reconfigurations of relations between state, market and civil society to school policy and associated educational research in light of transitions from welfare to workfare or competition states (Cerny, 1999; Dean 2007). And at the level of politically prioritized research we see clear tendencies in Nordic countries that funding of educational research on school is geared toward a format that privileges school effectiveness studies, comparative surveys according to quantitative, RCT and other experimental, quasi-experimental, and neo-positivist schemes and similar approaches, although AngloSaxon concepts of school effectiveness and evidence translate differently as they morph into Nordic contexts (Hammersley, 2013; OECD, 2007).
We expect being able to demonstrate how, at the policy level, evidence related initiatives in Nordic countries increasingly are linked to global knowledge economy discourse and lifelong learning strategies (e.g. Henry, Lingard, Rizvi, & Taylor, 2001; Larner & Walters, 2004; OECD, 2007; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). We intend to refine the picture regarding how school and educational research policies (PISA, IEA’s TIMSS, PIRLS, ICCS) have operated as agenda-settings powers in shaping policy perceptions. These developments point to a more curriculum-oriented development in forms that allow for more policy influence on school and research. The dominance of New Public Management and principal-agent theory has furthermore led to a questioning of professional autonomy and hereby made attachment to a general didactics approach more difficult. The paper will show that national school policies in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway increasingly enforce accountability formats upon municipalities and schools. Regarding the curriculum level the situation is different in Finland, although ‘transversal competencies’ are also promoted here. At the practice level we see evidence packages imported mainly from AngloSaxon contexts like ‘Visible Learning’, ‘The Incredible Years’ and ‘The School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention & Support’ (PBIS). We see, on the other hand, other approaches that translate ‘evidence’ and ‘what works’ into Nordic soil and school practice that often draw on system theory (e.g. the LP-model). We expect this paper to contribute whether then ‘Nordic dimension’ is on the way out or not. Many will argue that Nordic countries increasingly follow different paths, although different time lag effects may be seen between the countries in a period where welfare state models are replaced by competition state models (Cerny & Evans, 1999; Pedersen, 2011). The paper is part of a WERA invited edited book on evidence and public good in a Nordic context.
-Andersen, T. M. et al. (2007). The Nordic Model: Embracing globalization and sharing risks, Helsinki. -Cerny, P. G., & Evans, M. (1999). New Labour, Globalization and the Competition State. Cambridge MA: Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University. -Dean, M. (2007). Governing Societies: Political perspectives on domestic and international rule. Maidenhead (UK) & New York: Open University Press. -Eryaman, M. Y. & Schneider, B. (Eds.)(2017). Evidence and Public Good in Educational Policy, Research and Practice. Cham (CH): Springer. -Hammersley, M. (2013). The Myth of Research-Based Policy and Practice. London: SAGE. -Henry, M., Lingard, B., Rizvi, F., & Taylor, S. (2001). The OECD, Globalisation and Education Policy. Oxford (UK): IAU Press & Elsevier Science Ltd. -Hopmann, S. T. (2008). No child, no school, no state left behind: schooling in the age of accountability. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40, 417-456. -Krejsler, J. B. (2017). Capturing the 'Evidence' and 'What Works' Agenda in Education: A truth regime and the art of manoeuvring floating signifiers. In M. Y. Eryaman & B. Schneider (Eds.), Evidence and Public Good in Educational Policy, Research and Practice (pp. 21-41). Cham(CH): Springer. -Krejsler, J. B., Olsson, U., & Petersson, K. (2014). The Transnational Grip on Scandinavian Education Reforms: The Open Method of Coordination challenging national policy-making. Nordic Studies in Education, 34(3), 172-186. -Larner, W., & Walters, W. (Eds.). (2004). Global Governmentality: Governing international spaces. New York & London: Routledge. -OECD. (2007). Evidence in Education: Linking research and policy. Paris: OECD. -Pedersen, O. K. (2011). Konkurrencestaten. København: Hans Reitzels Forlag. -Prewitt, K. S., Thomas A.; Straf, Miron L. (Eds.). (2012). Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy. Atlanta GA: National Academies Press. -Rizvi, F., & Lingard, B. (2010). Globalizing Education Policy. London & New York: Routledge. -Sahlberg, P. (2011). Lessons from Finland. American Educator, 35(2), 32-36. -Sahlin-Andersson, K. (2001). National, International and Transnational Constructions of New Public Management. In T. Christensen & P. Lægreid (Eds.), New Public Management—The transformation of ideas and practice (pp. 43-72). Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. -Telhaug, A. O. et al. (2006). The Nordic Model in Education: Education as part of the political system in the last 50 years. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(3), 245-283. -Moos, L. (ed.). (2013). Transnational Influences on Values and Practices in Nordic Educational Leadership: Is there a Nordic Model? (pp. 31-48). Dordrecht: Springer. -Uljens, M., & Ylimaki, R. (Eds.). (2017). Bridging Educational Leadership, Curriculum Theory and Didaktik. Cham: Springer.
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