28 SES 04 A, New digital policy instrumentations in the governance of education
This empirical mix methods paper analyzes the reshaping school choice system in Chile resulting from the implementation of a new school assignment system. This policy transformation offers a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between middle class advantage and school choice dynamics. The changing institutional rules (new assignment system) is reconfiguring the sociocultural advantages of Chilean middle-class fractions. Empirically, we describe the uncertainty Chilean middle-class families face as the value of their capital within the school choice transforms under the seemingly fairer school allocation system.
Chile is well-known in education for its use of privatization and market-driven mechanisms. While these policies are increasingly widespread worldwide, the Chilean case is unique in scope, depth, and impact on equity goals (Carnoy, 1998; McEwan & Carnoy, 2000; Ball & Youdell, 2008; Seppänen et al 2015; Verger et al. 2016). Recently, reforms have been enacted, transforming the way in which the system is organized, creating, among other initiatives, a new school admissions system (NSAS). These reforms, while preserving the architecture of the education system (vouchers, choice, and competition), seek to reduce the levels of segregation and reinforce the functioning of school choice, or parentocracy.
The centralized NSAS requires schools to accept any applicant and oversubscription is dealt with through lottery assignment. This plan is inspired by student assignment plans implemented in other systems (such as New York City, Boston, and Buenos Aires).
In Chile, choice preferences are shaped by social mixing instead of quality (Elacqua, Schneider and Bugley 2006, Kosunen & Carrasco 2014) and well-established policy market mechanisms offering clear and strong advantages to middle classes to play and win the game by offering their children better educational opportunities (Seppanen et al 2015).
This paper uses Bourdieu’s conceptual tools to shed light on a process of transformation of the value of capital (Bourdieu 1986) under a field (Bourdieu, 1990a, 1990b; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992) (school choice) which transforms the rules of the game (admission system). As Lareau et al (2016) suggest, it has been a lack of attention to the dynamic links between capital and fields when institutional standards of educational institutions change their rules, impacting the value of the families’ capital. Chile presents a unique site for empirical and conceptual exploration to observe the workings of social class and school choice in shaping educational opportunities.
At an international level, one of the most important contributions has been the illustration of how middle-class school decision-making is displayed using a range of resources in order to configure school environments, offering advantages to their children in detriment to working classes (Bowe, Ball & Gewirtz, 1995; Reay, 1998; Whitty, Power & Halpin, 1998; Lauder et al., 1999; Ball, 2003; Power, Edwards, Whitty & Wigfall, 2008). However, little empirical research has shown the interaction between the value of capital and the contingent rules of the game in a specific field of school choice.
a. What are the strategies, narratives, and methods of deployment of capital for middle class families under the NSAS?
b. In terms of concrete outcomes of seat assignment: Under the NSAS, to what extent are students from distinct subgroups assigned to similar schools?
c. To what extent does the NSAS equalize opportunity for students regarding placement in their preferred school?
The mixed-method empirical work of the paper is heavily dependent on the implementation of the NSAS (https://www.sistemadeadmisionescolar.cl). The qualitative phase included two in-depth interviews applied to 81 families from the five Chilean regions that participated in the initial implementation from different social backgrounds. The first round occurred before the family had applied to a school; and the second one after the family received the application results. For each selected city, a geo-referential analysis was elaborated, based on information from the 2002 and 2012 Census. According to the geo-referential analysis, within each selected city, the research team selected areas from which the sample was obtained. The areas selected were both socioeconomically segregated and mixed, and contained both public and private voucher schools. This qualitative phase was developed based on two protocols that address how families construct their school choice set. In general, the questions address the families’ biographical and educational background and views; which schools are considered and chosen; what information the families have regarding the schools and the admissions process; and which elements influence their decision making. We conducted thematic coding of the transcripts to analyse emerging themes regarding strategies, narratives, and methods of deployment of capital under the new system. The quantitative phase uses secondary data generated as part of the NSAS, which records family preferences for schools (actual choice set) allowing for analysis that goes beyond enrollment patterns to also explore distinctions in choice sets. We use administrative records for the 2016-2018 school years for students in the five regions. The NSAS data provides, for each participant, the ranked preference for the schools they include in their enrollment proposal, their priority status for each school, the school they are assigned, basic student characteristics, and a unique identifier that links to additional administrative datasets with student characteristics, standardized exam scores, and surveys. The school and grade level data provide basic school characteristics as well as a unique identifier used to link additional datasets with previous national standardized exam scores and enrollment characteristics for each school. Methods used include analysis of differences in means and proportions across student subgroups of SES and ethnicity, and logistic and OLS regressions to examine differences across subgroups in the odds of being assigned one’s first choice school, of selecting a school with certain characteristics, and of being assigned a school with certain characteristics, while controlling for other student and school characteristics.
Middle classes elaborated critical views about the NSAS due to the changing rules of the game and statistical analysis of school assignment shows that middle classes’ chances of enrolment in their highest school preferences were limited. Despite such transformation of the institutional rules of admission, middle classes still exhibit greater advantage than lower classes, showing the enduring role of social class regarding socio-cultural transmission of positions. Families’ narratives, when facing for the first time an entirely new admission system, present a series of apprehensions and reflections around the idea of educational justice on the part of families, demonstrated through fears of social diversity, feelings of loss of agency, loss of control in the choice of school for their children, and a transfer of their personal decision to the state bureaucracy. However, the quantitative phase shows significant differences in the characteristics of students’ preferred and assigned school. Students’ social class is reflected in the peers of their first choice and assigned school. Schools requiring co-payment are attended at higher rates by students with higher family incomes, SES, and parent education levels. First choice schools of students with more educated parents have higher test scores, fewer priority students, and higher SES ratings. The admission process itself, however, appears to privilege lower social classes regarding assignment at one’s prefered school. Students with higher educated and wealthier parents have lower odds of first-choice school assignment. Priority students have 41% greater odds of first-choice school assignment. While the NSAS may privilege lower SES students regarding assignment to their top-choice school and high SES parents under the NSAS perceive that they are losing their advantage, class-based differences remain in school assignment. Students continue to select and be assigned to schools reflecting their SES. Social class and school choice remain tightly linked in shaping opportunities.
Bourdieu, P. (1986) ‘The Forms of Capital’. In J. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York: Greenwood. Bourdieu, P. (1990) The logic of practice, Cambridge: Polity Press Bourdieu, P. (1992) ‘The practice of reflexive sociology (the Paris Workshop)’, In: Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (1992) An invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Polity Press. Bourdieu, P. (2000) ‘El habitus económico’, pp. 236-248. En: Las Estructuras sociales de la Economía. Buenos Aires: Manantial. Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J. (1977) Reproduction in education, society and culture, London: SAGE. Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (1992) An invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Polity Press. Jenkins, R. (2000) Pierre Bourdieu, London: Routledge (2nd edition). Lareau, A, Evans, S., Yee, A. (20016= The rules of the game and the uncertain transmission of advantage: middle class parents’ search for an urban kindergarten. Sociology of Education, vol 89(4), 279-299. Reay, D. (2006) ‘The Zombie Stalking English Schools: Social Class and Educational inequality’, British Journal of Educational Studies, 54 (3), pp. 288-307. Reay, D. (2007) ‘Unruly Places’: Inner-city Comprehensives, Middle-class Imaginaries and Working-class Children’, Urban Studies, 44 (7), pp. 1191–1201. Reay, D. and Ball, S (1997) 'Spoilt for Choice': the working classes and educational markets’, Oxford Review of Education, 23. van Zanten, A. (2003) ‘Middle-class parents and social mix in French urban schools: reproduction and transformation of class relations in education’, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 13, 2, pp. 107-123.
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