23 SES 06 C, Networking in Education
Several countries around the world have decentralized their education systems, given the limitations of centralization to promote educational improvement with equity (Ehren & Perryman, 2018; McGinn & Welsh, 1999). In Chile, the decentralization began in the 1980s with the process of "municipalization", transferring the administration of public primary and secondary schools from the State to municipal departments of education, while pedagogical issues, such as the curriculum, assessment and teaching frameworks, remained under the central control of the Ministry of Education (Bellei & Vanni, 2015).
After several attempts of reform, in 2017 the law n° 21.040 was passed to create a new governance structure for the provision of public education. This law will progressively replace the 346 municipal departments of education with 70 Local Public Education Services (SLEP). SLEPs will be responsible not only for the administration of schools but also for the design and delivery of pedagogical and management support (Art.18, d), ensuring and guaranteeing educational quality and equity in its territory (Art.17). To accomplish this, it proposes networking as one of its core principles, to move from competition to collaboration and promote educational improvement in its territory (Art.5, e).
Networking and collaboration have been advanced in the last decade as a strategy for improving teaching and learning (Ainscow, Muijs, & West, 2006; Wohlstetter, Malloy, Chau, & Polhemus, 2003)taking many forms and involving different agents (Brown & Poortman, 2018). In the case of networks of school, partners observe a culture of collaboration and collective decision-making, and are therefore more permeable to exchange and learn from each other, developing capacity for networked learning (Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow, 2010; Katz & Earl, 2010). Moreover, networking and collaboration can have a positive impact on equity by ensuring better transition of students through educational levels to prevent school dropout of the most vulnerable, optimize their learning process by sharing professional and educational resources or improve the participation of parents in schools when developing joint actions (OECD, 2012).
The transition from competition to collaboration offers an opportunity to rethink current educational improvement and quality assurance policy in Chile but requires addressing key challenges. This resembles the experience of other countries that have promoted networking and collaboration in competitive environments. For instance, Armstrong and Ainscow (2018)describe how in England schools collaborate and support one another in networks, within a policy context that emphasizes competition. Their findings suggest that there is capacity and potential in the English school system to improve through collaborative strategies, but there are several barriers schools need to overcome to make collaboration effective, such as confusing policy directives, uncertain roles and responsibilities, lack of coordination at the regional level, and power struggles at the local level. In another example, Feys and Devos (2015) studied what role do incentives play in the development and sustainability of collaboration in Flanders, where schools are offered additional funding and resources if they choose to join a network. Their findings suggest that incentives are useful when initiating a network but are not enough to sustain deep collaboration; what is needed is a stable non-competitive environment, strong leadership, a shared history between few partners, and small power differences to ensure network sustainability. This evidence suggests that, in order to produce effective collaboration through networks in Chile’s public education system, it is necessary to develop a clear understanding of the purpose of networking and create appropriate conditions for their functioning. One way to explore this issue is to enquire into the rationale behind policymakers’ decision to introduce networking as a principle for the new public education systems and its practical consequences for SLEPs, which is the aim of this paper.
This paper is part of a larger exploratory case study investigating how the two first SLEP to begin operating in 2018 organized inter-organizational networks in their formation stage, for the delivery of pedagogical and management support to schools. Data were collected through individual and group interviews with policymakers, SLEP professionals and school leaders, document analysis of working papers and national and local guidelines for SLEPs, and observations of network meetings. The data production process was performed in three rounds during 2018 (July, October and January) to register how the process of forming and developing networks unfolded in the first year of operation of the new public education system. This data employed for this paper was produced through individual interviews with three policymakers, addressing the question of what the problem was they were trying to tackle with this reform and how did they decide that networking was an appropriate principle for the new public education system. Interviews were audio-recorded and later transcribed for analysis purposes. In addition, four working papers produced during the design and parliamentary discussion stages of the new public education law were analyzed in order to contrast and confirm what was discussed with policymakers during the interviews. Both interview transcripts and documents were subjected to a qualitative content analysis (Kohlbacher, 2006; Schreier, 2012), using the Atlas.ti software. A coding frame was defined based on the research question of how (and why) did policymakers introduced networking as a principle of the new public education system, establishing predefined concept-driven categories to summarize the material. Then, by looking at the material with these concept-driven categories, other emerging data-driven categories were developed based on the data from interviews and documents. From this coding exercise, key themes where identified which address the rationale for the introduction of networking as a principle of the new public education system and its consequences for SLEPs.
Findings indicate that policymakers locate the change of the governance structure of public education, from municipalities to SLEPs, within a larger program of reform that aimed for creating a more inclusive school system. In that context, participants acknowledge the challenge of pushing or nudging schools and the system to collaborate within a competitive environment. In addition, there was a concern of re-centralizing the school system with the transition from 346 municipal departments of education to 70 SLEP, raising questions about the level of relative autonomy of schools against SLEPs, and these in turn against the Ministry of Education. In view of this two critical points, policymakers commissioned several working papers exploring how networking has helped other education systems to address these issues. These documents helped the internal technical and political negotiations during the design of the law, and also during its discussion in parliament. The rationale expressed by policymakers could be summarized in three key ideas about networking. First, “networking as a technical solution to a political problem”, where policymakers employ networks to promote a cultural change from competition to collaboration and provide a distinctive feature for the new public education system in order to justify the need to move away from the municipal administration of schools. Second, “networking as a governance strategy”, where policymakers make use of networks as a way of providing a balance between the relative autonomy of different levels of the system (schools in relation to SLEP, and SLEP in relation to the Ministry), and guaranteeing the cohesion of the local public education systems within each SLEP. Third, “networking as a professional capacity building strategy”, where policymakers take advantage of previous networking experience in the Chilean system to promote inter-professional and inter-organizational exchange, coordination and professional development in order to build capacity at the local level.
Ainscow, M., Muijs, D., & West, M. (2006). Collaboration as a strategy for improving schools in challenging circumstances. Improving Schools, 9(3), 192–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/1365480206069014 Armstrong, P. W., & Ainscow, M. (2018). School-to-school support within a competitive education system: views from the inside. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2018.1499534org/10.1080/09243453.2018.1499534 Bellei, C., & Vanni, X. (2015). Chile: The Evolution of Educational Policy, 1980-2014. In S. Schwartzman (Ed.), Education in South America: Education Around the World (pp. 179–200). London: Bloomsbury Academic. Brown, C., & Poortman, C. L. (2018). Networks for learning: effective collaboration for teacher, school and system improvement. London: Routledge. Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., & Grunow, A. (2010). Getting ideas into action: Building networkded improvement communities in education. Stanford, CA. Retrieved from http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/spotlight/webinar-bryk-gomez-building-networked- improvement-communities-in-education Ehren, M. C. M., & Perryman, J. (2018). Accountability of school networks: Who is accountable to whom and for what? Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(6), 942–959. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143217717272 Feys, E., & Devos, G. (2015). What comes out of incentivized collaboration: A qualitative analysis of eight Flemish school networks. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 43(5), 738–754. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143214535738 Katz, S., & Earl, L. M. (2010). Learning about networked learning communities. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 21(1), 27–51. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243450903569718 Kohlbacher, F. (2006). The Use of Qualitative Content Analysis in Case Study Research. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1), Art. 21. Retrieved from http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/75 McGinn, N., & Welsh, T. (1999). Decentralization of education: why, when, what and how? Paris, France: IIEP / UNESCO. OECD. (2012). Equity and Quality in Education. Supporting disadvantagd students and schools. OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264130852-en Schreier, M. (2012). Qualitative content analysis in practice. London: Sage Publications. Wohlstetter, P., Malloy, C. L., Chau, D., & Polhemus, J. L. (2003). Improving Schools through Networks: A New Approach to Urban School Reform. Educational Policy, 17(4), 399–430. https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904803254961
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