OECD Says Competition Does Not Improve Education Results.
Since the report of A Nation at Risk during the Reagan administration, there has been a steady ramping up of the privatization agenda in education using charter schools, voucher schools, education savings accounts, and attempts to create or maintain support for religious schools. This movement has had an international following as a sub-category of a Neo-liberal approach to economics.
OECD is not any form of particularly progressive institution. They are trying, in short, to make capitalism work better. Their education efforts spring from an economic motive based largely on ‘human capital formation’ HCF. They simply have come to believe that ‘human capital’ is the truly valuable form of capital in the world today and nations can do a better or worse job at creating it depending on the policies they follow. They have a particularly underdeveloped sense of education as liberation or citizenship or even individual human happiness.
They see education as largely ‘a service to capital’ akin to roads, airports, harbours or any other public expenditure that makes the nations business more efficiently, makes them more innovative and allows growth in the economy.
Nevertheless their findings lead to fascinating results. They strongly support Early Childhood Education as HCF. They readily and regularly point out that ‘poverty exacerbated by concentrated poverty’ is the greatest barrier to educational progress. It comes down to this. They have discovered that for nations to actually climb in the PISA rankings, the only way forward is to educate their internal lower classes. The upper and middle classes of all developed nations are already being fairly well educated more or less. The nations with upward mobility are nations that make a concerted effort to educate their poorer classes. The USA is regularly excoriated for its % of poverty (20% child poverty) and that this poverty is heavily concentrated. The OECD sees this as a formula for failure.
Slowly, progressive governments are, rather timidly unwinding the idiotic privatizations of past, more conservative governments.
When the Fascist government of General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile, the climate was right for the ‘Chicago Boys’ acolytes of market fundamentalist Milton Friedman to move in with Friedman’s own invention - the voucher school where all parents received a ‘voucher’, good for a certain value at either a public or private school. Naturally the upper-middle class bolted to private education where they paid a top up tuition which the poor obviously could not afford. This exacerbated the social class polarization in Chile and the gap between classes instantly widened.
After many years of falling international PISA scores, the new Blanchet Socialist Party government, in a show of both good sense and courage, abolished the voucher system and returned to a situation where only public schools receive public money.
Eight years ago for one of the few times since 1935, the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, SDP found itself out of power and out of the ruling coalition. At this point, Sweden also embarked on a suicidal mission similar to the Chilean model. Their scores also began to fall annually.
At the time of the election of the right wing majority, Sweden was behind but very close to neighbouring Finland in education results. Finland has an almost totally public education system with minimal testing before a matriculation test. Finland has a 5% child poverty rate and even that is not concentrated.
During recent years Finland became a world leader in PISA scores while Sweden fell further and further behind. To compound that, serious but not unexpected stories of corruption and fiscal mismanagement plagued the publically supported private schools. Before the recent election where the SDP was returned to power, reports and news articles began to expose and chronicle the sordid disastrous side of the new policy. Sweden has only begun a serious examination of how a once proud system went totally off the rails at the insistence of the already affluent.
It is early days yet but we can expect some major reforms and mitigation of this disaster. Hopefully they will have the courage of the Chileans.
Perhaps the biggest fools in this farce are the Aussies. With the shameful support of both parties Labour and the National coalition, the Aussies went ‘all in’ and created one of the largest publically supported private systems in the world with only outliers like Hong Kong having higher levels of private education. This is why the OECD report hit them the hardest and made a far bigger media splash. Australian PISA results have declined for a decade under privatization.
Under the previous Labour government a report on recent declining results had been commissioned under David Gonski warned that the decline was due to the risible policy and recommended moving away from it.Gonski, (a Coca-Cola executive no less) has launched an ‘I told you so’ tour since the release of the OECD study.
The Abbott conservative coalition has initiated a policy of limiting education spending increases to the rate of inflation. Gonski calls this ‘locking in inequality’.
The USA has become the poster country for privatization attempts. There experiments in vouchers lead nowhere because they need special political circumstances, like being imposed by Republicans on populations like Milwaukee. They cannot win a popular referendum. Charters have been the answer. Publicly financed privately run Duck-Billed Platypus kind of affair that allows CEOs to make $250 000 per year, used uncertified un-federated teachers work the staff nights and weekends be exempt from labour laws that apply to public schools but maintain they are public schools.
Nevertheless only 4% of American students are in charters and American PISA scores continue to languish in 17th place.
This is one of the reasons the OECD was prompted to declare that ‘competition’ adds no value and creates seriously exacerbated class tensions.
If it were only high quality results or even ‘social efficiency’ a conservative notion, which were up for debate the jig would be up. Privatization and competition have failed. Sadly, that is not up for debate. Corporate greed from the likes of Bill Gates and Wal-mart and Michael Dell (dude you’re getting a Dell) are the real motivation behind privatization. It is aided and abetted by religious fundamentalists who fear that without state support they cannot survive and ideological right wing extremists like the Koch Bros who fund institutes like CATO to crank out a steady stream of dubious studies to attempt to justify favouritism for the 1% over the 99%.
As long as these types have the inordinate power and access they maintain, OECD logic and progressive values will need to struggle to create and maintain their spaces.
In a report making shock waves in the world wide education community the OECD has said, there is nothing to be gained from competition between schools and in fact, it increases social polarization of schools. This report literally kicks the legs right out from under the entire right-wing thesis in education that privatization creates competition and competition is good for both private and public schools.
Who is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anyway? Well officially they are a Paris based think tank sponsored by western governments, to examine ‘Big Data’ trends and advise governments on what seems to work and what does not. A sidebar to their work is the international testing regime (PISA) in reading, math and science where 64 participating nations (and a few city-states) give the identical test in the home language to random samples from each country.