International seminar “Trust and Accountability to Improve Education Systems”

On the day of Prof. dr Melanie Ehren’s inaugural lecture on Friday, November 15th, five international researchers gave insight in their most recent findings around the topic “trust and accountability to improve education systems” at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

22-11-2019 | 16:56

Read the summaries of these lectures below:

Educational system building in a changing educational sector: Environment, Organization, and the Technical Care

Professor Jim Spillane (Northwestern University USA)

In his talk, Prof. Jim Spillane spoke about his theory-building study with colleagues in which they compared six different school systems in the US using interview, observation, and document data. Based on his analysis, he argued that to understand the process of institutionalization in school systems we need to move beyond just focusing on outcomes and consider system leaders’ sense-making process that can lead to different outcomes though in response to school system specific challenges that are distinctly different. While standards and accountability discourses and texts figured prominently in all six systems and prompted educational infrastructure (re)design and/or adaptation, system leaders’ sense-making was trigged by rather particular puzzles from declining enrolment in the Catholic system to threats to the founding mission in the Charter System. Further, rising poverty, shrinking social safety net, and shifting student demographics contributed to increasing system leaders’ reliance on their fragmented environment.

Moving from quasi-market to network governance: Is the Education Quality Assurance System still fit for purpose under the new governance of public education in Chile? 

Professor Carmen Montecinos (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso, Chile)

The education system in Chile just underwent major changes with five structural reforms aiming to improve the school system and the quality in schools. Policymakers employ a network structure to promote a new way of coordination. However, after almost 40 years of a quasi-market governance rooted in competition, a shift to a network approach is facing many obstacles. Dr. Carmen Montecinos questioned in her talk, the sustainability of the new system when embedded in a managerial approach to education. She further elaborated on the lack of coherence as a comprehensive system approach is missing. To redirect from a quasi-market system, it will require a cultural change as well as new mindsets and practices focusing more on learning- and growth-oriented leadership. Furthermore, policymakers need to ask to which extent trust in the new system can establish when it is still based on performance management.

School Autonomy with Accountability: School responses to a Global Policy Script

Dr. Toni Verger and Dr. Gerard Ferrer (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

The international adoption of national large-scale assessments is increasing. More and more countries articulate their education reforms around school autonomy with accountability policies (SAWA). Schools react very differently to this changing environment and how they perceive the performance pressure. Dr. Toni Verger, Dr. Gerard Ferrer and colleagues developed a model linking the perceived performance pressure of each school and the school culture in place. In their model, schools can be clustered in four different analytical categories: Accommodation, Assimilation, Parallel structures and decoupling and Rejection and decoupling. In a large international case study (REFORMED), they are currently testing their assumptions in Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, and Chile. With electronic surveys and semi-structured interviews, the general aim is to assess the enactment processes of accountability reforms and whether and in which sense these reforms are affecting the performance and behavior of school actors. Primarily results from Chile partly confirmed their hypothesis. Actors from schools clustered in one analytical category (assimilation & rejection and decoupling) showed similar behaviours and performance in variables, such as teaching to the test or narrowing the curriculum.

Follow the Leader?: Consider the Character of Performance Accountability in Shanghai and Hong Kong?

Dr. Dr. Priya Goel La Londe (University of Hong Kong)

The discourses on performance accountability are highly western driven. Coming from Hong Kong, Dr. Priya Goel la Londe provided valuable insights on performativity in Confucian heritage cultures based on her research in Hong Kong and Shanghai. In two studies she evaluated policies that are aiming to guarantee a good treatment of teachers and improvement of their performance. She distinguished between two forms of policies: firstly, an increase of performance via higher financial incentives, and secondly the use and collection of data to know who is performing well. In interviews with teachers and administrators of high performing schools with a strong professional culture, she intended to clarify what those performance accountability policies mean for educators and the school improvement outcome. Her findings revealed that teachers understanding of performance pay was lacking, they did not perceive improvement as the aim of incentives or found them necessarily convincing. Data was merely used for progress monitoring, however, less for existing learning and teaching improvement. She concluded that we need to drive accountability policy in a direction that nurtures teachers and school leaders to reach equity-focused school improvement.

What is trust and why does it matter in education systems?

Professor Reinhard Bachmann (SOAS, University of London, UK)

Trust is a social mechanism to deal with uncertainty. It allows actors to make specific assumptions about each other’s future behaviour. Norms and standards are functional in aligning actors’ behaviour so that the risk that trust might be betrayed is reduced. Prof. Bachmann has studied the role and development of trust in many contexts throughout his career. However, looking at current social developments shifting more and more in the direction of the control paradigm, he raises the question: Will the concept of trust be irrelevant in the future? Do we still need trust in the age of AI and big data? Some may indeed assume that we don’t need to trust anymore when we can monitor and control people’s behaviour in every detail. Prof. Bachmann, however, argued that, given the need for creativity and flexibility in finding solutions to ever more complex problems, trust continues to be essential as a mechanism for coordination and transaction in many areas of social behaviour.