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Mass customization in schools: Strategies Dutch secondary schools pursue to cope with the diversity-efficiency dilemma

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Abstract

Faced with the diversity–efficiency dilemma, private companies apply ‘mass customization’ strategies to add diversity without adding costs. As schools are urged to become more ‘customer oriented’ they also face a diversity–efficiency dilemma. This article asks how Dutch secondary schools cope with this dilemma and to what extent they apply ‘mass customization’ strategies. A careful selection procedure aimed at a maximum variety of school practices resulted in seventeen schools for which case studies were conducted. Data collection included written material, observations and interviews. Analysis of the combined data indicated six dimensions along which schools differentiate their educational offerings. On the basis of emerging patterns of differentiation, four categories of schools were distinguished. These categories appear to be closely linked to organizational strategies pursued by schools. The article concludes that practices adopted by schools to cope with the diversity–efficiency dilemma strongly resemble mass customization strategies applied by companies producing tangible goods. In the final section, the risks and inherent contradictions of these strategies are pointed out. For while government policies and schools seek to put the needs of individual students at the centre, the inevitable diversity–efficiency dilemma may cause many schools to adopt practices students never asked for.
... For example in schools, timetables are grids indicating sequences of modules with standard length and a given number of subjects. However, pupils have limited freedom in choosing individual subjects (Waslander, 2007). In higher education, the curriculum can be customized to a higher degree by choosing optional courses or even by students' changing universities by taking part in international academic cooperation programs. ...
... Which effects can be expected from mass customized teaching and training? As its proponents (Fried, 2008;Gabriel et al., 2007;Mulder, 2005;Waslander, 2007) argue, MC has the same advantages for education as for the economy. Referring to the 'customization' part, mass customized teaching and training should widely cover individual needs of knowledge and skills. ...
... Learning effects on the trainers' side may also contribute to limiting training production costs. However, there are very few examples and studies about MC in education (Gabriel et al., 2007;Waslander, 2007;Williams & Mistree, 2006), and even less empirical evidence for its advantages. ...
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... Such schools are expected to increase diversity without adding costs (cf. Waslander 2007). They also face isomorphic pressures, as Lubienski (2003) notes in explaining the lack of innovation in US Charter schools. ...
... Therefore, the assumption that alternatives are a response to demand appears to be misleading -rather, alternatives may be established to create demand (cf. Waslander 2007). Further, some proponents of alternative programs are clearly better positioned than others to negotiate the terms of access and provision with school districts. ...
... Further, when innovative programs for these students are introduced, additional resources are lacking. As Waslander (2007) suggests, schools are expected to increase diversity without adding costs. Markets therefore present a contradiction in that diversity of provision is intended to meet the diverse needs of students; yet schools are encouraged to differentiate students rather than provision because they lack the resources required to do so effectively, and are accountable for student performance as if it is separate from student mix. ...
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... From her research on mass customization in schools, Waslander (2007) presents the basic economic law that diversity (customization), in terms of products and services, adds costs. She further explores the diversity-efficiency dilemma when facing customers, clients, or students -to be maximally efficient, we want to have a minimal number of products, services, and routines. ...
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Critical Participatory Looping (CPL) (cf. Falout and Murphey 2010; Murphey and Falout 2010) involves returning processed data from surveys or assignments back to students for further reflection and analysis in small groups. CPL affords dialogical interaction among class members (including the teacher), which can encourage them all as agents developing their own self-determination through action—otherwise known as agencing (cf. Murphey 2010, Nelson and Murphey, 2011). In this paper we first describe the kinds of customization that invite agency, then for CPL provide three examples of teaching and researching with it, theorize on its processes and potential, and discuss its correlates with other domains and mass customization.
... In these different models, there are four kinds of distinct schools, namely extremely personalization, extremely non-personalization, and two kinds of medium personalization. The author analyzes the inherent contradiction of the risks of these strategies [33]. ...
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... While both neo-conservative and conservative agendas promote 'increasing international competitiveness, profit, and discipline and for returning us to a romanticized past of the 'ideal' home, family, and school' (Apple 2004, 15), neoconservativism favours state intervention and regulation (e.g., standards) whereas conservativism favours authority and dislikes state intervention (Apple 2004;Wolfson 2004). The verbal discourse of the OECD promoting 'personalized learning', 'tailormade education' and 'customized learning' (Waslander 2007), which is said to address multiple and diverse needs at the individual student level, is missing in the covers. ...
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... MC was originally established in Operations Management and related to the design and mass production of customized products or services [2], including educational products such as learning environments built on traditional delivery [4] or e-learning [3]. Understanding MC applications in education requires delimitations from related concepts. ...
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Unlike parents in most areas of the United States, parents in different European societies have a real choice of comparable schools, both public and private, and they can exercise their options without paying very high fees. Most often the private schools are Catholic or Protestant schools that operate within the national educational system and receive state grants. In international discussions on the expansion of parental choice and the private delivery of education, the Dutch arrangement quite often is regarded as "unique." Central to the Dutch arrangement are two constitutional rights: the right of freedom of education and the right of public and private institutions to equal public funding. As a result, approximately 70 percent of Dutch parents send their children to schools that, although established by private associations and managed by private school boards, are nonetheless fully funded by the central government. In the opinion of national interest groups as well as national experts, this freedom of education and equal financing of public and private education from public funds makes the Dutch system exceptional. Foreign observers have tended to agree with this assessment, as illustrated by a review of the Dutch education system by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and by the remarks of other international observers who have said, among other things, that "the evolution of the Dutch system of education is unique in the Western World." Therefore, the argument goes, the Netherlands offers an "experiment" in the private production of education on a national scale, a century-old experiment that includes the entire education system. As Brown so concisely puts it, "The Netherlands is the only country with a nationwide school choice program."3 These statements, however, are exaggerated. The Dutch educational system is not too far removed from the systems of other countries, as one can see in Dronkers's analysis of European public and religious schools in chapter 11 of this volume. Religious schools in some other European countries also have a constitutional right to state financial support. Still, although these observers are exaggerating the uniqueness of the Dutch educational system, school choice in the Netherlands differs in several respects from school choice in other European countries, such as Germany and Belgium, with similar state-subsidized religious and public school sectors. First, in most European countries with school choice, the religious schools are of one denomination, operated mostly by the Catholic Church or one of the Protestant churches, which at one time may have been the state church. This is not the case in the Netherlands, which was created in the religious wars of the sixteenth century and, as a result, became home to a large Catholic minority within an ultimately moderate Protestant state. The religious diversity of Dutch society promoted an early de facto neutrality of the Dutch Protestant state in relation to most Christian religions and thus to an early de facto separation between the dominant Protestant church and the state. Consequently, there was hardly a political battle on the juridical separation of the church and the state, as there was in France or Germany. Nor did the link between church and state linger on in the Netherlands during the twentieth century, as it did in the United Kingdom. The taken-for-granted neutrality of the Dutch state therefore owes itself to something other than the juridical separation of church and state. Since the 1920s, in the wake of political struggles the century before, the Netherlands has had-in addition to the locally run public education sector-three main private sectors: Catholic, Protestant, and a smaller, religiously neutral sector, all with independent private school boards. The three main private sectors have been joined by other, smaller religious sectors - first Jewish, later Islamic and Hindu-and some small, private nonreligious sectors with a special didactic, first Montessori and Jena, later Steiner. Within the Catholic and Protestant school sectors there are national umbrella organizations that also function as lobbies. But they do not replace the autonomous school boards, nor do they coordinate all Protestant or Catholic schools. These school boards have the juridical form of a foundation (predominantly in the Catholic sector) or an association (predominantly in the Protestant sector), both with a high degree of self-selection of new board members. Second, the equal subsidizing of all religious and public schools has promoted a diminution of prestigious elite schools outside the state-subsidized sector. As a consequence of equal subsidies and prohibition of the use of extra funds for teacher grants, smaller classes, and the like, there is not an institutionalized hierarchy of schools within each school type. In the Netherlands, you do not see the equivalent of the so-called public schools or independent grammar schools in England, nor do you see versions of the prep schools in the United States or the differences in quality that exist there between schools in the poor inner cities and those in the wealthy suburbs. The distinctive situation in the Netherlands, in terms of the size of the private sector and the context in which private schools operate, provides a favorable setting for testing many of the arguments in the school choice and voucher debates. First, one can test the hypothesis that providing subsidies to private schools will make them more effective competitors of public schools and that the strengthened competition will force public schools to become better. In order to test that hypothesis, the barriers to attending a school other than the one closest to a student's residence must be low. That is the case in the Netherlands, where schools are numerous, population density is high, public transportation is generally available, spending per pupil varies little, and money follows the student. Second, it must be possible to test the interaction of school choice, private schools, and external examinations. According to Bishop, private schools, being more sensitive to market pressures, will respond more radically to an external exam system than public schools will. In the Netherlands, the government sets the examinations for each type of school-these exams influence access to tertiary education and job opportunities-while leaving schools a good deal of freedom to choose course materials and teaching method. And finally, the practice of repeating grades, redoublement, as a way of allowing some students extra time to achieve very demanding learning goals, can be examined. This practice is widespread in some European countries, and schools differ in their rates of redoublement, but by American standards the rates are very high in the Netherlands.
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New technology within Open and Distance learning (ODL) provides new opportunities for the delivery of learner support resources. Mass customization techniques offer the advantages of efficient production combined with the development of a learning experience precisely tailored for the individual's study requirements. In this article, we discuss both the delivery and evaluation of such resources. XML technology and reusable learning objects were used to facilitate automated delivery of online induction for ODL students in the UK. Although the resources are produced 'en masse', the chosen approach allows the provision of an induction experience set firmly within the context of the individual's course. In the longer term, this work offers a useful model of mass customization for other learning support resources.