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Maintaining the Integrity of Public Education: A Comparative Analysis of School Autonomy in the United States and Australia



This article takes a critical comparative approach to examining autonomous schooling in the United States and Australia. Amid the market imperatives currently driving education priorities, its focus is on how autonomy can be mobilized in ways that preserve the integrity of public education. Through reference to key debates and research about school autonomy in the United States and Australia, integrity is defined with reference to three values: (1) public ownership (i.e., governance that is responsive to the people it serves), (2) equity and access (i.e., adequate funding and inclusive student admission practices), and (3) public purpose (i.e., prioritizing the moral and social purposes of education; Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008). The analysis is mindful of the resonances and differences between the education systems in the United States and Australia and the fluidity and complexity of the notion of autonomous schooling. Against this backdrop, the article illustrates the significance of embedding these values within school autonomy policy in order to preserve the integrity of public education. © 2016 by the Comparative and International Education Society. All Rights Reserved.
Maintaining the integrity of public education: a comparative analysis of school
autonomy in the US and Australia
This paper takes a critical comparative approach to examining autonomous schooling in the
US and Australia. Amid the market imperatives currently driving education priorities, its
focus is on how autonomy can be mobilised in ways that preserve the integrity of public
education. Through reference to key debates and research about school autonomy in the US
and Australia, integrity is defined with reference to three values: 1) public ownership (i.e.
governance that is responsive to the people it serves), 2) equity and access (i.e. adequate
funding and inclusive student admission practices) and 3) public purpose (i.e. prioritising the
moral and social purposes of education) (Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008). The
analysis is mindful of the resonances and differences between the education systems in the
US and Australia and the fluidity and complexity of the notion of autonomous schooling.
Against this backdrop, the paper illustrates the significance of embedding these values within
school autonomy policy in order to preserve the integrity of public education.
All international evidence points to the fact that the more autonomous a school, the better the outcomes
for students. (Christopher Pyne, Federal Education Minister, Australia)
…high-performing charters1 have irrefutably demonstrated that low-income children can and do
achieve at high levels. (Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education)
Government reforms in contexts such as England, the US, New Zealand and Australia, albeit
to varying degrees and over varying time periods, have increasingly enabled the conditions
1"Charter schools, while publicly funded, operate under a charter or contract with an authorising agent who
oversees and holds the school to account. Agents can include school districts, state boards of education,
universities or organisations (both non-profit and for-profit) (see Hubbard and Kulkarni 2009)."
for schools to exercise greater self-management. Granting schools more control and authority
over their governance aims to generate more effective, responsive, and innovative education
systems. These conditions are associated in policy discourse with improving school
management and leadership, the quality of teaching and learning, and resource efficiency.
Autonomous schooling is presented in such discourse as the flagship for driving up education
standards. There is strong political faith in the idea of autonomous schooling as key to
improving education. This faith is captured well in the above comments made by Australia’s
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne and US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
For Smyth (2011 school autonomy is an education idea that has been “adopted around the
world with remarkable speed and consistency” (p. 95). Indeed, it is presented by proponents
as inevitable—a necessary condition to enable education systems to compete on the world
stage. Certainly, at a global or transnational policy level, influential organisations such as the
OECD and the World Bank have endorsed school autonomy (see World Bank 2014; OECD
2011). The OECD, for example, which according to Rizvi and Lingard (2010) has established
itself as an international organisation par excellence in evaluating educational performance
globally, draws on PISA data to illustrate a connection between greater school autonomy and
improved student performance. The OECD (2011) also illustrates, however, the complexity
of the relationship between school autonomy, school accountability and student
improvement, suggesting that autonomy and accountability need to be “intelligently
combined” in order to improve student performance.
International endorsement and focus on school autonomy as a mechanism for driving up
education standards is reflective of its status as a globalised policy discourse that is set within
the parameters of another globalised discourse—accountability on international standards and
measures such as PISA (Lingard and Rawolle 2011). These are key discourses within what
Lingard and Rawolle (2011) describe as a “global field” that reflects a rescaling of politics
and political authority to a supranational level. The authority of this global field is reflected in
its driving of “national systems of education towards a similar policy outlook” (Rizvi and
Lingard 2010, 42), which has led to a new era of “policy borrowing” and sharing across
countries (Lingard 2010). Such authority is not fixed, however; it actively constitutes and
reconstitutes education policy and practice at a national level, with nation-states’ differential
engagement with it reflecting national and local histories and cultures (see Rizvi and Lingard
2010; Lingard and Rawolle 2011; Dale 2005).
In relation to school autonomy, this differential engagement is evident in the great variance
across and within nations in terms of take up and efficacy. Such variance exemplifies the
futility of pinning down a simple definition of school autonomy because it is “grounded in a
particular politics at a particular time … continually contested and rearticulated across time
and political changes” (Lingard et al. 2002, 15). In the US, for example, autonomous school
governance has proliferated to include a diverse variety of for-profit and non-profit
stakeholders, while in Australia such governance remains more securely tied to the state. In
both of these contexts, there is also great variance in terms of “efficacy”. Counter to the more
general global findings of the OECD, research can find little conclusive evidence to link
school autonomy with improved academic outcomes, notwithstanding conclusive indications
that some autonomous schools, in line with Arne Duncan’s comments above, are working in
highly productive ways.
In light of this evidence, it is generally agreed that autonomous schools have not yet delivered
on their promise of school improvement and innovation. For progressive commentators
across western contexts, this failure is in large part attributable to the ways in which free-
market ideologies have seized the upper hand in this movement. As Ravitch (2010, 227) aptly
puts it: while “the market serves us well when we want to buy a new car”, it is not the best
way to deliver public services. Reflecting the hegemony of neoliberal policy and politics in
the broader social world, these ideologies have become taken-for-granted as the most
effective and efficient means of improving education.
For Lubienski and Lubienski (2013), the ongoing faith in market mechanisms to drive up
educational innovation and standards has been strengthened with the increasing involvement
of the philanthropic and corporate sector in public education. The strong and growing
financial investment of this sector in public education, as these authors argue, has managed to
obscure and effectively counter the 1) weak empirical justification for this reform, and 2) the
growing evidence that associates school autonomy with undermining public education (see
Lubienski and Lubienski 2013; Darling-Hammond 2008; Lingard et al. 2002; Smyth 2011). It
has long been the view that school autonomy, when driven by market imperatives,
compromises the “hallmark” values of public education; i.e. public ownership, equity and
access, and public purpose (see Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008).
This paper takes a critical comparative approach to examining autonomous schooling in the
US and Australia. Amid the market imperatives currently driving education priorities, its
focus is on how autonomy can be mobilised in ways that preserve the integrity of public
education. Given its variance and complexity within and across education contexts, the focus
here is not on pinning down a definitive view of school autonomy (Lingard et al. 2002).
Rather, the focus is on the shifting political terrain within the US and Australia that frames
the policy imperatives to grant schools greater self-management from centralised forms of
governance. More specifically, the analysis considers how education politics at the national
and more local levels mediate these imperatives in ways that are both enabling and
constraining of the values of public education (as elaborated in subsequent sections).
The review begins with an explanation of the selection of the US and Australia as contexts
for comparative analysis, followed by an account of key literature and research relating to
charter schooling in the US. While charter schools are only one version of school autonomy
in this context, they are focused on here, as they are perhaps the most prolific example of this
reform in the world. From 1999 to 2013, the percentage of charter schools increased from 1.7
to 6.2 per cent of all public schools. As of 2013, more than 2.5 million children were enrolled
in more than 6,000 charter schools nationwide, with nearly 1 million names on charter school
waitlists across the nation (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, 2013). These figures
are expected to rise with the recent passing of a bipartisan bill in the US House of
Representatives to increase federal spending on charter schools from $250 to $300 million
(see Mendez, 2014).
Following this account, the paper highlights the values seen as contributing to the integrity of
charter schooling: 1) public ownership (i.e., governance that is responsive to the people it
serves), 2) equity and access (i.e., adequate funding and inclusive student admission
practices) and 3) public purpose (i.e., prioritising the moral and social purposes of education)
(Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008). These values, it is argued, support the integrity
of school autonomy in their centring of educative rather than market-oriented goals. These
values are then drawn on to critically analyse some of the key debates and policy trends
currently shaping autonomous schooling in Australia.
The US and Australia as contexts for comparative analysis
There are distinct parallels and divergences between the US and Australia in relation to
education governance that provide a strong rationale for the choice of these nations as a basis
for comparative analysis. Australia and the US are both federal systems where education is
ostensibly a state responsibility. These contexts share a substantive history of state- and local-
level school governance as well as an established commitment to school autonomy as a driver
of school improvement. There is also resonance across these contexts in relation to the
debates for and against school autonomy. Such parallels provide a useful backdrop from
which to consider the distinct differences within each nation that mediate how autonomy is
taken up. Of particular interest in this review are differences associated with the diversity and
complexity of education governance, and the varying power and influence of federal
governments on state education (Savage and O’Connor 2014).
The system of education within the US is markedly more complex and diverse than the
system of education in Australia. Across the nation there are approximately 14,000 districts.
Each of these districts operates differently and with varying relations to state agencies (see
Savage and O’Connor 2014). The now key role of non-government policy actors, such as
philanthropic foundations and corporate stakeholders, in national education reform in the US
has added significantly to this complexity. The system of education in Australia, by contrast,
is much smaller and far less complex. There are, however, different challenges for this
system such as those associated with providing quality education services across this nation’s
huge land-mass with its particular population spread and concentration areas. This has led to,
for example, challenges in resourcing, especially in relation to adequately staffing schools in
rural and remote areas. Despite these challenges, the state and territory education systems in
Australia are relatively cohesive with less district influence than in the US. Moreover, while
the influence of philanthropic and corporate actors on Australian state education is growing,
educational governance is far less polycentric than it is in the US (see Exley and Ball 2010;
Savage and O’Connor 2014).
Another key difference between these two contexts is the varying power and influence of
their respective federal governments. Although the states are responsible for schooling in
both contexts, there are different funding arrangements across the US and Australia. In
Australia constitutional measures that provide for significant funding to state education from
the federal government have led to substantial federal intervention in the governance of
public schooling. In relation to equity, for example, such intervention has enabled
redistributive funding to poor schools in poor communities through, for instance, policies
stemming from the Karmel Report (Australian Schools Commission, 1973) and the more
recent “Gonski” reforms (Gonski 2011, although these reforms have been scaled back by
Australia’s current conservative government). By contrast, in the US, local (not federal)
taxation is linked to school funding; thus, federal intervention in the governance of public
education is limited because there is less direct funding to the states. Under this arrangement,
redistributive equity priorities are managed at a perhaps more disparate and fragmented local
level (Savage and O’Connor 2014).
Certainly, the differences between these contexts in terms of system diversity and complexity
and processes associated with federalism provide different conditions of possibility in
relation to school autonomy reform (Savage and O’Connor 2014). Such differences are
clearly important in considering how school autonomy can be taken up to either ascribe to or
undermine the integrity of public schooling. The research and writing selected for this review
are set against this political and conceptual backdrop. The following provides an account of
the charter school movement in the US from which to situate the paper’s view of integrity.
The charter school movement
The charter school movement in the US, which began in the early 1990s, is perhaps the most
diverse and complex example of autonomous schooling in the world. The key imperative
driving this movement was to improve the public school system especially in relation to
better addressing pronounced inequities associated with race and class (see Dingerson et al.
2008; Fabricant and Fine 2012). Such improvement was meant to occur through charter
schools sharing their innovations and ideas with their sponsoring public system. Charter
schools, while publicly funded, operate under a charter or contract with an authorising agent
who oversees and holds the school to account. Agents can include school districts, state
boards of education, universities or organisations (both non-profit and for-profit) (see
Hubbard and Kulkarni 2009). Like Academies in the UK, these schools are free from local
district control and are granted flexibility in relation to the delivery of curriculum, the hiring
of staff and setting of staff pay and conditions, and the determining of term and school day
Charter schools vary widely in scope, size and type. There are, for example, publicly
approved “stand-alone” schools that reflect the teaching and learning values of a particular
community; non-profit networked charters like the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program)
franchise, which is based on a common curricular and school structure; and for-profit
charters, such as the White Hat schools, that are run by private industry (see Sizer and Wood
2008). Charter schools also vary widely in governance in relation to the different agreements
they may have with their particular authorising agent and the differentiation of governance by
state, with some agents and states exerting greater control and regulation over schools than
others in areas such as curriculum, assessment, teacher accreditation and broader goals like
inclusion, citizenship and innovation (see Hubbard and Kulkarni 2009; Bulkley and Fisler
2003; Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008).
While the charter school movement was originally driven by a progressive agenda, its focus
on devolution and deregulation meant that it also appealed to conservatives wedded to free-
market and privatisation ideologies. Many argue (see Dingerson et al. 2008; Fabricant and
Fine 2012) that these ideologies have seized the upper hand in the charter schools
movement—supported, of course, by the hegemonic status of neoliberal and neoconservative
policy and politics in the broader social world and a seemingly ever-present moral panic
about the dire state of American public schooling. Amid these policies, politics and panic,
mainstream politicians of all persuasions have supported calls for greater and more rigid
accountability through high-stakes testing. Certainly, at one level, charter schools enjoy a
measure of autonomy and freedom, but such autonomy and freedom is set against a backdrop
of unprecedented levels of state-imposed and international accountabilities in the form of an
ever-increasing myriad of standardised testing regimes. This is a high-stakes environment
where a school’s success or failure, indeed its survival, depends on student performance on
these regimes. Through neo-conservative lenses, the choice and competition generated by the
charter system is seen in this environment as a positive mechanism for driving up standards—
an environment in theory that is set up to ensure that “good” schools (i.e., those that adhere to
the narrow priorities of the high-stakes testing culture) flourish and “bad” schools (i.e., those
that cannot measure up to this culture) fail and disappear.
As already suggested, there is much conflicting and inconclusive evidence as to the efficacy
of charter schools in raising academic achievement. While some research highlights the great
success of particular charter schools in improving educational outcomes, other research draws
attention to their spectacular failure (see Dingerson 2008; Lake, 2102; Welner 2013;
Lubienski, 2013). There are critical factors that are seen as contributing to charter schools
realising their original progressive ideals. Such factors go well beyond a concern with how
students perform on standardised tests—although this is obviously important—to a concern
with maintaining the integrity of the “hallmark” values of public education: public
ownership, equity and access, and public purpose (see Dingerson et al. 2008). For Darling-
Hammond and Montgomery (2008, see also, Sizer and Wood, 2008), this means ensuring that
charter schools 1) are governed by and responsive to the people they serve; 2) are in receipt
of adequate funding and inclusive in their student admission; and 3) prioritise the moral and
social purposes of education.
Maintaining the integrity of public education: public ownership, equity and public
Within the current parameters of high-stakes accountability and competition, there are aspects
of the charter movement that are seen as compromising the integrity of public education and,
in particular, the core values of public ownership, equity and access, and public purpose.
Such compromising is perhaps ironic given that it was the perceived failure of the public
system to live up to these values that helped give rise to the charter movement (Sizer and
Wood 2008). The first of these values, public ownership, is significant because it supports
schools to be governed closest to the people they serve and enables students, families and the
general public access to those with authority over the school (Darling-Hammond and
Montgomery 2008). As explored further in the next sections of this paper in relation to
Australian education policy, these conditions can facilitate inclusive and participatory
governance of schools where the school community can be involved in school decision-
making. Charter school type impacts on a school’s capacity to reflect this form of
governance; stand-alone charters, for example, are more likely to be responsive to, and
inclusive of, their local communities while other charter arrangements, for example large
network charters, are more difficult and unwieldy to govern and monitor. They often adopt"
standardised and regulated approaches and boards that are not comprised of the local
community; they are thus less able to reflect localised and community responsive governance
(see Dingerson et al. 2008; Sizer and Wood 2008). State policy also impacts on forms of
governance that may support or undermine the value of public ownership, with some states
requiring extensive parent and community participation in establishing a charter while others
require little or no participation (Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008).
The complexity and diversity of public education in the US and its increasing deference to
the logics of the market seem antithetical to preserving the value of public ownership.
Operating within this space, the charter school system has rapidly proliferated with many of
its schools “rushed into operation and allowed to expand without careful evaluation” (Sizer
and Wood 2008, 15) with dire results in some cities. In New Orleans, for example, the
disaster of Hurricane Katrina led to a “flea market of entrepreneurial opportunism”
(Dingerson, 2008, 30) which dismantled the institution of public education, replacing it with
a charter system that included very little public consultation or deliberation on the models
that might be tried or processes for replicating what works in order to advance the system.
One of the original aims of the charter school movement was to promote and share
innovation in order to improve all public schools (Dingerson et al. 2008). However, as
Dingerson et al. (2008, xviii) argue, the “unfettered free-market ideology” framing this
movement, “with its notion of propriety ownership of any formula for success, has been
especially harmful in undermining” this aim. Not only are charter schools far less innovative
than promised, when they do purport success, they tend not to collaborate with other schools
to share what works and what doesn’t work (see also Sizer and Wood, 2008; Lake, 2012;
Lubienski and Lubienski 2013). This reality of propriety ownership and non-collaboration is
clearly at odds with the ethos of inclusive and community/school-led governance reflected in
the value of public ownership. !
Equity and access are also core values of public education. There are concerns that the
chartering movement is undermining equity in drawing material and human resources away
from traditional public schools, thereby promoting a deterioration of these schools. The worse
these schools get, the more appealing the escape to charters becomes (Dingerson, et al. 2008).
This situation has created, in some areas, a view of public schools as dumping grounds for
under-performing and under-privileged students (see Dingerson 2008). Converting public
schools to charters does not reconcile or remedy the already highly segregated and stratified
public education system; rather, it tends to perpetuate, or in some cases exacerbate, this
segregation and stratification (Lopez et al. 2002; Ravitch 2010). This is because the
chartering system, in proliferating school diversity and choice, amplifies competition between
schools for their “market share” of students. Such competition increases the value and
attractiveness of “good” schools (that tend to be class and race privileged) and decreases the
value and attractiveness of “bad” schools (that tend to serve under-privileged students).
While it is the case that charter schools have been consistent in serving disadvantaged
communities in the recent past (Henig, 2012), the chartering movement has contributed to an
intensifying of the gap between privileged and under-privileged schools and students
(Ravitch 2010; Fabricant and Fine 2012; Lubienski and Lubienski 2013).
This competition, according to Lubienski and Lubienski (2013), has not led to better
outcomes and opportunities for students but, rather, it has forced schools to focus on, and
improve the impact of, their marketing strategies. It has also led to schools excluding costly
and difficult-to-educate students. As Darling-Hammond and Montgomery (2008) explain,
when market ideologies drive the agenda of charter schools, they are “likely to engage in
admission practices that decrease their costs and increase efficiency” (p. 99). While selective
enrolment is prohibited in many states, there are tacit ways in which schools can exclude
potentially lower attaining students. For example, schools may not offer services to high-
needs students such as those with disabilities or ESL requirements; they may encourage these
students to enrol at an alternative school; or they may adopt onerous admissions procedural
requirements that deter or exclude these sorts of students (Welner 2013; Ravitch 2010).
Additionally, many under-privileged parents and students do not have the social, cultural or
language resources to access relevant information associated with charter schools that may be
appropriate for them (see Lubienski and Lubienski 2013). Such practices have contributed to
grave inequities in the system, especially pronounced in relation to students with special
education needs who are increasingly overrepresented in traditional public schools (see
Dingerson et al. 2008).
The value of public purpose is associated with the social and moral outcomes of schools and
their broader systems, a “moral compass” that, as Darling-Hammond and Montgomery
(2008) argue, sways schools to work for the betterment of society. Current test-based
measures of school success encourage competition, individualism and exclusion; their narrow
focus pays little heed to communal goals or the “common good”. As such, social and moral
outcomes tend to lack priority in many public schools (see Darling-Hammond and
Montgomery 2008; Sizer and Wood 2008; Dingerson et al. 2008). The current environment
does not encourage schools to focus, for example, on producing active and responsible
citizens through critical curricula and pedagogy (see Dingerson et al. 2008). While fostering
moral or social learning is far from an uncomplicated and unproblematic endeavour (it can,
for example, generate restrictive and exclusionary understandings of difference and diversity
that reinscribe the inequities of the status quo; see Gay 2000), such learning is, nevertheless, a
mandated purpose of schooling in the US, reflected in the value of public purpose.
The increasing involvement of the for-profit sector in charter school management is seen as
further compromising these values. Of course, the notion of profit making appears antithetical
to educative goals (see Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008; Ravitch 2010; Fabricant
and Fine 2012). However, there are other concerns with for-profit charters. For example, as
private corporations, they are not subject to the same levels of public accountability as other
charters; thus, there is a lack of transparency in relation to their pursuit of educative and
student-centred goals (Hanauer 2008; see also Fabricant and Fine 2012). Moreover, as large
endeavours encompassing the management of many schools, they necessarily operate at a
distance from their schools which (as indicated earlier) can be problematic in terms of public
ownership and the monitoring of schooling processes and outcomes. These elements of for-
profit chartering have led to their poor performance in many states (see Hanauer 2008)."
The issues and concerns explored in this section illustrate the ways in which school autonomy
can intersect with market ideologies to constrain the “hallmark” values of public schooling.
These values offer a useful scaffold for critically analysing some of the key debates and
policy trends currently shaping autonomous schooling in Australia.
Autonomous schooling in Australia
There has been renewed emphasis on the notion of autonomous schooling in Australia at
federal and state levels. There are distinct parallels between the education and political
discourses associated with autonomous schooling in Australia and the US. Certainly, it is
justified on a similar basis, most predominantly that it grants greater freedom to schools in
governance and decision-making around issues of finance, staffing and resourcing. As with
the US, political arguments for introducing school autonomy are focused on creating greater
choice for parents and students; creating the conditions for principals and school leaders to
better respond to the needs of their schools; removing the supposed inefficiencies associated
with bureaucratic governance; and promoting innovation and resource efficiency towards
improving the public education system overall (see Lubienski and Lubienski 2013; Smyth
2011; Cobbold 2014; Gobby 2013a). Also, similar to the US, school autonomy is presented
as a viable, indeed necessary, alternative to a public schooling system in crisis that is failing
in its task of adequately educating Australian students (see Lubienski and Lubienski 2013;
Smyth 2011).
Like the US, devolution in Australian education has a long history. School autonomy and,
more particularly, the idea that responsibility for schools should be devolved to the people
involved in the task of schooling was promoted over forty years ago in the Karmel Report
(Australian Schools Commission, 1973). While the Australian Capital Territory instated
school autonomy reform in the 1970s, policies to support schools to self-manage were most
pronounced and transformative in the state of Victoria in the 1990s, today the most devolved
public education system in Australia. The Independent Public Schools (IPS) initiative in the
states of Western Australia (WA) and Queensland (introduced in 2010 and 2013,
respectively) is the most recent attempt to generate greater school autonomy, although in both
of these states, policies and processes of school devolution are far from new.
Consistent with the US, governance of school autonomy differs widely from state to state but
is similarly framed by broader educational governance that prioritises market ideologies. Also
consistent with the US, these ideologies have gradually taken hold of autonomous school
governance, with the initial idea of school autonomy (as, for example, in the Karmel Report)
informed by a progressive agenda in relation to community responsiveness and equity goals
(see Australian Schools Comission, 1973; Fabricant and Fine 2012). In Australia, the
alignment of market ideologies with education governance has become evermore embedded
with the increasing use of, and legitimacy associated with, international and national
measures of school success to evaluate and rank schools publicly, concerted efforts to
devolve and re-regulate schools around these measures, and commitment to the supposition
that competition between schools will work in tandem with choice and accountability
imperatives to drive up school performance. Like the US, it seems also the case in Australia
that whatever cannot be measured (through standardised tests) doesn’t count, despite strong
opposition even from more conservative quarters that challenges the narrowness and
inadequacies of these measures in capturing school success (see Ravitch 2010; Jensen et al.
2013). There are also grave concerns, as in the US, about the decimation of the public system
under autonomous schooling, with many challenging the instating of this reform as an
abrogation of state responsibility (and the risk and blame associated with this responsibility)
to schools, families and local communities (see Lamb 2007; Smyth 2011).
Support for school autonomy in Australia remains strong despite evidence that highlights, as
with the US, the inconclusive relationship between increased school independence and
improved educational attainment (Lubienski 2009; Jensen et al. 2013; Dempster 2000;
Kimber and Ehrich 2011; Cobbold 2014). Comparative research between schooling in NSW
(a very centralised system) and Victoria (a highly autonomised system), for example, finds no
significant difference in student performance on standardised international and national
measures such as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and NAPLAN
(National Assessment Plan Literacy and Numeracy) (see Jensen et al. 2013).
Notwithstanding, the federal government has recently committed 70 million dollars to
convert 1500 public schools to independent public status by 2017 on the pretext that it will
improve schooling and its outcomes in Australia.
These similarities provide a useful backdrop from which to consider some of the nation-
specific factors that mediate how autonomy is taken up in the US and Australia. As
mentioned earlier, the diversity and complexity of the US education system contrasts
markedly with the Australian system in relation to the influence of state and federal
governance and the involvement of non-government players (Savage and O’Connor 2014).
Market imperatives are much stronger in the governance of schools in the US, especially with
the involvement of the for-profit sector. This system is more polycentric and its chartering
more diverse and complex in terms of type and governance. School autonomy in Australia is,
by contrast, much more closely tied to the state; it remains the responsibility of state
education departments to decide which schools are given independent status and, once they
are granted this status, state departments tend to retain control over areas such as policy and
strategic direction, performance monitoring and measurement, and curriculum (see Cobbold
2014; Gobby 2013a).
In Australia, like the US, there has been strong research interest on matters of school
autonomy in relation to the values of public ownership, equity and access, and public
purpose. The following section explores these values in relation to key policy discourse
currently shaping school autonomy in Australia.
Public ownership
As explained earlier, supporting schools to be governed closest to the people they serve is key
to the value of public ownership. Such public ownership can facilitate the conditions of
inclusive and participatory governance where students, parents and the community are
involved in managing and monitoring their local public school (Darling-Hammond and
Montgomery 2008). Focus in policy discourse at both federal and state levels in Australia is
very much on this value. Policy associated with school autonomy at a federal level, for
example, strongly encourages community and parental input (see Department of Education
2014a); however, as with the US, state policy varies as to what such input might look like
within the context of initiatives like the IPS. In Queensland, for instance, public ownership
and participatory governance are touted as the major selling points for IPS, as the following
statement on Education Queensland’s website (The State of Queensland 2014) explains:
The Independent Public Schools initiative recognises the best decision-making often occurs at a local
level through direct response to local community needs and aspirations.
By becoming an Independent Public School, Queensland principals, teachers, parents and local
communities have greater control and ownership of their schools.
Enhanced local governance, a locally tailored workforce, and public accountability,
transparency and performance are amongst the key opportunities this initiative is said to
foster (The State of Queensland 2014). In further reference to maintaining public ownership,
Education Queensland is explicit that IP schools in this state remain part of the public system
with access to the same support as other state schools. This emphasis on remaining part of the
public system is also a strong feature of IPS policy in WA (from which the Queensland
policy heavily borrows). Indeed, Gobby (2014) describes this feature as a key rationality that
was crucial to teachers and their unions accepting this reform given their fears that they may
lose the resources, entitlements and protections of the public system under the IPS initiative. .
Presently in Queensland there are eighty IPS. All 1230 state schools can apply to become
independent through an expression of interest process to Education Queensland. In this
application, the values of public ownership are evident in the requirement that schools
provide evidence that consultation in favour of the conversion has occurred across school
stake-holder groups, including teachers, parents and local community bodies (The State of
Queensland 2014). Further ensuring the maintenance of public ownership and setting up the
conditions for participatory governance, there are key requirements stipulated by the
Department concerning how IP schools are managed and monitored; for example, there are
clear guidelines about the composition of, and duties associated with, the school council.
Each council must include an equal number of elected parent and staff members (at least one
each), elected student members along with the school principal (who cannot hold the position
of Chair), and the leader of the Parents and Citizens association. The functions, terms of
office, and meeting requirements of the council also support participatory governance of IPS.
For instance, the council has the responsibility to “set the direction, culture and tone of the
school”; it is required to approve and monitor the school’s strategic plans and direction,
including those associated with revenue and expenditure; members of council cannot hold
office for longer than two years; and the council must meet at least twice in each semester
with decisions about the school passed only by majority vote.
These conditions reflect the value of public ownership in their facilitation of inclusive and
participatory governance. To be sure, there are other elements that are crucial in realising this
value within the context of school councils, for example, ensuring that the processes of
decision-making about the school are appropriately informed and collaborative and that the
focus of such decision-making aligns with broader educative goals such as high expectations
for all learners. It is also important to consider the ways in which the broader climate will
impact a school’s capacity to foster genuinely participatory governance. Gobby’s research
(2013b; 2014), for example, examines school leadership within the IPS system in WA.
Consistent with research broader afield (see Exley and Ball 2011), this research theorises the
parameters of the IPS as new regulatory mechanisms of neoliberal government that harness
and shape individual school autonomy to achieve political ends rather than local and
particularised community and school-led goals. Notwithstanding, policy support for
inclusive, community-led and participatory governance is important in fostering public
ownership, as is the support in emerging policy in some Australian states for creating new
structures and networks to improve education services within and beyond the IPS system (see
Department of Education, 2014b). As a potential conduit for sharing innovation and
improvement across the system (Dempster 2000), these structures and networks reflect the
ethos of collaboration so important to the value of public ownership in relation to state
Equity and access
Equity and access in areas such as material and human resource distribution to schools and
student participation are hallmark values of public schooling. As noted earlier, Australia has
perhaps been better placed than the US in terms of federal intervention to generate greater
equity within the public schooling sector through a strong policy history of redistributive
funding. Notwithstanding such provision, there are concerns in Australia, as in the US, that
school autonomy is compromising equity and access across the public system through its
promotion of social segregation and stratification. There has, for example, been an
intensifying of the gap between schools serving the privileged and those serving the under-
privileged, reflecting a residualisation within the system with negative consequences for
students living in poverty (see Lamb 2007; Smyth 2011). As Lamb’s work (2007) in the state
of Victoria reveals, such reforms have led to much lower enrolments in schools serving the
poor, who are also left to cope with much higher concentrations of the various groups of
disadvantaged students. In this climate, as with the US, there is evidence of covert enrolment
discrimination to exclude lower attaining students. Another major equity issue relating to this
residualisation that is perhaps especially pronounced in Australia relates to the challenges of
staffing. As noted earlier, the specific geography of the Australian context presents
challenges of resource provision, especially adequately staffing “difficult” schools (whose
student population is invariably disadvantaged). In these circumstances, moves within
autonomous schooling initiatives to allow staffing to be determined at the school level may
be detrimental for equity, as they signify the dismantling of an overarching centralised body
responsible for staffing all schools equitably. School-level staff selection may contribute to
residualisation in the system with the best quality teachers selected to teach in the highest
attaining schools.
Like the US, there are also equity concerns in Australia associated with issues of enterprise
and funding. There are clear expectations within the school autonomy movement for schools
to be enterprising—to, for example, work with business, industry and community
organisations in developing innovative partnerships and sponsorships that will provide extra
support for students, schools and the local community (see The State of Queensland 2014). In
Queensland, creating such partnerships and sponsorships would seem critical for IP schools
to survive economically, given the nominal amount of financial support ($50,000 on
converting and a potential $50,000 each year on application) these schools are granted to
manage their autonomy. Business partnerships and sponsorships would also seem crucial in
Victoria, Australia’s most autonomous state education system, where according to recent
accounts (see Preiss 2014), many schools are unable to pay their staff. In this climate, schools
have engaged in cost-cutting measures that clearly undermine student equity, such as
reducing specialised support, employing fewer teachers and increasing class sizes (see Lamb
2007). These are matters that, as mentioned earlier, are crucial to consider in working
towards an equitable autonomous schooling system (Dingerson et al. 2008).
Despite the strong commitment to and intended growth of autonomous schooling in
Australia, there is little emphasis or provision in policy discourse at both federal and state
level for addressing such matters. This lack of emphasis has potentially deleterious
consequences for equity. There is a danger, for example, that the newer systems of autonomy
in Queensland and Western Australia will replicate the situation in Victoria where
autonomous schooling has increased the stratification of public schools. There are, however,
some positive aspects embedded in the policy of these newer versions of school autonomy
that may serve to prevent some of this stratification. Firstly, in both contexts, the take up of
this initiative has been relatively slow and staggered over time; secondly, there are
consultative and inclusive processes that are required for schools to convert; and thirdly, there
is recognition of the importance of school and community “readiness” for converting to
independent status (see Melbourne University 2013). In WA, for example, there are new
development and selection programmes designed to build on the readiness of school
communities for IPS status that include “structured opportunities for learning guidance and
feedback” (Department of Education 2014b). These factors allow time, scope and support for
matters of equity to be carefully considered (Melbourne University 2013).
As in the US, the stratification encouraged by school autonomy in Australia has highlighted
inherent problems with the notion of choice. Choice within the context of public measures of
accountability is a key underlying principle of autonomous schools in the US (see Fabricant
& Fine 2012) and Australia (see Smyth 2011). Policy in relation to these areas in Australia
and the US reflects assumptions that parents can make an authentic choice about the quality
or otherwise of their local school. Such assumptions in Australia are apparent in relation to
the MySchool website. This website details and compares schools on the basis of standardised
test results and is, in all but name, a league table ranking all schools in Australia. One of the
key justifications for introducing the site given by the former federal government was to
provide parents with quality and accurate information about their children’s school. However,
it is predominantly well-educated and informed (i.e., middle class) parents who are able to
access and make use of this site in relation to school choice and accountability (Lingard
2011; Smyth 2011).
It is clear that the divisive effects of choice and devolution engendered by autonomous
schooling environments need to be better addressed through policy. There are broader
mandates at both state and federal levels in Australia that instate and provide guidance for
pursuing equity in schools. Moreover, the predominant model of school autonomy in
Australia can (in terms of its close ties to the state), to some extent, protect equity outcomes
through provisions in policy described earlier that foster inclusive participatory governance.
Nevertheless, there is insufficient policy attention to the ways in which school autonomy
within a system based on choice and accountability can undermine equity and access and the
democratic goal to serve all students equally (Darling-Hammond and Montgomery 2008).
Public purpose
The value of public purpose is about prioritising the moral and social imperatives of
education towards the betterment of society. As with the US, there are long-held concerns in
Australia that such imperatives are sidelined by the managerialism and narrow mandates of
the current standards and testing culture (see Dempster 2000; McInerney 2003; Blackmore
2004; Kimber and Ehrich 2011; Gobby 2013a). Greater school autonomy amid this culture is
seen as further shifting the focus and ethos of schools away from teaching and learning to
management and enterprise. The promotion of a business model of operating is both implicit
and explicit in policy discourse about how autonomous schools are expected to operate in
Australia. In the Queensland context, for example, as noted earlier, there is nominal funding
provided by the state Department to support schools to convert to and maintain their IPS
status, which can be seen as compelling schools to seek out business partnerships and
sponsorship in order to manage and maintain their extra responsibilities as independent public
schools. These responsibilities, as the research on self-managing schools in Australia has long
highlighted, are substantial (see Dempster, 2000). By recent reports, some schools are already
floundering in their efforts at managing these extra responsibilities within the IPS initiative
(see Dreyfus 2012).
A more explicit focus on a business model of operating is evident in the expectation that
independent public schools will seek out sponsorship and industry connections. Indeed, the
IPS initiative in Queensland is presented as an opportunity to work in new ways with local
businesses and industry and to “pursue creative models of sponsorship, industry partnerships
and infrastructure partnerships”. IP schools are also encouraged to include these
stakeholders” on their councils (The State of Queensland 2014). Such expectations
emphasise concerns of finance and enterprise and detract from a focus on teaching, learning
and the moral and social purposes of schooling.
On a more positive note, the close ties that autonomous schools in Australia have with the
state enable a focus on public purpose. Certainly, there are provisions within the IPS policy
that require schools to operate closer to their local community, as noted earlier in relation to
public ownership, which can facilitate an overseeing of matters of public purpose such as
social and moral learning. Like some state requirements in the US, the IPS system in
Queensland, for example, requires that schools articulate ways in which their conversion will
benefit students and the broader community and how it will lead to innovation and improved
student performance. While such parameters may not necessarily encourage social and moral
learning that leads to active and critically informed citizenship, they do, nevertheless, provide
a space for centering the value of public purpose in relation to this learning.
Additionally, there are important “out-of-scope” requirements within this policy that protect a
focus on public purpose in delimiting the scope for business profit and enterprise. For
example, the school council cannot control funds or enter into contracts with the school; they
cannot “acquire, hold, dispose of or deal with property”; and they cannot “establish a
committee or subcommittee” (The State of Queensland 2014).
While market ideologies are clearly evident and seemingly increasing in how school
autonomy is framed in Australia, such policy conditions protect the value of public purpose.
Importantly, the restrictions around business profit and enterprise as well as the requirements
associated with public ownership delimit possibilities for the for-profit sector to run schools.
This is significant. As noted earlier, schools operating under for-profit arrangements are less
likely to prioritise public purpose values in their privileging of market and business
ideologies. They are also less likely to share their innovations with other schools outside their
group, given their competitive focus on obtaining their market share of students.
There is a strong and growing commitment to instating systems of public school autonomy
across the world. This is a global policy discourse that intersects with international and
national imperatives to produce particular effects. The comparative analysis in this paper
provided an account of how such discourses and imperatives are playing out within the US
and Australia. The resonances between these two contexts highlight the homogenising effects
of this global policy while each nation’s differential engagement highlights important points
of departure.
There are distinct similarities associated with the political discourse and education practices
of charter schooling in the US and self-managing or IP schools in Australia. In both contexts,
there is political insistence as to the efficacy of this reform despite evidence to the contrary;
in both contexts, school autonomy is justified along similar lines; and in both contexts,
governance of school autonomy varies markedly from state to state. Furthermore, research in
both contexts raises very similar concerns with the ways in which autonomous schooling,
when driven by market imperatives, is undermining the integrity of public education,
associated in this paper with the values of public ownership, equity and access and public
purpose. In relation to public ownership, there are concerns that autonomy in this
environment is being taken up in ways that undermine inclusive, collaborative and locally
responsive school governance; in relation to equity and access, there are concerns that this
environment is promoting segregation and stratification between schools leading to practices
of exclusion; and in relation to public purpose, there are concerns with the sidelining of the
moral and social purposes of schooling.
Where the US system differs markedly from the Australian system is in its far greater
devolution and complexity. The system of school autonomy in Australia is far less
polycentric in governance; i.e., it is more closely tied to, and regulated by, centralised
authorities. The analysis of the Australian system presented in this paper indicates the
significance of these ties in relation to policy provision to support the goals of public
ownership, equity and access and public purpose. In relation to public ownership, for
example, there was a policy focus on inclusive and participatory school governance. In
relation to the values of equity and public purpose, while there was a lack of adequate
recognition of the divisive and stratifying effects of choice, there were particular aspects of
policy in Queensland and WA significant in protecting these values, such as requirements for
schools to be responsive to and accountable for the needs of the school and local community
through mandatory consultation and representation processes and to adhere to specific
restrictions around schools’ relationships with the business sector. Other aspects of policy in
these contexts that were seen to protect these values were associated with the slow and
staggered uptake of the IPS initiative and recognising the importance of school and
community “readiness” for converting to independent status. These factors allow time, scope
and support for matters of public ownership, equity and public purpose to be considered
(Dingerson et al. 2008).
The paper highlighted other conditions of possibility in the Australian context that supported
these values. Unlike in the US, the Australian education system is far less subject to the
unfettered market logic of the private or for-profit sector and thus more amenable to a focus
on public ownership, equity and public purpose. The more centralised and regulated system
in Australia, including the greater federal power and involvement in education, may also
support these values. A more equitable partnership in education in terms of state and federal
investment would seem more likely (than a more inequitable partnership) to foster the sense
of policy cohesion necessary to embed these values across state education systems.
International endorsement of school autonomy, as a mechanism for driving up education
standards, is reflective of its status as a globalised policy discourse. It is clear that this
discourse is driving “national systems of education towards a similar policy outlook” (Rizvi
and Lingard 2010, 42). However, as this paper has illustrated, it is also clear that school
autonomy is “grounded in a particular politics at a particular time”, shaped as it is by national
and local histories and cultures (Lingard et al. 2002, 15). Such fluidity and change, especially
in light of the susceptibility of autonomous schooling environments to prioritise market
imperatives over educative goals, provide a strong warrant for focusing on the values
presented in this paper as maintaining the integrity of public education—the hallmark values
of public ownership, equity and public purpose.
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... Cabe mencionar que, en sentido estricto, los términos «gestión» y «autonomía» no son sinónimos porque el primero puede referirse no necesariamente a decisiones autónomas, sino también a la administración y aplicación de decisiones heterónomas dictadas desde la verticalidad, en especial en sistemas educativos altamente centralizados (Du Plessis, 2020;Hooge, 2020;Macarini & Pereira, 2019;Silva & Fraga, 2021). Así, se requiere de términos que vinculen conceptualmente la gestión con la autonomía, como «autonomía de gestión», «autogestión» y «gestión centrada en la escuela», o, en su defecto, ampliar explícitamente la definición del término «gestión» para referirse a la organización escolar a partir de las propias decisiones de la comunidad escolar (Baronnet, 2015;Keddie, 2016;Páez & Tinajero, 2020;World Bank, 2014). ...
... La autonomía escolar se desprende teóricamente de este estilo de gestión descentralizada del sistema -aunque con matices que se abordarán más adelante-, toda vez que se la puede entender como la toma de decisiones sobre la escuela desde su interior, lo que se aleja -en mayor o menor medida-de una forma centralista de gobernar el sistema educativo y tiene el objetivo de atender las necesidades específicas del estudiantado y su contexto, según las propias capacidades institucionales (Adams, 2020;Gairín, 2015;Hooge, 2020;Keddie, 2016;Martínez-Íñiguez et al., 2020;Silva & Fraga, 2021). Sin embargo, es necesario tener presente que ninguna definición más específica de esta categoría puede ser única y acabada, ya que la autonomía escolar es un proceso que se encuentra enraizado histórica y espacialmente en cada contexto, por lo que supone diferentes componentes, grados y énfasis según el país en cuestión (Hooge, 2020), y se encuentra constantemente reconfigurada a lo largo del tiempo y los cambios del ambiente político (Keddie, 2016;Macarini & Pereira, 2019). ...
... La autonomía escolar se desprende teóricamente de este estilo de gestión descentralizada del sistema -aunque con matices que se abordarán más adelante-, toda vez que se la puede entender como la toma de decisiones sobre la escuela desde su interior, lo que se aleja -en mayor o menor medida-de una forma centralista de gobernar el sistema educativo y tiene el objetivo de atender las necesidades específicas del estudiantado y su contexto, según las propias capacidades institucionales (Adams, 2020;Gairín, 2015;Hooge, 2020;Keddie, 2016;Martínez-Íñiguez et al., 2020;Silva & Fraga, 2021). Sin embargo, es necesario tener presente que ninguna definición más específica de esta categoría puede ser única y acabada, ya que la autonomía escolar es un proceso que se encuentra enraizado histórica y espacialmente en cada contexto, por lo que supone diferentes componentes, grados y énfasis según el país en cuestión (Hooge, 2020), y se encuentra constantemente reconfigurada a lo largo del tiempo y los cambios del ambiente político (Keddie, 2016;Macarini & Pereira, 2019). las comunidades escolares toman decisiones y acciones en las grietas no atendidas con suficiencia por los Gobiernos (Casanova, 2021;Gairín, 2015;Lennert & Mølstad, 2020). ...
Full-text available
Resumen. Este artículo profundiza en los procesos de autonomía escolar surgidos al inicio de la pandemia por COVID-19, a partir del análisis del ciclo de políticas de la intervención del Gobierno federal para dar conti-nuidad educativa a distancia. Por medio de una revisión documental de literatura académica y documentos oficiales, así como de entrevistas y grupos focales con figuras de educación básica y media superior, se concluye que, históricamente, la autonomía escolar ha sido un proyecto difuso de política en México y que no fue un eje presente en la respuesta del Gobierno a la emergencia; sin embargo, algunas comunidades escolares han exigido el reconocimiento a su autonomía para decidir y actuar en colectivo. Palabras clave: COVID-19, autonomía escolar, colegiado, políticas educativas. School autonomy in Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic: Diffuse policies from the government, a claim from school communities Abstract. This article delves into the processes of school autonomy that emerged at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the lenses given by the analysis of the policy cycle of the federal government intervention to secure the continuity in distance education. Through a documentary review of academic literature and official documents, as well as interviews and focus groups with figures of basic and upper secondary education, it is concluded Apuntes 92, 85-123
... The rhetoric and discourse of school autonomy circulate around the world as part of a global education policy discourse (Keddie, 2016;Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). A powerful instrument for the global mobilization of this discourse, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2013(OECD, , 2018Schütz et al., 2007) uses 'school autonomy' as an overarching term for the shift toward greater local-level decisionmaking within school systems. ...
... The OECD reports make clear that there is no single, universal model of school autonomy. Complex relationships between reform policies, institutional contexts and school practices produce different forms of autonomy with varying intra-and cross-national effects (Keddie, 2016). Nevertheless, the dominant discourse of school autonomy framed by the OECD and education policies fails to signify this complexity, as exemplified by the generalized statement of a former Australian education minister that 'the more autonomous a school, the better the outcomes for students' (Pyne, as cited in Cobbold, 2014). ...
... Decentralized school governance is a major international policy trend that plays out through concepts such as self-management, decentralization, devolution and school autonomy (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). Examples of school autonomy include charter schools in the US, independent public schools in Australia, academies in England and free schools in Sweden (Keddie, 2016). School autonomy is commonly understood as the degree of 'responsibility for making decisions about a pre-determined set of issues relating to its governance and mode of operation' (Anderson, 2004, p. 73), and therefore the freedom and capacity of local decision-makers (especially principals) to act (Gawlik, 2008). ...
In response to the diverse deployments of ‘school autonomy’ in interviews with education stakeholders, we use material semiotics and the concept of ontological politics to theorize school autonomy as ontologically multiple. We analyze interviews conducted in Australia with forty-two school education stakeholders drawn from principal, parent and teacher associations as well as policymakers at federal and state government levels, to better understand the diverse deployments of public school autonomy and their political implications. We theorize managerial autonomy, professional autonomy and collective autonomy as three coexisting realities of school autonomy spoken about in the interviews. We examine their differences, the tensions in navigating these realities, and what is at stake in how school autonomy is known and enacted. The analysis suggests a concern among many stakeholders for school autonomy to be known and done differently from the dominant managerial autonomy, which we understand as a call to practise alternatives into existence.
... This article aims to advance knowledge about the enactment of devolutionary policy in schools, examining principals' and teachers' roles as policy actors and the implications for in-school relations at a time of changed governance arrangements in schooling. Understanding the interpretation and translation of the policy by schoollevel actors, as well as implications of the policy for school leaders' and teachers' work and relationships, is important in an international context where autonomy reform is increasingly common (Keddie, 2016), yet under-studied. Using the LSLD reforms as a case study, the following research questions are examined in this article: ...
... School autonomy or 'devolution' is a current trend in school governance worldwide, involving transferring of decision-making responsibility to a lower level (Keddie, 2016). The imperative to shift more responsibility and decision-making authority to schools under LSLD characterises the policy as a devolutionary reform which seeks to enhance the self-management of public schools. ...
... However, it is the qualitative nature of the study that has enabled detailed insight into the experience of this reform, indicating a shifting landscape of interpersonal relations in NSW schools. The lessons learnt from LSLD, and our analysis of it in this article, are relevant not only for future iterations of devolutionary reform in Australia, but also relevant in an international context where autonomy reform is increasingly common (Keddie, 2016). ...
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Local Schools, Local Decisions (LSLD) was a package of school autonomy reforms operating in the state of New South Wales, Australia from 2012 to 2020. The set of reforms centred on the devolution of additional powers and responsibilities to school principals, namely enhanced capacity to manage staffing and financial functions in response to local conditions. Using a conceptual lens of policy enactment, we analyse interview data gathered from 31 teachers and school leaders on how these reform areas were understood and enacted at the school level. Our findings highlight the tensions in enacting devolutionary reform in schools. While the centrality of the school principal’s role was emphasised, including in relation to contested levels of principal discretion, the enactment of devolved powers and responsibilities also produced a fracturing of staff relationships within schools, notably between principals and teaching staff. This finding is understood within a context of heightened workload and unclear expectations which attended the policy’s introduction. We contribute to the school autonomy literature through: (a) the inclusion of teachers’ voices, a stakeholder perspective often missing in the autonomy literature, enabling the impact of the reforms on interpersonal, relational dynamics to come to the fore; and (b) exploring implications for future reform suggested by the fate of LSLD. In doing so, this article deepens knowledge on the enactment of autonomy reforms in schools, drawing implications for understanding school autonomy reform around the globe.
... In nations such as Australia, Engand and the USA, decentralised school governance, which grant schools new forms of financial and managerial independence from the state, has emerged as a defining feature of contemporary education policy (Arnot and Raab 2000;Lingard, Hayes, and Mills 2002;Keddie 2016;Lubienski 2003). In this paper, in the context of one such decentralising schooling reform, we examine how the policy aspiration for parental involvement in school governance, primarily via 'school boards', brings the labour of parenting into the labour of schooling governance. ...
... It is important to note that despite emerging as a dominant policy trend, decentralised school governance is taken up in multiple guises within and across national policy contexts. The same holds for associated concepts such as 'school autonomy' or 'school devolution' which lack definitive forms (Keddie 2016). For example, Charter Schools in the USA, Academies and Free Schools in England, and various versions of 'school autonomy' in Australia, may all share a family likeness but differ in important ways (Keddie 2016;Windle 2015). ...
... The same holds for associated concepts such as 'school autonomy' or 'school devolution' which lack definitive forms (Keddie 2016). For example, Charter Schools in the USA, Academies and Free Schools in England, and various versions of 'school autonomy' in Australia, may all share a family likeness but differ in important ways (Keddie 2016;Windle 2015). This reflects Wilkins et al.'s (2019) framing of contemporary school governance arrangements as a 'loose assembly' that transmutes as it moves and settles in different contexts, becoming 'grafted onto existing structures and practices' (2). ...
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Internationally, major policy reforms seek to deepen parent and community engagement in schools. Whilst pervasive in policy documents, however, discourses surrounding ‘parent engagement’ are often elastic and imprecise, ultimately gaining meaning through the technologies of governance that shape policy enactments in schools. In this paper, we argue that contemporary schooling reforms are constructing a new ‘governing parent-citizen’ through which the parental labour of social reproduction is being extended, valorised and rearticulated. We examine how one major reform movement in Australia is articulating new roles for parents and community members in schools: the Independent Public Schools (IPS) initiative in Western Australia. Our analysis demonstrates the intensive policy intervention required to produce this new form of parental labour and the subsequent divisions of labour it is producing.
... Australia and England (along with numerous other countries) share similar policy and discourse contexts including an explicit and ongoing focus on school improvement. Further, schools in Australia and England have similarly formalised autonomy for school leaders to make local decisions, which is accompanied by increased external accountabilities and constraints that steer their work from a distance (e.g., Keddie, 2016). These shared policy and discourse conditions have been shown to result in a highly pressurised working environment for principals, leading to increasing concerns about attracting and retaining principals in the profession (Heffernan et al., 2022). ...
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This paper explores the emotional work involved in leading schools in marginalised communities, through case studies of Australian and English government-school principals theorised through Lynch’s framework of affective justice and the embedded concepts of love, care and solidarity. Participants demonstrated solidarity in their choice of working in these particular schools, which brings with them a higher level of emotional complexity. Their work towards social justice manifests through their care relationships when interacting with students, staff and communities. These interactions, full of emotion, impact the third affective relation–love. Findings show the impact of participants’ solidarity and care work on their own personal relationships. In exploring the affective domain of school leaders’ work, we seek to articulate how principals can be empowered to continue to undertake their solidarity and care work while mitigating impacts on the relationships that are vital for their own wellbeing.
... The external environment of schools can limit school autonomy or lead to confusion and misdirection. Comparative studies indicate that the specifics of time and place, including national politics, rules of governance, and the makeup of stakeholders in education systems can influence the take-up and efficacy of school autonomy (Keddie, 2016a). Within a neoliberal policy context, school authorizers, CMOs, and other social enterprises or philanthropic entities that manage autonomous schools may narrow school goals to focus on test scores in response to policies for school renewal and performance-based accountability (Huerta, 2009;Huerta & Zuckerman, 2009;Keddie, 2015). ...
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Although policies aiming to increase school-based autonomy are commonplace, we know little about how school actors use autonomy to improve organizational performance in varied contexts. This paper surfaces perspectives from school leaders and teachers on the effectiveness of autonomy and describes how these perspectives vary across schools. We use contingency theory to guide our analysis of case study data from eight schools in the Denver Public Schools (DPS) district which vary in school governance, performance, and demographics. We interviewed school principals, teachers, teacher leaders and other charter and district administrators in the 2016–17 school year, totaling 53 participants. School cases consistently reported high levels of accountability pressure from the district central office to improve student test scores that, in turn, informed their mission and goal setting. Schools also reported different levels of autonomy that varied according to school governance model and consistently described these levels as optimal for achieving school goals. Several internal and external contingencies shaped these perceptions albeit in different ways depending on autonomy level. Relevant contingencies included task uncertainty in each school’s mission, teacher organizational fit, school leadership, support from intermediate entities, and procedures to coordinate decision-making across school actors or organizational sub-units.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a market leader in international education however, research suggests that it predominantly serves elite populations (Bunnell, T., M. Donnelly, H. Lauder, and S. Whewall. 2020. “International Mindedness as a Platform for Class Solidarity.” Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education. Published online: 24 August 2020. doi:10.1080/03057925.2020.1811639). Drawing on data from the IB and the Australian government, we explore the growth of the IB in Australia for a period of 11 years (2008 to 2019). Data analysis highlights the narrow growth of the IB amongst relatively homogenous schools, suggesting a period of ‘distinction and expansion’ that represents a troubling contradiction of the IB’s stated goal to increase diversity in IB schools and contributes to the reproduction of class disparity in Australia.
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Heads of departments, DPs and principals are part of the SMT that forms the core of school leadership. They lead and oversee curriculum support and delivery in schools. SMTs influence a number of areas, including the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. Their influence can only be realised if they understand what their roles are and how to go about executing these. The literature review reveals that there is a great need for SMTs to be trained in what they are doing and in leading their schools for successful curriculum implementation. It is with this in mind that this research undertook to explore the need for curriculum leadership training programmes for SMTs. During the research, a qualitative, phenomenological approach, underpinned by an interpretative paradigm, was followed. Sampling was done purposefully, where participants were selected because of their proximity and their knowledge and understanding of the researched phenomenon. The research used semi-structured, open-ended questions for data collection. The participants were members of the SMTs (principals, DPs and HoDs) of sampled schools. Data were also collected through field notes and audio-recording devices. The data were later transcribed into text and coded. Themes were formed out of texts with similar topics for the researcher to conclude on the findings and make recommendations for the research.
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The Independent Public Schools (IPS) program began to be implemented in some Western Australian schools in 2010. The IPS program devolves a number of responsibilities to principals and is part of the political objective of removing the constraints of the education bureaucracy by fostering school level decision-making, problem-solving and innovation. This paper argues that IPS can be understood as an instance of 'advanced liberal government'. It then explores the enactment of IPS in a Western Australian high school. This paper suggests that while IPS was designed to empower principals from the constraints of the Department of Education, and principals are taking up the flexibilities offered by the program, some principals may be experiencing a lack of support and resources that imposes constraints in their capacity to innovate and problem-solve.
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This chapter discusses the education policy of the Conservative Party. Conservative education policy has been fraught with tensions since the Thatcher era. It is shown that education had been a key factor in Labour's victory in the 1997 general election and one of the policy areas in which the ‘Third Way’ notion of pairing economic competitiveness with social justice was to be pursued. The Conservative vision for education is one where individuals, families, school staff and communities will be given ‘freedom’ to ‘take responsibility’ for the education system. Ideas underpinning policy commitments of the ‘new’ Conservatives in education are supported and reinforced by the existence of a sprawling and highly interconnected policy network. There is a particularly important question to be answered around how educational equality might be reconciled with an attack on bureaucracy and an emphasis on weakly redistributive voluntarism or indeed ‘society not the state’.
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The launch of the Independent Public Schools (IPS) programme in Western Australia (WA) in 2010 reflects the neoliberal policy discourse of decentralisation and school self-management sweeping across many of the world’s education systems. IPS provides WA state school principals with decision-making authority in a range of areas, including the employment of staff and managing school budgets. Using an analytical toolkit provided by Michel Foucault and Foucauldian scholarship, this article examines how the IPS programme functions as a regime of government and self-government. Data collected from two IPS principals is used to examine the subjective effects of power as it is exercised in the IPS regime. The article finds that the IPS initiative introduces new possibilities for principals to actively participate in practices of self-formation, through which these principals self-steer, exercise their freedom and govern themselves and their schools. It illustrates how governmental mechanisms depend on, harness and shape the autonomy of these principals, and how their individual practices of self-government align with neoliberal governmentalities.
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This paper provides a comparative analysis of national curriculum reforms in Australia and the USA, set against the backdrop of global trends since the 1980s. The analysis is driven by an interest in the reconstitution of national policy spaces in global times, and draws particularly upon Stephen Carney’s notion of global policy-scapes as a way of understanding the complex and disjunctive flows of transnational policy ideas and practices. The paper begins by arguing that reforms since the early 1980s have been driven by global panics about globalisation, equity and market competitiveness. These global influences have underpinned parallel reform attempts in each country, including the development of national goals in the late 1980s, failed attempts at national standards in the early 1990s and rejuvenated attempts towards national consistency in the 2000s. Building on this, we argue that despite shared global drivers and broad historical similarities, reforms in each country remain distinct in scope and form, due to several unique features that inform the national policy space of each country. These distinctive national policy spaces provide different conditions of possibility for reform, reminding us that despite global commonalities, policy reforms are relational and locally negotiated.
This paper seeks to introduce this special issue by setting out what seem to be some of the major theoretical and methodological issues raised for comparative education by the increasing prominence of the discourses of the knowledge economy, which, it is argued, represent a particularly strong version of globalisation and its possible relationships to education systems, and hence an especially acute challenge to comparative education. It focuses on the possible implications of these changes for each of the three elements of ‘national education system’. In terms of the ‘national’ it discusses the nature and consequences of methodological nationalism, and emphasises the emerging pluri‐scalar nature of the governance of education. In terms of ‘education’, it argues that education is now being asked to do different things in different ways, rather than the same things in different ways. In terms of ‘system’, it is suggested that the constitution of education sectors may be in the process of changing, with a development of parallel sectors at different scales with different responsibilities. Overall, the article suggests that we may be witnessing the development of a new functional, scalar and sectoral (non zero sum) division of the labour of educational governance. Finally, it addresses the question ‘what is now to be compared’ and considers the consequences for both ‘explaining’ and ‘learning’ through comparative education.
The Australian Federal and state governments have been introducing neoliberal reforms to the governance of their education systems for a number of decades. One of the most recent programs of reform is the Western Australian Independent Public Schools (IPS) initiative. Similar to decentralizing reforms around the world, the IPS program seeks greater school autonomy from the state education bureaucracy by providing selected principals and school communities with a range of responsibilities. This paper seeks to better understand the kind of post-welfare form of government IPS enacts. Using concepts from the governmentality literature, this paper analyses documents related to the program, and interview data collected from key government officials responsible for the initiative. It finds that while IPS renders operable a neoliberal critique of the public sector by implementing the processes of contractualization, it also diverges from the ideal schema of neoliberalism. Analysis reveals that a number of strategic, pragmatic and political concerns have resulted in what some may view as a contradictory rationality of “the system” being instituted as a key element in this autonomizing reform. The paper calls for attention to the actual operationalizing of neoliberal reform projects to gain a nuanced understanding of modern regimes of rule.
In this wonderful new volume, Geneva Gay makes a convincing case for using culturally responsive teaching to improve the school performance of underachieving students of color. Key components of culturally responsive teaching discussed include teacher caring, teacher attitudes and expectations, formal and informal multicultural curriculum, culturally informed classroom discourse, and cultural congruity in teaching and learning strategies. This is an excellent resource for anyone who cares about improving and recognizing the factors that shape culturally responsive teaching and learning.
The American experiment with charter schools advanced on dual impulses of increasing opportunities for disadvantaged students and unleashing market competition. While critics see these independently managed schools as a form of privatisation, proponents contend that they are public schools because of funding and accountability arrangements and potential benefits, and believe that the economic logic around these schools will produce equitable educational opportunities. This analysis considers how charters are or are not instances of privatisation in education, showing that the marketised environment they are intended to nurture serves as a route for profit-seeking strategies. In reviewing the research on charter school organisational behaviour and outcomes in marketised environments, I find evidence of de facto privatisation in function if not in form. As charter schools often act like profit-seeking entities, but fail to achieve expected academic and equity outcomes, the concluding discussion considers how these schools are placed between conflicting goals, and serve as entry points for private organisations seeking to penetrate the publicly funded education sector. I conclude that perhaps their most important role is in serving as a vehicle for privatising public policy——diminishing the public while enhancing the position and influence of private interests and organisations in education policymaking.
Over the past three decades, government schools in Australia have been exposed to the effects of several major public policy reforms aimed at improving school performance. One is the well-documented push to marketisation or the re-organisation of school management around ‘market’ principles (see, for example, Whitty, Power & Halpin, 1998). Greater autonomy for schools through devolution of decision making, the introduction of school councils, a focus on school-based management, and the easing of restrictions on school catchment boundaries to enhance parental choice were all initiated with the promise of promoting more effective schools through increased competition. Another is the push to privatisation through increasing the levels of public funding to private providers, or what could be described as the public funding of private effort in the delivery of schooling.