Review of Adamson et al. (2016)

Adamson, F., Åstrand, B., & Darling-Hammond, L. (Eds). (2016). Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes. New York, NY: Routledge.

Reviewed by Maria Velasquez

Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes seeks to contribute to the ardent debates focused on which model –public or private –establish quality education, through an international and comparative lens. The edited book examines the ways in which six countries, which fall within the spectrum of market to public investment models, are doing in regards to educational outcomes. The six countries –Chile, Cuba, Sweden, Finland, the United States, and Canada –are discussed individually, and comparatively to countries with opposing education models that are in geographic and cultural proximity. Using international standards, such as PISA outcomes and OECD recognitions, the book interrogates educational outcomes while centering on questions of equity.

This book as whole seeks to push back on discourses and assumptions that are prevalent in education reform regarding market-based models. Chapter 1, by Adamson & Åstrand (2016), frame the past two decades push towards educational market-based models as the “Global Education Reform Movement” (GERM). GERM is a concept developed by Sahlberg, a contributor in the book, who contextualizes “action of theory” associated to privatization –e.g., school choice, vouchers, high-stakes testing, etc. –in education reform and advocacy (citing Sahlberg, 2011). The book centers on the influence and contestation of GERM via three countries that use market-based models (Chile, US and Sweden) and three countries that use public investment models (Cuba, Canada and Finland). Each chapter centers on identifying the policy drivers, economic rationales, and educational mechanisms prevalent in each country and how they relate to quality education and equity.

Chapter 2 provides the case study of Chile. Castro-Hidalgo & Gómez-Álvarez (2016) provide a historical account of the educational investments and aspects that were prioritized in four eras of Chilean history. Through a long-term neoliberal experimentation, Chile, has the “most segregated educational systems in the world” with learning gains that are “among the lowest performers in terms of international measures” (p. 21).

Chapter 3 provides the case study of Cuba. Cuba despite being a lower-middle income country, is recognized as having higher math and language test than children in most Latin American countries. Carnoy (2016) highlights four lessons from Cuba, using findings of 2003-2009 Stanford team study of Cuba’s quality mathematics education in comparison to 7 other countries. Carnoy argues that while Cuban authoritative state impacts adult freedoms, it is protective of children freedoms and rights through an infrastructure that focuses on education, poverty, and healthcare. Education infrastructure in particular has established a strong teaching force, with centralized goals centered on praxis, and a sustainable educator mentorship.

Chapter 4 provides the case study of Sweden. Sweden went from being one of the top countries in PISA assessments to experiencing an all-time low, while designated as one of OECD countries with “the most rapid growth of inequality” (74). Åstrand (2016) provides a historical trajectory of the countries mixed public and private model and argues that the country experienced a short-lived comprehensive education reform era. This era centered on detracking and equalizing opportunities, following WWII, and is now experiencing a U-turn in its educational model focused on competition, tracking, choice and inequality.

Chapter 5 provides the case study of Finland. Sahlberg (2016) delineates the work behind Finland’s education model, which went from lowest ranking to having the highest outcomes in the world. Despite having a competitive economic model with public and private models, Finland’s education system is solely public. Educational improvements focused on detracking, teacher development and equitable funding practices.

Chapter 6 provides the case study of the United States. Adamson & Darling-Hammond (2016) highlights the mixed models implemented in states. On the market-based spectrum the authors discuss Milwaukee’s voucher system and New Orleans charter school system and their stratifying outcomes. On the public investment highlight side discuss Massachusetts as the highest achievement state with New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont following suit.

Chapter 7 provides the case study of Canada. Fullan & Rincon-Gallardo (2016) delineate the educational policies that went from being market-based models in the 1990s to public investment post-2003, with a focus on Ontario. The authors highlight the three focuses of reform/framework that has made it the highest-preforming and most equitable systems in the world.

Lastly, Chapter 8 synthesizes each case study and highlights the characteristics of market-based and public investment models. Darling-Hammond & Adamson (2016) focus on how educational models that are recognized to have stronger educational outcomes, through international measures, are those that have a strong public investment model. These center on teacher development, training, mentoring and praxis; and for students learning opportunities.

Some critics may argue that the book sought a large endeavor in comparing educational models and student outcomes for six countries. With distinct methodologies and depth of focus –e.g., practice, history, reform trajectories –the chapters may seem a bit disconnected. With a focus on policy drivers, economic rationales, and educational mechanisms prevalent in each country, universalizing descriptions may have also emerged. The complexities behind the practices, who and what is driving such practices are not particularly interrogated. However, despite this, the book bring in conversation various cases or spectrum of models in one book. It complicates understandings of possibilities not only at the nation state-level but in the types of educational models. In this regard it centers not only on possibilities but the dangerous of GERM.