School choice and inequity in Chile

1393 hits till Sept. 2019

In September 2016 CEPPE* (Universidad Católica de Chile) published 'Mercado escolar y oportunidad educacional’ with the subtitle 'Libertad, diversidad y desigualdad’. (Editors: Javier Corvalán, Alejandro Carrasco and J.E. García-Huidobro). This publication seemed very interesting and opportune given the growing inequality of education in Chile and the discussions about causes and attempts for improvement.  I was able to receive the book via friends in Chile.

The book presents an overview of several years of research of CEPPE on school choice. Part I offers a revised history and empirical analysis of the functioning of the schools market in Chile. Part II develops a detailed analysis of the relations between various social classes and the schools market. It also presents in part III some (older) work of foreign experts who had a distinct influence on the study of the mechanisms of markets in education in Europe and the United States.

I experienced the book to be more difficult to grasp than other books, articles and reports in Spanish I had read on education in Chile. To me the book seemed to use another level of Spanish, partly more philosophical and partly by using less common words, long sentences and complex constructed logic, etc. So it was a kind of struggle to read and try to understand the introductions and the conclusions of the 15 chapters.

I understood better why I struggled so much, after reading the review Silvia Eyzaguirre** about the book. She also discussed the book at its presentation at CEPPE. I am not sure whether her message at the presentation was the same as in the review. I can hardly imagine. The message is rather critical. It goes far beyond the usual reviews that mainly present a condensed overview with some remarks at the end on e.g. what is not included in the book. Reviews that try to avoid harming collegiality. I prefer the style of Eyzaguirre.

The main comments of Eyzaguirre are: • The majority of the authors of the different chapters does not understand ‘mercado’, or at least sometimes confuses concepts and incorporates aspects strange to it (like profit, shared payment, selection, competition and desmunicipalisation - creating new middle level organisations between the Ministry and the schools); • The text is a compendium of different articles, very dissimilar among themselves, which the editors try to unite, in which they don’t succeed; • The analyses of the book restrict themselves mainly to ‘la Región Metropolitana’ (Santiago de Chile and surroundings); • The quality of the articles in the book is very heterogeneous; • Conclusions offered by the book should be considered with extreme precaution since a large part of the conclusions does not rest upon a robust and reliable evidence.

To me that seems to be difficult to digest for the authors, especially for a research centre of a top level university.

But it also revealed to me another reason why I had wrestled so much with the book. It was not sufficient that I was able to read the Spanish texts. I should delve into the research methodology and als try to understand the texts at a deeper level. Although I am rather familiar with the Chilean educational system*** I definitively have to study more about the why's of its structure and functioning. Context is important as Hallinger writes in a recent, very illuminating article about educational leadership****.

Still I found it fascinating to read about:  • Complexity of processes of choosing a secondary school not only for parents of lower, but also for parents of higher socio-economic class; • Struggle of medium class parents in keeping their (new) social status for their kids and their family, wrestling with feelings of guilt and (experienced) injustice; • Social networks of parents being the major source of information for parents of all socio-economic levels; • Low level of use by parents of examination results of prospective schools in their selection processes; • Relevance of other criteria, such as knowledge and awareness, distance, safety, costs; • Influence of restrictions in the supply of schools to the actual freedom of choice of families;  • Entrepreneurs carefully choosing places where to establish new schools: not in communities where they expect it to be more costly to teach students; • More schools, but not with higher diversity or quality; • Effects of a market approach to schooling on the professional identity of teachers; • Dilemmas concerning forbidding wealthy parents to pay extra for educating their kids; • Foresight of Viola Espinola who already in 1989 wrote about the negative effects of the Chilean approach to education (markets and vouchers); • Recent measures of the government to change the situation: Gradually changing the system of contributions by parents, prohibiting making profits by owners of schools, prohibiting selection of students by schools. 

The book does not discuss at length (but see the end of chapter 1) the consequences of the results of the research done. I had expected as central question: Now that free school choice does not work as intended and hoped for, what else should be done to reach the goal that all schools deliver a better education?  

In a next blog I will elaborate on other measures the Chile government took and intends to take to change the situation. One interesting element (from my perspective) is that two consortia of (inter)national universities are working since the end of 2015 towards offering better support to principals in leading their schools and the necessary innovations.

Those consortia are: - Centro de Desarrollo de Liderazgo Educativo (CEDLE) Universidad Diego Portales, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Universidad Católica de Temuco, Universidad de Talca y Escuela de Postgrado de la Facultad de Educación de la Universidad de California – Berkeley.

- Líderes Educativos Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Fundación Chile, Universidad de Chile, Universidad de Concepción, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education de la Universidad de Toronto.

The consortia already published a range of interesting planning documents, research, articled and reports featuring amongst others networks of schools working together on innovation. Quite a change compared to the current competition!


* Centro de Estudios de Políticas y Prácticas en Educación.

** Eyzaguirre. S. (2016, noviembre 23). Reseña de Mercado escolar y oportunidad educacional. Libertad, diversidad y desigualdad by J. Corvalán, A. Carrasco, & J. E. García-Huidobro (Eds.). Education Review, 23. Sylvia Eyzaguirre is working at CEP: Centro de Estudios Publicos.

*** I can recommend:  Montecinos, Carmen, e.a., Targets, Threats and (dis)Trust: The Managerial Troika for Public School Principals in Chile.

Abstract: Public education in Chile has been steadily losing students as a result of the implementation, for the last 35 years, of a market model. In this paper we exemplify how a structural problem (public schools’ declining enrollment) created by neoliberal educational policies is transformed into an individual problem to be managed by the public school principal. Principals must sign a performance-based contract that specifies sanctions and incentives for meeting enrollment targets. The current paper examines, through data produced by in-depth interviews and shadowing, how 19 principals worked toward that target. Findings show that to manage enrollment principals spent, on average, 24% of their time performing marketing tasks. Principals, thus, have developed an entrepreneurial self, which is promoted by quasi-market school governance models. Through this entrepreneurship they manage various threats that represent barriers to the possibilities for meeting enrollment targets.

**** Hallinger, Philp, Bringing context out of the shadows of leadership


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