Regulating the Early Childhood Field

Article excerpt

Policy and the state

The state (at both national and state levels) has always played an important part in educational policy-making and today represents a large and complex organisation that includes politicians and bureaucrats. However, politicians, bureaucrats, and the ensuing policies that are developed reflect particular agendas. According to Kenway (1990), questions need to be asked about why particular policies are adopted: on whose terms; on what grounds; in whose interests, and whether competing interests have been negotiated. Some of these questions are discussed in this article with the aim of understanding `what governments do, why and with what effects' (Taylor, Rizvi, Lingard & Henry, 1997, p.35).

A critical policy analysis is used to argue that one recent early childhood curriculum document is regulatory because it is about `controlling practices' (Taylor et al., 1997, p.35), specifically the daily practices of early childhood educators. As Kenway (1990) has suggested, regulation and control of practices occurs in particular ways, with specific influences being evident in policies and curriculum initiatives. I examine outcomes-based education by using a national example, Putting Children First: Quality Improvement and Accreditation and Accreditation System Handbook (National Child Care Accreditation Council [NCAC], 1993) to demonstrate how curriculum documents attempt to regulate what happens in early childhood education. A similar framework could be used to analyse any of the recent early childhood curriculum documents produced by the various states (e.g. Queensland School Curriculum Council [QSCC], 1998a), as they too incorporate outcomes approaches. I begin with a brief discussion of outcomes-based education and then move to a short case analysis of the accreditation (NCAC, 1993) document.

Outcomes-based education

Dominant values, economic conditions, and political priorities influence educational decisions prevailing at any time. The contemporary perspective influencing education is outcomes or competency-based education (Stevenson, 1995), which accompanied the application of economic rationalism to education. Politicians throughout Australia have embraced moves to outcomes-based education by endorsing the legislation of the accreditation document (NCAC, 1993), the Common and Agreed National Goals for Schooling in Australia (Hobart Declaration) (Australian Education Council [AEC], 1989) and the Queensland Years 3 and 5 Testing Program (QSCC, 1998b). During the 1990s, various states published outcomes-based curriculum guidelines or professional development materials that included both the compulsory and the non-compulsory years. Outcomes-based education and training continues to be the subject of controversy in Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States (Collins, 1993).

Part of the controversy about outcomes-based education in Australia has occurred because of the restructuring of Australian education over the past decade. Reid (1998) has argued that there has been a major shift:

   ... from conceptualizing public education as a public good--equally
   available to all and sustained by such notions as social justice, community
   and collaboration--to a view of public education ... that is characterized
   by competition, social stratification, hierarchy and individualism ...
   (p.xii).

For many teachers, outcomes-based education means a redefinition of not only the goals of education, but of curriculum and how it is implemented. This is because, as Jackson (1993) has argued, `competency [outcomes] based education and training transforms the relations of both curriculum design and program administration, using elaborate documentary information systems' (p. 155).

Ashby and Grieshaber (1996) have argued that the accreditation document (NCAC, 1993) is a curriculum for long day care centres in Australia, `powered by an economic rationalist impetus with an ulterior motive of quality assurance based on visible outcomes (competencies)' (p. …