School Effectiveness for Whom? Challenges to the School Effectiveness and School Improvement Movements

By Roger Slee; Gaby Weiner et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

The Idols of the Market Place

David Hamilton

There are also idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Market-place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there. For it is by discourse that men associate; and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar. And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations wherewithin some things learned men are wont to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies. (Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620, aphorism 43)

The school effectiveness rationale, promulgated in the 1990s, is unwarranted. Its claims to be authoritative do not succeed; its prescriptions cannot be justified by appeals to the canons of science; it embraces an unconvincing rhetoric redolent of Bacon's idols of the market place. This chapter focuses upon these weaknesses. It constitutes a response to two aspects of the school effectiveness rationale. The first part-Peddling Feel-good Fictions (see also Hamilton, 1996)-addresses the logic of an argument which, in its turn, generates policy prescriptions cast in the form of 'key characteristics of effective schools'. And the second part of this chapter-Fordism by Fiat-examines the consequences of such a rationale, in this case focusing on the distributive assumption that effective schools are necessarily effective for all pupils.


Peddling Feel-good Fictions

Effective schooling has become an global industry. Its activities embrace four processes: research, development, marketing and sales. Research entails the construction of new prototypes; development entails the commodification of these prototypes; marketing entails the promotion of these commodities; and sales entails efforts to ensure that market returns exceed financial investment. The school effectiveness industry, therefore, stands at the intersection of educational research and social engineering.

There is another perspective on school effectiveness research. Its efforts cloak school practices in a progressive, social-darwinist, eugenic rationale. It is progressive because it seeks more efficient and effective ways of steering social progress. It is

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