Monitoring School Performance: A Guide for Educators

By J. Douglas Willms | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

The Social and Political Context of Monitoring Systems

One view of monitoring systems is that they provide an orderly, objective means to identify effective and ineffective schools, and to determine what factors affect school performance. The belief is that subjective judgements about the schooling process can be replaced with objective facts, which can be used to make rational decisions about the problems facing educators. Torgerson (1986) called this the positivist's dream, where knowledge replaces politics. He referred to it as the first face of policy analysis:

It is a dream of the abolition of politics-of putting an end to the strife and confusion of human society in favour of an orderly administration of things based upon objective knowledge. (p. 34)

The opposite view is that monitoring school performance is itself a political activity: those doing it wish to control the operation of schooling and use 'objective knowledge' to silence opposition. Those holding this view would argue that the knowledge derived from monitoring lacks scientific objectivity. It depends on the design of a monitoring system, and the design cannot be separated from the social and political context of the schooling system. This argument is not without merit. The monitors of school performance must decide when to collect data, which grade levels to monitor, which outcome measures to use, what aspects of school policies and teacher behaviors are important, and how best to analyze and report data. These decisions are ultimately subjective because there is no consensus amongst educators or parents on the goals of schooling, nor is there an uncontested model of school or teacher effectiveness. Decisions about design and implementation necessarily have favourable consequences for some groups in a schooling system, and unfavourable consequences for others. Thus the view that monitoring can be a politically neutral administrative tool is naive. The extreme position, that monitoring is entirely a political tool, is consistent with Torgerson's (1986) second face of policy analysis, where it appears as 'the domination of politics over knowledge' (p. 37; see also Carr and Kemmis, 1986; Gaskell, 1988).

The goal of this chapter is to describe the social and political context of monitoring systems in the UK and the US, and to discuss the tensions

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Monitoring School Performance: A Guide for Educators
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Tables and Figures viii
  • Preface x
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Social and Political Context of Monitoring Systems 12
  • Chapter 3 - Monitoring Systems and the Input-Output Model 28
  • Chapter 4 - The Estimation of School Effects 38
  • Chapter 5 - Measuring Pupil Inputs 50
  • Chapter 6 - Schooling Processes 64
  • Chapter 7 - Schooling Outcomes 82
  • Chapter 8 - Design of a Monitoring System 91
  • Chapter 9 - Analyses for an Annual Report 103
  • Chapter 10 - A Research Program 120
  • Chapter 11 - Conclusions 143
  • Technical Appendix 157
  • References 163
  • Index 175
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