POLITICS OF EDUCATION ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK, 1996, 37-44
University of Sydney, Australia
In this Chapter I will explore whether parents feel they influence schools' community participation. This topic has been 'hot' in most developed nations throughout the 1990s (overlapping political as well as geographical borders) and also has been a key ingredient in reforms in the new countries of Central Europe. As such, education policy-intended or in practise-provides a context where the politics of education emerges with tensions that arise, tradeoffs made, and is at its most transparent. This chapter reports research from Sydney, Australia, with nearly 100 teachers and 700 families in a neighborhood community (Crump and Eltris 1995a, 1995b). This research is part of a broader work with the Institue for Responsive Education and the League of Schools Reaching Out based at Boston University. The chapter thus reports on the intent and practise of recent policy initiatives designed to refom the connections between school and home into a stronger sense of partnership (See Frutcher et al. 1993).
The immediacy of these issues in current public policy suggests a practical political problem for policy decision makers, school personnel, families and communities as they struggle to define what is intended, who is in control and who benefits. However, many such strategies are quick-fix solutions (i.e. a 'policy burlesque'; Crump 1993). Rarely are teachers, families and employers allowed to share perspectives or become involved in a period of research and development on programmes in a supportive educational environment. Rarely are staff or families prepared for more open, two-way school-home connections. This failure to locate the levels of preparedness of those affected by the programme alerts us to an analysis of the initial 'problem' that at worst has ignored the micro-political implications; or at least revealed naive minimal expectation about the consequential shifts in authority and control within the school; as well as between the school and its community during the following implementation (Berg 1993). Indeed, the rationale for many of these programmes assumes at least a neutral political context. Programmes rarely build their strategies on the notion that there may be a negative reaction that is highly political and complex and that is multiplied through the various interest groups within and without schools and their communities (local, regional and state). Yet complex reaction is politically inevitable and quite common in public policy in and beyond education (Crump 1992a, 1992b). Therefore, we ask, where tensions exist, are there sufficient mechanisms of schooling to accommodate political pressures, i.e. tradeoffs?
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