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 9

Realizing the Mission: Catholic Approaches to School Effectiveness

Gerald Grace

The field of school effectiveness research (SER) is currently marked by a lively debate and by conflicting evaluations of its own significance and effectiveness. For Reynolds (1995, p. 53) this 'infant discipline' has already achieved many positive results in that:

…it has helped to combat pessimism about the importance of the school system, to build professional self esteem and to provide a knowledge base that can act as a foundation for the development of improved practice…

Reynolds emphasizes the important role which SER has played in overcoming earlier notions of structural and cultural determinism (the school as relatively ineffective against existing social divisions) and against feelings of powerlessness for educational practitioners which could arise from such an analysis. In short, against pessimistic forms of sociological pre-destination along the lines of 'abandon hope, all you who work in capitalist school systems', SER has offered a measure of hope and a form of empowerment for education professionals.

For Hamilton (1996, pp. 54-6), however, school effectiveness research is not an infant discipline but 'an international industry' engaged in 'peddling feel-good fictions' among educators by generating research and writing which is 'technically and morally problematic'. The problematic nature of its research and writing, according to Hamilton, is that it oversimplifies both the concept of 'effectiveness' and the comprehensive range of methodological approaches needed to appreciate it. Above all, it offers to New Right ideologues in education policy an apparently scientific legitimation for placing all of the blame for educational underachievement upon 'failing' schools and 'incompetent' teachers, while 'winning' schools and 'successful' teachers can celebrate the virtues of self-improvement. Such debates, as that represented here, are important for a field of research which has risen to prominence in only the last 20 years. For all his positive credo in praise of school effectiveness research, Reynolds (1995, pp. 54-9) does recognize that it is characterized by: 'many controversies concerning epistemological issues, methodological concerns and more theoretical matters'. He also recognizes that: 'we have been instrumental in creating a quite widespread popular view that schools do not just make a difference but that

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