2003 Annual Conference--A Conversation on Educational Achievements Globally. Comparative and International Education Society.
Reviewed by Gabriela Silvestre
Published on H-Education (June, 2003)
One of the key issues occupying educational comparativists is how to find the Ariadne thread to follow among the many discourses, theories, methods, and paradigms that define and challenge the field of Comparative Education. This feature has been seen as both a threat and as a source of strength to the field throughout its history. It is especially so at the CIES conferences where these debates and concerns have been shared, discussed, and even contested by educational comparativists. This theory-focused panel fits into this tradition. <p> The papers and presentations of this panel were rooted in the theoretical inquiries that have accompanied the comparative educational field through decades without producing extended results. Katherine Schuster (Northeastern Illinois University): "Comparing Histories of Comparative Educational Research: Trends from the Pages of the Comparative Education Review and the History of Education Quarterly", Franscisco Tellez (University of Pittsburgh): "Information Utilization in Policymaking: A critical Literature Review and a Research Framework to Study Secondary Education Reform in Chile", James Jacobs and Sheng Yao Cheng (University of California, Los Angeles): "Metatheory Analysis of Comparative and International Education Research", and Brian Yoder and Dr. John Weidman (University of Pittsburgh): "Neo-liberalism as an Analytical Framework to Examine the Educational Policies of Two Countries in Transition: Mongolia and Uzbekistan". <p> I regard these presentations as works in progress. They embody the authors' particular interrogations over some of the conceptual and theoretical perplexities within the field such as, the relationship between research and policy-making, the construction of theoretical models to map the paradigms within the field, and the use of particular methodologies to explore the theoretical production of it. <p> In general, the works by Schuster, Tellez , Jacobs and Cheng, and Yoder and Weidman ask questions such as: What are the theoretical paradigms within the field and how do they interact? What is the role of research and theories in policy-making and implementation of educational policies? How is it possible to combine theories and models in the analysis of particular educational reforms, and is it possible to combine or even establish points of convergence from different theoretical and methodological perspectives? <p> The panel started with a relatively scarce audience, but half an hour into the session, the room was full. In a way, this was a metaphor for how the theoretical reflection within this field can come to grow and acquire a consistent voice and interest. <p> The presentation given by Katherine Schuster specifically addressed the use of historical research (broadly defined) to investigate conceptual developments within the field of comparative education. Based on analyses of the content of both the <cite>History of Education Quarterly (HEQ)</cite> and the <cite>Comparative Education Review (CER)</cite> from their inceptions until the late 1990s, Schuster's work highlighted the absence of a comparative conceptual analysis through a historical approach between two journals that have been the avenues for the scholars in each field. She also found the points of encounter between <cite>HEQ</cite> and <cite>CER</cite> until the 1970s, when both publications constructed different avenues of theoretical and methodological explorations. She identified as one point of encounter the recurrent comparative approach that appeared in both publications. Furthermore, Schuster found and explained the dialogue-sharing issues and topics of these two journals during the middle of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, by the 1970s these journals initiated the exploration of more specific topics that somehow stopped their interactions. <p> Schuster used graphics, tables, and quantitative and narrative explanation to describe the dynamics of both publications while analysing their historical and comparative conceptual perspectives. She provided statistics of articles utilizing historical methods in the <cite>CER</cite> and of comparative research articles in the <cite>HEQ</cite> between the 1950s and the end of the 1990s. The presenter also elucidated the influence of editors in both publications and tried to re- construct their development. Under the editorship of Harold Noah, the <cite>CER</cite> published the most historical research articles, while the <cite>HEQ</cite> published more comparative articles during the editorship of Mattingly and McClellan. Schuster's research is based on the analysis of traditional written sources. She utilized them to explore the theoretical implications of these influences on the journals and the fields themselves. Schuster also discovered a parallel between one journal and the other establishing a common theoretical aim. She identified the topic of decentralization in education as an original and unique one within <cite>CER</cite>. <p> What made Schuster's theoretical comparison truly interesting was the combination of both a historical methodology, and a comparativist's lens to explore the theoretical developments of the journals under scrutiny. At the end of her presentation, Schuster proposed a summary where she evaluated and synthesized the different indicators that she considered and the relationships among them. She proposed that historical methodology in comparative education could be an avenue for a greater methodological development of the field. <p> Another presentation in this panel, the one by Francisco Tellez, "Information Utilization in Policymaking: A Critical Literature Review and a Research Framework to Study Secondary Education Reform in Chile," addressed the impact and the importance of research and its use within policy-making reform processes. His paper and presentation proposed a model to respond to this particular problem. In an enriching and inquisitive way, Tellez showed how the theoretical inquiry within the field has been usually eclipsed by the need to perform policy-making solely oriented to its implementation in a short-term perspective. His analysis traced the use of research in a particular case of Chile's secondary education reform during the 1990s. Tellez explained that in this particular education reform, there was an intense process of information utilization. He described that policy makers and education officials recognized the high level of utilization of research supporting the reform in Chile. This presentation successfully tackled the equivocal and somewhat blurred relationship between information utilization and educational policy- making while demonstrating the need for a model for examining how information utilization is applied in terms of educational reform in Latin America. A main contribution of Tellez's presentation was his characterization of a policymaking process as a complex area that is shaped by a variety of factors such as theories and contexts. Although he attempted to construct a comprehensive theoretical model for the field, he also acknowledged the imperative to situate any model in the analysis of specific processes of reform. <p> In the field of comparative education, the urgency of research to address educational reform and its implementation has diminished the time taken for theoretical reflection and for metatheoretical frameworks. The paper presented by Jacobs and Cheng specifically addressed the need to construct new models for metatheoretical analysis. Jacobs and Cheng defined metatheory as an overarching theory devised to analyze entire theoretical systems. Using Powerpoint slides, Jacobs and Cheng presented the diversity of paradigms in the field of comparative education and constructed a map of the complicated relationships among them. Seeking to provide a typology of paradigms in the field, Jacobs and Cheng established correlations between paradigms, and political, economic, cultural, and ideological contexts. Drawing on a particular notion of paradigm, they explored the idea that different paradigms have guided research within the comparative educational field. It is within this scope that they problematized the notion of metatheory. <p> Then, the authors offered their own model-illustrated in a graphic of Tai-Ji--a circle divided into black and white portions of identical shape and extension--to explain the dynamics of the paradigms in the field and to redefine those dynamics within a postmodern framework. As they explained, the Tai-Ji model offers a non-linear framework that has the ability to span time, space, and theoretical paradigms. Its strength lies in its ability to adapt to the need of the research/study, depending on the context of a given situation or country. While this attempt to construct a model is valuable and enriching for the theoretical discussion in the field, Jacobs and Cheng's proposal for an eclectic theoretical approach has weaknesses. The discussion of Jacobs and Cheng's model by Ronald Paulston, one of the most respected theorists within the field, led to a dynamic exchange of ideas at the end of this presentation. <p> Finally, the presentation by Brian Yoder of his paper co-authored with John Weidman, scrutinized the need to re-define neoliberalism as a theoretical model to investigate processes of educational reform in countries in transition. Yoder's most important claim was that the ideas framed in neoliberalism (defined as more leaned to an empirical model instead of a theoretical one) should be re-constructed as a theoretical model for the analysis of processes of education reform. <p> In a sort of chronological trip, Yoder took the audience through the birth, growth, and blossom of neoliberalism as a source of policy foundation. He also presented some intertwined issues in educational policies: the role of education within the state and the role of the state in the eye of the storm of processes of policy formation. Although Yoder identified this as a work in progress, the comparative approach that he proposed was missing a critical theoretical concept: globalization. This notion has been both a key theoretical instrument and also a main dynamic that founded and sustained processes of educational reform in countries in transition. Nevertheless, the strength of this presentation was its its twofold purpose: the idea of constructing a model for analysis and the comparison of educational reforms based on neoliberal ideas in the cases of Mongolia and Uzbekistan. These cases represent countries in transition where educational reforms are closely identified with neoliberal concepts such as privatisation of higher education. One of the most important contributions of this presentation was the utilization of comparative charts that traced the processes of educational reform through the lenses of neoliberal concepts such as the prevalence of free market principles to promote efficiency or the economic justification of the curriculum reform. In a broader schema, this presentation scrutinized the role and weight of theories and ideologies within educational reforms in process. <p> As chair of this panel, I tried not only to allow sufficient time to each presenter to expose his or her conclusions, but also to reserve time for discussion with the audience. The debates generated after each presentation and at the end of the panel focused on questions about the researchers' theoretical identifications and the position of the authors towards notions such as postmodernism, neoliberalism, and positivism. <p> In summary, these presentations inquired into the importance of theories within the field of comparative education and their influence in the processes of research and policy design. Furthermore, these presentations shared a common interest: to place the role of theories at the core of comparative education research. They represent a starting point for discussions that need to flourish within a field where there is a lack of this type of inquiry. <p>
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Gabriela Silvestre. Review of , 2003 Annual Conference--A Conversation on Educational Achievements Globally.
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