Rhetoric and reality of school improvement in Chile. A multiple case study of school improvement policy and external technical support programmes for municipal primary schools
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
Currently we are witnessing the expansion of performance-based reforms in education around the world, based on a global education reform agenda. In Chile, the policy framework for school improvement has changed because of modifications to the governance structure and the introduction of performance standards in the school system. This policy framework defines a performance-based accountability system according to students’ achievement in Chile’s national examination (SIMCE), and institutes external technical support as the main policy strategy for improvement at the school level. This policy framework assumes a decontextualised, technical-rational perspective of school improvement, influenced by school effectiveness literature. Based on a social theory perspective, I aim to problematise this notion of improvement by studying the influence of the Chilean policy framework for school improvement on the implementation of external technical support programmes in seven primary municipal schools. Through a qualitative multiple case study, I look at the rationale (rhetoric) of the policy framework for school improvement by inquiring about its development and implementation, and in addition, I look at the practice (reality) of improvement in schools in relation to the implementation of three distinct external technical support programmes. The findings from the case studies indicate that the Chilean policy framework for school improvement normalises and places responsibility at the school level, promoting an accountability-based, autonomy-driven, self-improving school system. Furthermore, the influence of the policy framework is found on the implementation of external technical support programmes, the narratives of school improvement that these programmes put forward, and the way these programmes contribute to the attributes of a self-improving school system. Building on this study, and supported with social theory literature, I challenge the dominant notion of school improvement, making the case for and conceptualising an approach to school improvement studies that looks beyond the technical-rationality of effectiveness.