The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Bo Goeminne, Student at the Catholic University Leuven, Belgium.

Competition between schools is not a new phenomenon. Every year multiple newspapers, magazines and rapports publish rankings of universities across the world. Not only the universities are ranked, but also the faculties within these international institutions. New students and parents are drawn back and forth between colleges and universities. Each of them promising the best education for their son or daughter. The last decade this tendency of stimulating competition between educational institutions has only increased. Nowadays, it has even made a crossover to primary and secondary school education.

“Let schools compete for kids” is one of the tag lines of, presidential candidate, Donald Trump concerning the future of the educational policy of the United States. We all agree that parents should be able to make an informed choice when they go hunting for a good school. According to Trump, competition between schools is the solution to make sure parents can make the best decision. The result is that educational institutions will be forced to improve if they want to attract parents and their children. In this vision, schools that are not able to draw enough students into their classrooms will have to close.

These changes are not only considered in the US, but also in European countries competition between schools is a booming business. This approach on education is completely in line with neoliberal theories. Individuals are seen as entrepreneurs who are responsible for their own learning. They have to make choices and act like managers of their own life. In this case the state appears to have only a facilitating role. However, governments act like their point of departure is the learner, but in the end it’s the state itself that benefits from better achieving students. Educational institutions are becoming more and more a part of the economic market.

There are organisations and companies that have been paying attention to all these new needs and wishes of international governments. For example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was clever enough to give schools what they needed to compete with each other. They developed PISA-based tests for schools. These series of tests are based on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), which the OECD developed in 2000. The difference between the two measurements is that the PISA is used on a national level and the PISA-based tests for school-level assessment. It has already been executed in schools in the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain.

Unlike the results of PISA are the PISA-based school tests not published. However, schools can share their results with others educational institutions. The aim is that schools with lower scores can learn from schools with higher scores. Although, it’s not the intention of the OECD to create a new ranking, these last two sentences are contradictory. Rankings will automatically occur, when schools start to compare their scores. Some schools will be able to improve their education system, but a ranking of basic schools will also have some negative consequences. Schools in the same neighbourhood will have to fight for their students. Subsequently, partnerships between schools will vanish and institutions with the biggest wallet will thrive. Besides this, there is the question if comparison mechanisms pay attention to the context of the participating schools. It has to take in account who lives in the surroundings of the school and what their socio-economic status is. The fear is that especially families with low incomes will be left behind and segregation will be encouraged.

Competition between schools and comparison mechanisms have to be handled with caution. Improving the quality of the schools in Europe and the United States can not only be accomplished by letting the schools fight over their students. Schools should share good practices. Finally, the state can’t just take a step back and watch how the wheat is separated from the chaff. The government needs to examine each school and allocate the appropriate means. In this way students will be treated more equally and every one of them will have the change to improve their school performances.

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