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1 of 35 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 9 Number 31August 25, 2001ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2001, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .Globalization, Consumers, Citizens, and the “Private School Advantage” in Argentina (1985-1999) Gustavo E. Fischman California State University—Los AngelesCitation: Fischman, G.F. (2001, August 25). Globali zation, Consumers, Citizens, and the "Private School Advantage" in Argentina (1985-1999). Education Policy Analysis Archives, 9 (31). Retrieved [date], from 31.html.AbstractLocal actors' perceptions of curricular and managem ent changes in two private schools and one neighboring public secondar y school in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, are analyzed. An explor ation was conducted of how, within an ideologically and politically pro -reform context and a widespread acceptance of the "private school advant age," principals, teachers, and students in these schools evaluated t he changes (or lack of them) in management, teaching, and curriculum orien tations of the secondary education sector.


2 of 35Introduction In the debate over implementing “choice and free-ma rket” mechanisms to correct the deficiencies of public schools, it is often mention ed that in the eighteenth century, philosophers such as Adam Smith, Thomas Paine and J ohn Stuart Mill had already advanced similar ideas (Wells & Stuart, 1993). Scot t Sweetland (2000) noted that Adam Smith argued that the fairest, most efficient metho d of providing education was for governments to give parents tuition money and let t hem have the freedom to spend it at whichever school they chose. Yet, when seen in the context of Europe in the eighteenth century –where most educational services were “priv ate and for-profit” and served only a small fraction of the population—Adam Smith’s ori ginal quasi-voucher idea, loses its contemporary appeal. Indeed, at that historic junct ure the idea of educating every child was itself hotly debated, and was considered either dangerously utopian or the key to a truly democratic society.In some countries, and in spite of Adam Smith’s rec ommendations the once quixotic aspiration that every child had a right of access t o schools, was achieved not by the growth of private education but through the expansi on of government regulated and financed systems of public education. The history o f such expansion in areas of Europe and the Americas during the late nineteenth and ear ly twentieth centuries is well known; however, it is important to note that private schoo ls never ceased to exist, and for the most part those schools educated the children of th e wealthiest citizens. The coexistence of public and private schools as co mpatible providers of education, each targeting a different segment of the populatio n was a state of affairs. At the same time, such coexistence was always marked by a sense of competition about which sector was providing the best education. In very broad ter ms, in both traditionally centralized educational systems (e.g., France and Argentina) an d highly decentralized (e.g., the USA), privately managed schools were regarded as ex celling public ones in student achievement and general quality. Despite this wides pread commonly held belief, it is only in the late 1960s that the notion that the pri vate sector would solve the public’s sector educational problems gained momentum and sta rted to increase its appeal in academic and political circles.By conducting an exploratory qualitative study of p ublic and private high schools, this project aimed at obtaining insight into the “common sense” beliefs about private school’s academic advantages over public ones. The main goal of this research project was to explore local actors’ perceptions of curricu lar and management changes in two private schools and one neighboring public secondar y school in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The rationale for this project was to ex plore how within an ideologically and politically pro-reform context and a widespread acc eptance of the “private school advantage,” principals, teachers, and students in t hese schools evaluated the changes (or lack of them) in management, teaching, and curricul um orientations of the secondary education sector.The empirical data are drawn from three schools and consequently, can not provide broad-based conclusions that larger studies using r andomly selected sample of schools could. Nevertheless, this qualitative study can pro vide a more detailed analysis of local actors, motivations and reactions to changing envir onments, and suggest possible


3 of 35explanations for patterns and activities which may be confirmed and further elaborated by larger studies. Finally, this study attempts to understand the organizational and curricular responses of a small number of schools, in the particular context of Argentina during the period 1985-1999; but it does so with th e understanding that schooling is always a local enterprise which is embedded in regi onal and global contexts. In the attempt to map and locate the changes happen ing simultaneously at the local and global level using a comparative approach the first section of this article will discuss the notion about the “private school advantage”. Sectio n II will provide a summary of the relevant changes in the Argentinean context. Sectio n III of this article provides a brief description of the methods used for data collection Section IV presents the data collected during the field work, including a genera l description of the secondary education private sector, particularly during the 1 980s and 1990s. Section V summarizes the results of this research and concludes this art icle by reexamining the perception of the “private school advantage” and the benefits of introducing market mechanisms in the provision of educational services.I. The “Private School Advantage”The notion that the provision of educational servic es should be regulated by the market or in a competitive environment is not new. Scholar s such as James S. Coleman and Milton Friedman who provided empirical support and theoretical arguments supporting the notion that private schools are superior to pub lic schools. The publication of the “Coleman Report” in 1966 presented empirical eviden ce about the supposed superior performance of private schools. This report resonat ed with the public’s common sense and expectations, and the validity of its claims be came a subject of debate and controversy among scholars. The diffusion of Milton Friedman’s ideas had less popular impact, yet their influence is strong today. Friedm an proposed that to reduce the inefficiency of the public system of schooling it w as necessary to open the door to competition through a free-market system. Friedman was among the first to propose a voucher system, giving parents not only the right b ut also the means to send their children to the school of their choice. It is fair to say that since the initial reactions to Coleman and Friedman’s ideas, the debate over imple menting market mechanisms for the provision and evaluation of educational service s, especially through the use of vouchers, has intensified .Perhaps no other work has contributed more to that debate in the USA and abroad than Politics, Markets and America's Schools by John E. Chub and Terry M. Moe (Gintis, 1991; and Glass and Mathews, 1991 for critical revi ews). In this book, Chub and Moe developed a controversial argument regarding worldw ide attempts to encourage competition in education. The principal claim of th ese authors that state mandated, democratic control of educational institutions prom otes lack of autonomy and choice, impeding educational equality and upward mobility, is well known. In addition, Chub and Moe suggested that American society is full of people who could make excellent teachers, but oppressive state regulation and certi fication requirements ensure that most of them never teach. Clearly, these authors attempt ed to go beyond small or piecemeal reforms and attempted to "prove their point that de mocracy is the problem and not the solution" (Gintis, 1991, p. 382).Chub and Moe’s proposed solution is to incorporate market-like incentives and


4 of 35discipline in education through vouchers, increased “choice,” and privatized services because these give parents the right to chose and t he power to make changes in schools. Using some of the arguments advanced by Chub and Mo e, Andrew J. Coulson (1994) summarized the pro-market position as follows: The central argument … is that the success of any h uman organization depends on the unification of its participants' goa ls. In the case of a school, this means uniting the goals of the teachers, princ ipals, and support staff with those of the students and parents. The public education system fails to accomplish this task, often leading its employees t o work at cross purposes with their customers. In sharp contrast to this sys tem is the free and competitive market, in which employees must satisfy the needs of customers in order to prosper. Applied to education this approach would alleviate most if not all of the problems discussed earlier. The assumption is that a quasi-market will wisely s olve contemporary educational problems since parents know best what is good for t heir children. Thus, if schools are accountable to parents instead of to an anonymous a nd bureaucratic public system, schools will act in the interest of children.There are, however, numerous objections to the impl ementation of market-like proposals and to increase participation of for-profit educati onal initiatives (Gewirtz, Ball and Bowe, 1995; Glass, 1994; Lauder and Hughes, 1999). Among these objections are that competitive that a competitive school system: a) wi ll tend to increase social, ethnic and gender inequalities, and b) will favor higher incom e families, and certain ethnic and religious groups that are in more privileged circum stances. To those and other criticisms, the advocates for market-like programs usually answ er that stratification is already a problem that can not become worse, that previously implemented reforms have failed, and the absence of choice does not eliminate the in equality problem. Coleman responded to such criticisms thusly: The emphasis on equality means that the focus in ed ucation is on the bottom of the performance distribution. My general conject ure is this: Policies that focus on high levels of achievement and rewards for high levels reverberate downward through the system, providing an incentive for students at lower levels to improve. (Coleman, 1992, p. 261) The pro-market choice model advanced by Chubb, Moe, Coleman and others relies heavily on what Joseph Viteritti (1999) defined as the “private school advantage”. In comparison with students in public schools students attending private schools are expected to have: Better performances on standardized tests; Higher graduation rates; More rigorous academic environments; Safer schools; More opportunities for their parents to participate ; More access to morally uplifting surroundings (very often in association with religious based teachings); More access to highly motivated teachers and admini strators (motivation based on efficient and less bureaucratized hiring, retention and promotion policies).


5 of 35The works of Chub and Moe, Viteritti and others ind icate that in general, there is a strong widely held perception of a “private school advantage;” however, as Rothstein, Carnoy and Benveniste, (1999) pointed out, it is no t an easy task to determine why private schools appear to perform better than publi c schools: Because private schools can select (and are selecte d by) their students, analysts have not been able to determine whether pr ivate schools’ apparently superior outcomes (like test scores) are attributable to superior private school practices or to more selective stude nt bodies (1999, p. ix) Rothstein, Carnoy and Benveniste also noted that so lving the debate about the reasons for the supposedly better performance of private sc hools will depend on studies which can control for student background variables. Given the high political and economic stakes in the debate about markets in education (bo th in the USA and abroad) reaching consensus on this issue will be extremely difficult Similarly, it seems very difficult to imagine that the re-solution to this debate will em erge from an exclusively academic discussion. And yet, to dismiss the importance of t heoretical argument would be a serious mistake. As Steven Klees wrote: My reading of the theory and empirics of literature s concerning educational production functions and earnings functions, for ex ample indicates to me there is not agreement on specification. Each resea rcher basically gets the results s/he wants, one researcher's results confli ct with those of others, and there is no good reason to privilege one as any clo ser to some “true” measure of impact than any other. When a particular field becomes a focus for ideological contestation, the differences in “f acts” become even sharper. (Klees, 1993, p. 7) Privatization, market-like options, choice programs and vouchers are at the forefront of the education agenda in several countries and will remain key elements in the near future (Pini, 2000). Indeed, it appears that increasing nu mbers of scholars (Sweetland, 2000, Viteritti, 1999), the media (Fischman, forthcoming) and the public seem to be accepting these quasi-market mechanisms and emulating private schools as the best hope for “fixing” public schools. Internationally this accep tance can be registered at two different levels: a) the promotion of different school vouche r campaigns and other legislative initiatives, and b) the noticeable increase of forprofit initiatives, marketing strategies, and incursion of commercial interest into public sc hools (Fischman and McLaren, 2000). Without doubt, these actions ,which tend to the par tial or total marketization of the educational sector constitute, diverse manifestatio ns of efforts at school reform, in many cases presented as inevitable due to the mounting p ressures of a globalized world. Several studies (Arnove, 1999; Rhoten, 1999; and Sa moff, 1999) indicate that most of these reforms are centered on “restructuring” the e ducational systems, with the dual goals of producing financial savings as well as the thorough transformation of objectives, epistemological bases, methods, and pro cedures of schooling (Darling-Hammond, 1993, 1997).These reform proposals are made not only by the sta ff of think tanks, the media, and government officials, but also by international fin ancial organizations and different sectors of civil society. Undoubtedly, these propos als are happening in contexts in which


6 of 35neoliberal economic policies and the continuous att ack and dismantling of the structures of the welfare state operate at the level of the re configuration of governing practices (Popkewitz and Brennan, 1998). These changes in gov erning practices are having direct effects on the future of public education as a whol e. It is at this crossroads of global neo-liberal refo rm proposals, generalized beliefs about the distinct perception of public and private schoo ls, and attempts to improve public education through privatization and “choice” that t his study finds its focus.II. Argentina’s Search for “Modernity”Argentina is a country of 35 million people, and it has one of the lowest population growth rates (1.6% per year) in the region (UNESCO Statistical Yearbook, 1999). There is a relatively small population living in a large territory, with 12 inhabitants per square kilometer. During the first three decades of the 20 th century, the country’s social and economic indicators developed at a rate and in patt erns similar to the USA, Australia, and Canada, creating and extending public education and health systems. Those indicators supported the optimistic idea that Argen tina was destined to become the “United States of the South.” However, six decades later the social and economic destiny of the country had greatly changed. By the 1980s, Argentina experienced an economic and social recession, dominated by pessimi sm rather than hope: The old optimistic picture was eroded by a profound stagnation in production that led to a steep decline in incomes, social marginalization, and educational recession all of which have been ab etted by decades of institutional instability and military coups result ing in ruthless repression. Today, the descendants of those who migrated to Arg entina to build a future in this undisputed land of promise are opting out a nd going abroad, disappointed by the lack of prospects. (Schvarzer, 1992, p. 169) Unfortunately, Schvartzer is not alone in his descr iption of the country’s political, social and economic failures. There is general agreement t hat Argentina’s democratic and modernization failures are a result of a combination of successi ve political and economic crises. With respects to democratization, the situa tion in Argentina has never been clear. Between the years 1930 and 1983, a general consensu s in support of democratic institutions was missing. The whole society—but par ticularly the most powerful corporative sectors, the armed forces, the Church, the business sector, the politicians and the unions—have been practicing what could be calle d the “politics of cannibalism and exclusion.” Guillermo O’Donnell (O'Donnell and Schm iter, 1986). argued that this is a consequence of the configuration of the Argentinean state which was dominated by corporate sectors of the civil society. This situat ion of dependance, O’Donnell contended has in turn weakened democratic insititutions in th e country. Similarly, Enrique Peruzzotti called such a process the “Weimarization of politics”: “Weimarization amounts to a process of de-differentiation between social and political power. It entails the destruction of political institutions which los e all autonomy against the pressure of organized social powers” (Peruzzotti, 1993,p. 128). In a context of Weimarization of the society, constant antagonisms around which model of development the country should follow (e.g., capitalism, nationalism, socialism, n on-aligned) and how to obtain the proper level of “social order” to become modern wer e often the central axis of the political and social discussion.


7 of 35After World War II, as in most countries in Latin A merica, Argentina’s society debated and in many cases suffered dictatorial imposition o f models of development and social order based on a “modernization paradigm,” which wa s a positivistic evolutionary approach. The supporters of the “modernization” app roach often saw contradictions, multiplicity of standards, and lack of clearly defi ned rules as obstacles to overcome, as the “advanced” countries of the West had done befor e. The followers of the modernization paradigm pointed out that Latin Ameri ca had to follow a straightforward path of development from traditional societies to m odern ones, a sequence of political development that Jose Nun summarized as follows: (1) social modernization (economic growth with the incorporation into the world market, urbanization, development of educatio n, and the mass media of communication, geographic mobility, etc.), (2) d iffusion of modern values (universalism, achievement, futureorientat ion, social trust, etc.), and (3) the installation of a representative democr atic political regime. Modernization seemed a necessary condition for the emergence and stabilization of democratic government in the democ ratic-liberal sense. (Nun, 1993, p. 9) Not surprisingly, during the second half of the 20t h century, the prevailing models of development and “modernization” supported this evol utionary vision, in which social segmentation and poverty were characteristic featur es of societies in the process of modernization. More importantly, the illnesses of “ traditional societies” such as authoritarianism, poverty, hunger, and illiteracy w ere seen as transitory problems. In Latin America, the modernization approach requir ed the identification of sectors or areas which were most likely to function as the eng ine of development. Politicians, investors and analysts considered the following as the key questions: Which sectors are capable of economic leadership in the modernization process? Are these economic sectors in a cultural and moral position to lead th e process? Are the economic and cultural modernizers homogenous groups? For support ers of the modernization model, the answers to these questions were found in the de velopment of a national and centralized State, able to lead the process, and gu ide societies to “modernity.” However, that leadership role presupposes at least two paral lel dynamics. First, the State itself has to become modern and en courage appropriate civic behaviors through rational organization, efficient bureaucrac ies, and cultural and educational developments. The public education system, created in the 19th century with the specific purpose of developing a sense of citizenship, was a lso conceptualized as the engine of cultural modernization. Moreover, the provision of educational and social services has had a long history of redistributive effects (socia l mobility) as well as social cohesion. However, these effects are only half of the story. Argentina’s schools did promote forms of educational and social equality and mobility, as well as the reproduction of social and economic inequalities based on the provision of dif ferent kinds of education based on students’ social class, ethnicity, gender, and reli gious beliefs (Puiggrs, 1990; 1992). Second, the State should intervene, identify, and a lso create “modern sectors.” In general terms, those modern sectors are identified with cre ation of commercial and industrial enterprises as the engines which will solve the eco nomic and political “structural” problems. But it is also important to mention the n eed to discipline the population, in the sense of educating modern, literate, and economical ly consumering citizens. In that


8 of 35sense, the national, lay, public, and free school s ystem had to lead the cultural aspects of the modernization program.Between the 1930s and 1960s, the Argentinean State played an important role in such a selective process, mainly by leading the process ca lled “import-substitution industrialization.” The powerful role played by the State was a response to social demands, and it resulted in higher levels of produc tivity and almost full employment. Hence, the successive governments (particularly the Peronist regime of 1945-55) were important players, providing vast sectors of the po pulation with social benefits. Those actions were part of a tacit agreement among the mo st powerful political, economic, and cultural forces in the country. Under the aegis of this tacit agreement, the Argentinean Welfare State was developed (Tironi & Lagos, 1991; Gerchunoff & Torre, 1992). Nevertheless, this modernization model did not last long in Latin America and its weaknesses became most evident and explosive during the 1979 oil crisis and the 1982 debt crisis. During these periods, international in terest rates rose dramatically and regional governments could not afford their debt pa yments. These stressful economic changes, along with the phenomenon of authoritarian regimes, led to the general characterization of this period as the “Lost Decade ” of Latin America. (Note 1) The financial crisis of the 1980s, the lack of soci al and political effectiveness of many of the dictatorial regimes in the region, coupled with the political resistance against the dictatorships are among the most important influenc es affecting the emerging processes of democratization. Undoubtedly, Latin American soc ieties welcomed the re-establishment of governments elected by democrat ic procedures. However, these governments found that among the legacies of decade s of authoritarian rule, the structures, power, and particularly, the legitimacy and perception about the power of the Latin American states has been weakened. During the 1980s, the region witnessed a cycle of i nflation, hyperinflation, and recession of a severity never before experienced. Faced with rising international interest rates, Latin American countries found it increasingly diff icult to meet their debt repayment schedules. As part of the re-negotiation of their d ebts, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank pressured regional governm ents into adopting structural-adjustment policies to address balance o f payment difficulties and fiscal deficits. It is difficult to understand these proce sses without a parallel analysis of the origins and purposes of the external and internal d ebt. In the Argentinean case, it must not be forgotten that an authoritarian and corrupt government (1976-1983) was the main actor in the generation of such a fiscal burden. Si milar observations can be made about several private groups that increased their debts, only to have them later nationalized and transfered to the society as a whole (Aspiazu, 1985 ). The example of Argentina clearly illustrates the complexity and multiplicity of fact ors interacting in the processes of democratization and modernization.Doubtless, the early 1980s were crucial in Argentin a. The financial crisis, the Malvinas (Falklands) War, increased pressure from domestic a nd international human rights organizations, increased activism by labor unions, and a vast spectrum of social movements accelerated the rapid deterioration of th e military regime. The process of democratic transition, as well as changes prompted by internationally induced structural-adjustment policies initiated in these y ears are among the key elements to examine and understand the changing role of the Sta te in the emerging new model of


9 of 35modernization. Structural adjustment is usually des cribed as a broad range of policies recommended by the World Bank, the IMF, and other f inancial organizations. Although the World Bank differentiates among stabilization, structural adjustment, and adjustment policies, it acknowledges that the general use of t hese terms “is often imprecise and inconsistent” (Samoff, 1991, p. 21).Nevertheless, this model of stabilization and adjus tment which emerged after the socalled “Washington Consensus,” resulted in a number of conditions being imposed, including the reduction of governmental expenditure s, devaluations to promote exports, reductions in import tariffs, and increased public and private savings. Key aims of this model are a drastic reduction of the State sector, the liberalization of salaries and prices, and the reorientation of industrial and agricultura l production toward exports. The overall purpose of this policy package is to reduce the size of fiscal deficits and public expenditures, to drastically reduce inflation throu gh strict monetary policies, and to reduce exchange rates and tariffs. In the short ter m, structural adjustment policies rely on exports as the engine of growth. To that extent, st ructural adjustment and subsequent policies of economic stabilization seek to liberali ze trade, to reduce any distortion in price structures, to end any “protectionism” polici es, and to facilitate free-market forces in the economies (Blackmore, 2000)By the end of the 1990s, the policies of economic a nd financial stabilization and adjustment had also involved changes in the nation’ s previous modernization model. Clearly, and contrary to the “old” modernization ap proach, the “New Modernizers” wanted the State to withdraw from the economic sphe re. In the new model, the State was mainly responsible for the structural problems.During President Carlos Menem’s governments (1989-1 999), Argentina experienced an accelerated process of change and witnessed the imp lementation of a new model of development. The “popular-market economy” was the n ame of the new model of development. The most salient features of this mode l included the privatization of all public enterprises, deregulation, opening the socia l security system to market competition, and the decentralization of national h ealth and education systems that had been initiated by the dictatorship of 1976-1983.Most of those changes were justified as the only po ssible solution to the economic problems of the country because only they were attu ned to the worldwide process of globalization. In this case “globalization”, was eq uated with “modernization” and implied the acceptance of the expansion of transnat ional capital, the supra-national character of productive decision making, the trend toward homogenization of information and cultural consumption, and the conne cting of geographically and culturally distant places in such a way that local events are shaped, as well as influenced, by events occurring in remote places.In addition to these economic measures, it should b e noted again that the problem of achieving the “right amount of social order” was a key element of this discourse of modernity. The most important policy—in an attempt to promote internal peace and consensus—was the political pardoning of the comman ders from the last dictatorship who were found guilty of crimes. However, this meas ure did little to solve real problems or to “put the past behind us” as repeatedly sugges ted by President Menem. (Note 2) The macro-economic indicators have changed and acco rding to external observers they


10 of 35have improved ( The Economist 2000). However, with unemployment at approximatel y 15%, it is not an exaggeration to say that poverty and worsening living conditions are the everyday reality for a growing number of people in Argentina. There is ample evidence that Argentina’s basic welfare indicators have fall en: in 1974 only 3% of the population was under the poverty line, and by 1990 after two h yperinflationary crises, the percentage rose to almost 60%. In the province of B uenos Aires, the largest and richest state in Argentina, the official percentage of hous eholds under the poverty line increased to 73% during the 1990s (INDEC, 1999). By the same token, other social sectors in Argentina enjoy the benefits of the application of policies of “liberalization” which give them access to the latest world-market technology a nd to the consumption of fashionable goods. The simultaneous increase of wealth for a fe w and the expansion of poverty for many are the expression of the striking economic se gmentation and its parallel process of social polarization of the country.Important transformations existed not only in the e conomy but also in the education sector. The “new modernization” discourse developed a strong educational tone, stressing the importance of higher levels of educat ional efficiency, and quality through school decentralization, autonomy, increased rigor, discipline, efficiency, efficacy, accountability, and higher levels of private sector participation in the delivery of educational services (Gentilli, 1994). Section IV b elow, after a brief presentation of the methods used for data collection (Section III), wil l explore the reactions, ideas and responses of principal, teachers and students in pr ivate and public secondary schools to the new modernization discourse.III. Notes on Data CollectionThe data for this research were gathered during two three-month periods and through school observations, interviews, and four focus gro ups with secondary education students. A series of open-ended interviews was con ducted with 15 students and five teachers from two secondary private schools, and wi th 10 students and five teachers from one public secondary school. To protect the an onymity of all the participants in this study all names and locations are pseudonymous.The selection of these three schools was based on g eographical proximity and similarities in student population. The three schoo ls are co-ed, medium in size, and to some extent serve a population of similar social an d economic characteristics, academic orientation, and prestige. In other words, teachers administrators, and parents have a more or less consistent opinion indicating that the se three institutions are “different but they are good schools.” The schools are located in a 20-block area (2.0 Sq. Km), within the same neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires. This neighborhood is considered typically middle class, with a mix of residential a nd commercial areas. It should be noted that—even though this limits eve n more the results of this research—none of the two private schools belonged t o a religious order or denomination. In Argentina most private schools bel ong or are supported by religious institutions. This decision was made to produce as many similarities as possible among the students and teachers in the three institutions In addition to the activities carried out within th e secondary schools, the researcher interviewed the director of the National Institute for Supervising Private Education, the


11 of 35director of the Chamber of Private Owners of School s, researchers and technicians of the National Ministry of Education who were working in the area of private education, and researchers and professors in the University of Bue nos Aires and the University of Lujn. General data such as educational financial p olicies, changes that occurred in the policies for public subsidies, enrollment, student achievement, and general evaluation about private education were obtained at the Nation al Institute of Private Teaching (SNEP) and the National Ministry of Education. Fina lly, a large collection of articles published in newspapers ( La Nacion Clarin La Prensa and Pagina 12 ) and specialized Argentinean journals ( Revista Argentina de Educacin, Educoo, Propuesta E ducativa, and Cuadernos del CIE) was collected. IV. In Search of Educational ModernityAn anecdote illustrates some of the pivotal points in which the search for “educational modernity” was articulated during the period under study. What follows are transcribed notes from the researcher’s field-work: May 1993: visit to the ministry of education for in terviews. I have to wait for the “customary” 30 minutes. I asked one of the secretaries for any copies of the ministry’s advertising material to be distri buted in secondary schools. I expect that the answer will be “there is nothing, ” or at least nothing interesting, but I’m gladly surprised. The secretar y provides me with a nicely designed package. The main material is a tab loid format of the newly approved Federal Law of Education, it is clearly pr inted and the text is presented in a “reader-friendly” layout.Despite the content of this measure, the initial re action of this researcher was: “This is a change from the past. At least now the government publicizes the laws it passes.” Yet, I was astonish ed to find and read a large advertisement on the back cover which promoted not the contents of the law, nor the achievements of the federal government but the ideas of the Argentinean Chamber of Textbooks’ Publishers. This chamber, a powerful forprofit organization, was using the back cover of the text of a national law, distributed by the federal government in schoo ls, universities, libraries and community organizations to promote the free cho ice of books by teachers. Despite the novelty of the two intertwine d procedures (i.e., massive publicity of the government actions in educ ation and the somewhat strange media chosen by textbook publishers for the ir promotion), the pamphlet was intriguing. With its saturated text, i t was not clear whether the government was endorsing the Chamber or the other w ay around. These notes contain some of the tensions developed in the process of searching for a new model of educational modernization in the Argen tina of the 1990s. As noted before, broadly speaking during the period 1985-1999, the g oals of the “new modernization” discourse in education were promoted under the rubr ics of “decentralization programs” and “quality improvement programs” in which the use of national evaluation programs was a key aspect. This “new educational modernizati on” was emphatically reaffirmed by the approval of two major legislative initiatives.The first such initiative occurred in 1992 when the federal government developed a


12 of 35process of decentralization by which it delegated t he responsibility of secondary-school management (among other social services) to the pro vincial states. This process of decentralization was also presented as part of the needed modernization of the structures of government by creating a new smaller and leaner state. This program was publicized and presented to local and international audiences with the slogan, “A Ministry without schools.”At first glance, through this transference the fede ral government, would transfer power by not controlling the administration of secondary schools and instead adopting a “managing” role. Nevertheless, as Dussel, Birgin an d Tiramonti (in press) observed, the new ministry of education: [H]as retained responsibility for four major areas: set of common contents, evaluation of outcomes, compensatory programs, and in-service teacher training. It also coordinates the activities of the provincial administrations through a special Committee, and monopolizes the ne gotiation and administration of foreign loans from multi-lateral financial institutions. Through all these measures, the Ministry has provok ed a powerful re-centralization of the system, perhaps even great er than when it directly administered the schools. (p. 24) There is a general consensus among researchers that the decentralization process initiated in 1992 parallels the administrative dece ntralization of elementary education undertaken by the military dictatorship of 1978 (se e Rhoten, 1999 for a complete account of this process). The main rationale for bo th decentralization programs was related to fiscal crisis more than to the transfer of pedagogical or political decision-making (Hanson, 1994; Rhoten, 1999).It is relevant to quote Hanson’s account of how the decentralization process took place: “The transfer of the secondary schools was a surpri se move. The first notification that the attempt would be made came when the national bu dget was produced and distributed. The budget had deleted its historic fi nancial support for secondary education. The outcry was so intense that the centr al government was almost obligated to delay the transfer while it developed a justific ation, held public debate, and passed a law. Few doubted that the results of the public deb ate would change the outcome, and it did not.” (Hanson, 1994, p. 4)The second initiative was the sanction of the Feder al Law of Education, the major legal education reform since the original Education Law o f 1884 (which organized elementary education in Argentina). The new law introduced cha nges in the following areas: The structure of the academic system: Previously, elementary school was mandatory for 7 years and secondary education required 5 year s for completion (not mandatory). With the new law there is an extension of mandatory education from 7 to 10 years divided into an initial level (one year), and three levels of general basic education (three years each). The final level, denominated Polymodal Education, requires three years and it is the only one which is not mandatory for every child. The curricular standards: The Law establishes the criteria for the developmen t of the minimum requirements for each curricular area and e ach level, including teacher education. These curricular standards known as CBC (Currricular Basic Contents) were


13 of 35developed by content specialists in consultation wi th different corporate sectors. Teachers’ Professional Development: A national network of teacher professional development activities to train school personnel. T he network seeks the best offers for teacher training from different providers (public a nd private universities and other educational organizations). The training must respo nd to the Currricular Basic Contents developed for teacher certification.Development and implementation of a national system of assessment: The national ministry of education is required to develop, admin ister and assess the results of national evaluation instruments. Samples of students in desi gnated grades (3rd, 6th, 7th and 12th) have to be evaluated in mathematics, language, soci al and natural sciences. The results of such evaluations must be public. Beginning in 19 97 all students in 12th grade in both public and private schools must take the national e valuation test and it is expected that by 2001, this will be a graduation requirement.The economic-financial rationale and pro-private ov ertones of both laws were widely recognized in the media and within academic circles Scholars from very different academic traditions and technicians and experts fro m private corporations such as ADEBA, FIEL, IDEA, agreed that the new Federal law did not substantially change the situation of the public sector but did include the old symbolic claims of the private sector. As a research team of professors at the Uni versity of Buenos Aires pointed out: First of all, it is possible to say that the privat e education sector has benefited from the implementation of this new law, which incorporated many of their previous claims, such as: a) the law introduces the terminology that this sector uses to classify the d istinct types of educational services, for example the use of the term “public” without regard for the type of administration. Thus, private-management or state management can both be referred to as “public.” b) The interests o f this sector are reflected in the role of the state in the provision of education al services. These services reflect: 1) the primacy of the freedom of teaching as one of the guiding principles of educational policies, 2) the explicit establishment of the private sector’s rights to participate in education al planning, 3) the right of the private sector to receive “financial support” a nd not “subsidies,” and 4) the inclusion of religion as an important aspect of the goals of the school system and development of the “person” (Nosiglia & Marquina, 1993, p. 89). While debate of the law was taking place, the gover nment was firmly committed to the implementation of a series of so-called “quality an d accountability measures.” The administration of president Carlos Sal Menem, foll owing recommendations made by the World Bank (Kugler, 1991) encouraged provincial administrations to evaluate their educational systems, and later implemented a genera l system of evaluating the quality of education --the “SINEC.” It is important to clarify that when international financial organizations such as the World Bank or the Interna tional Monetary Fund recommend any given policy, it usually implies that loans or financial assistance are contingent on the application of such recommendation. The governm ent of the province of Mendoza undertook the first attempt during the last months of 1992, followed by a nation-wide evaluation.


14 of 35 In all of these quality evaluations (Mendoza, SINEC National, and other smaller evaluations), the results were quite discouraging, and the national ministry of education did not want to publicize the results. On average, around 40% of all the students evaluated were unable to solve simple mathematical and language-related problems ( Ministerio de Cultura y Educacin, 1998).More importantly, as the data in Table 1, 2 and 3 i llustrate (especially given the objectives of this research) students in both publi c and private schools performed poorly. In addition, even though private schools scored bet ter than public schools, the difference in performance between students at urban private an d public institutions was not as important as the researchers and the public had pre dicted. It is also interesting to see in Tables 2 and 3 that public institutions are improvi ng faster and, thus, closing the gap with the private schools. Table 1 Comparative performance of public and private secon dary schools in the SINEC evaluations (1994-1997)Year Public SchoolsPrivate Schools1994 56.46 65.15 1995 50.61 60.72 1996 50.61 60.72 1997 57.52 66.33 Source: Llach, J. J., Montoya S., and Roldn, F. Educacin Para Todos Crdoba, IREAL, 1999. Table 2 Comparative Performance of 7th Grade Achievement Sc ores in Language of Public (Rural and Urban) and Private (Urban) Secondary Schools in the SINEC Evaluations (Selected Years 1993-1997)School Modality Language Difference 93-97 1993 1997 Urban Public Schools 50.30 58.27 7.97 Rural Public Schools 41.87 50.26 8.39 Urban Private Schools 63.63 69.28 5.65 Source: Argentina Ministerio de Cultura y Educacin (1998)Table 3 Comparative Performance of 7th Grade Achievement Sc ores


15 of 35 in Mathematics of Public (Rural and Urban) and Private (Urban) Secondary Schools in the SINEC Evaluations (Selected Years 1993-1997)School Modality Mathematics Difference 93-97 1993 1997 Urban Public Schools 51.05 53.18 2.13 Rural Public Schools 40.74 44.51 3.77 Urban Private Schools 64.95 63.33 -1.62 Source: Argentina Ministerio de Cultura y Educacin (1998) The initial outcry about the results was followed b y a great media battle over whom to blame. Teacher unions were angry and were prepared to fight any attempt to scapegoat their members. The Ministry of Education was unable to explain the results, the causes, and future steps. The private sector declined to ta ke a unified position and did not give much credence to the evaluations. Rather, it seemed each sector and each school was reaffirming its own institutional identity and defe nding its own merits. In Argentina, the participation of the private sect or in secondary education is quite important and enrollment in private schools makes u p almost one third of the total (World Bank, 1995). The historical development of t he private sector peaked during the early 1970s and has decreased since that time. Tabl e 4 describes the situation.Table 4 Secondary Education Private Enrollment for Selected Years (Percentage of Total Secondary Education Students)Year Enrollment Percentage 1960 23.4 %1970 33.1 %1980 30.7 %1992 28.1 %1998 28.0 % Source: Argentina Ministerio de Cultura y Educacin (1998) Since 1970, enrollment in private secondary schools has stagnated, yet the number of schools has increased in certain districts. In the more affluent areas of the country, the private sector covers almost 40% of the total enrol lment. For instance, in Buenos Aires the public schools make up 29.4% of the institution s with 53.6% of the total enrollment, while the private sector has 70.6% of the instituti ons and 46.3% of the students. It is important to note that within the private sector, t he vast majority of the schools (61%)


16 of 35are regulated by the Catholic Church (Beccaria & Ri quelme, 1986). The registered decrease in the percentage of students enrolled in private schools, accompanied by the increase in the number of private schools, could be interpreted as the process of “elitization” in which these schools are competing for the upper strata of the population. The above notes have provided contextual informatio n. What follows are data gathered in interviews with principals, parents, students, t eachers and a consultant for private schools.The PrincipalsThe interviews with the principals of the three sch ools revealed two main trends. The first trend refers to the importance of the funding role of the federal government in relation to the perception of the “private school a dvantage.” The second trend was a shared sense of uneasiness among the three principa ls about the implementation of federally mandated measures of evaluation.The first trend requires some background informatio n. What distinguishes the case of private schools in Argentina, compared with similar institutions in the USA is that the great majority of these private schools (secular an d non-secular) receive public subsidies to pay teachers’ salaries. These subsidies can vary from 20% to 100%. In short, Argentina’s federal government is the largest sourc e of educational financial resources in both the public and private sector. Such financial supp ort was seen as a point of conflict by many of the professionals interviewed in this st udy. For those working in public schools, it was seen as an unfair advantage given t o the private schools and the reason of their presumed superior performance. The principal of the public school (thereafter PS) observed in this study, commented as follows: Principal Public School PS: It is scandalous that t he government spends money in (name of private school 1 and name of priv ate school 2) and then my supervisor tells me that there is no money for r epairing the plumbing of my school. That is another proof of the lack of com mitment to public schools…. See, … if you go to a private school you pay for all the computers and balls (in reference to sporting equip ment) and all the other nice stuff, then the government pays the salaries o f the teachers, How can you compare? It is unfair, I know it is unfair, and everybody knows it is unfair. For both principals in the private schools, (therea fter Mountain-view and Lake-view) the public subsidies were seen as fair and needed to su rvive the financial crisis. Private School MountainView principal: The subsid ies are important, without them we cannot survive … and… the governmen t should not make distinctions between schools, kids are kids, all of them students. We are doing a public service because we are educators. At least now that is recognized (in reference to the new Law of Educatio n). Besides, private schools save public money because educating a kid i n a private school is cheaper for the state than educating the same kid i n a public school. During the period 1995-1998 the school of principal of Mountain-view saw a small decrease in the number of enrolled students. The ma in explanation for the decrease was


17 of 35an increase in the costs of school fees and the nat ional economic crisis. In this regard it is interesting to note the opinion of an educationa l consultant working in several private schools, about private schools’ strategies for incr easing enrolment. Question: In your opinion, is the private sector tr ying to reach other social sectors, the lower middle class for instance?Private Schools Consultant: I do not see any intere st in reaching the lower middle class, at least in the immediate future. Tod ay’s school fees, despite the difference of prices that private institutions are offering, are very high and many parents find it difficult to pay tuition a nd fees. Moreover, despite the fact that everybody wants a good education it d oesn’t mean that everybody wants to pay for that. In addition, the c ountry is full of engineers that drive taxis, mathematicians in drugstores, and so on. That is sending a clear message. Sometimes a good education doesn’t p ay. This consultant reflection pointed out to the sad r eality of the absolute imperfection of Argentina’s educational market. This expert describ es some of the real problems and difficulties that—as will be presented later—other respondents also noted; the conflicted relationships between schooling and the job market in Argentina. The notion that the relationship between education and the economy is a lways a simple case of human capital enhancement, with the market always solving the equation in positive terms, does not readily apply in Argentina. In a nation where u nemployment remains in two digits after a decade of structural adjustment programs an d a good deal of highly educated workers do not find jobs that match their skills, i t is understandable the skepticism of teachers and students alike about the value of educ ation. In light of the opinion of the private schools’ con sultant it is not surprising, then that the principal of Mountain-view did not have or did not want to share his plans for the future in terms of a new strategy to reach new sectors of the population. However, the Mountain-View’s principal stated that one of his go als was to incorporate more and better students “regardless of economic origins, be cause the school has more space and the public schools are overcrowded.”In the case of the principal of Lake-View school th e subsidy was also seen as needed but with the addition of representing an instrument of control by the federal government. Private School Lake-View principal: I would love to get ride of the subsidies, but we can’t. No subsidies, no [private] school. Question: What would be the advantage of not receiv ing subsidies? Lake-View principal: Some schools are trying that. The first advantage is that there is no more regulation of what your fee s hould be, and from an investment perspective, if you could increase the p rice of your service, the margin of profit increases. But it is very complica ted and I am not interested in the money making aspect, … I am an educator. But if the government does not subsidize the school, the power, the inspe ctors, the tests, will be, how can I say, … less threatening, and we could mak e more changes, and faster.


18 of 35Despite the difference of opinion about the role of the state subsidies, the principals of the three schools expressed similar perceptions abo ut the private schools ability to adapt to situations defined as critical. Critical situati ons were described as the economical and political crises that have affected Argentina’s dai ly life, such as the hyperinflation (198991), military uprisings (1987–89), civil riots (198 9), civil attack to a military fort (1989), and the chronic unemployment of the late 1990s. For example, answering a question about innovations in curriculum, the principal of o ne of the private schools stated: Mountain-View principal: You know, in the private s chools it is easier to find room for innovations, and in Argentina you alw ays have to be ready for sudden changes and disasters. When the first part of the fieldwork for this study was undertaken, the debate about education (or the crisis of education) was raging. Everyone was eager to express an opinion about the results of the Mendoza’s evaluati on or the recurring comments by education experts which appeared in the media. This environment provided an ideal opportunity for conducting this research. The quest ions seemed to be timely and gave interviewees an opportunity to express their opinio ns. The principals of one of the private schools and the public school principal use d an almost identical argument when asked their opinions about the evaluations. The pri ncipal of Mountain-View reported the following Question: How do you evaluate the performance of pr ivate schools in general given the results of the evaluation of the quality of education by Mendoza and other similar endeavors?Mountain-View principal: The important thing here i s to recognize that our school is doing the work. It is teaching . some thing you can’t say about the public schools. You know, every other day teach ers are on strike. Question: How do you explain that on average the sc ores of students in private schools and public ones are not very differ ent? Mountain-View principal: Well the problem is the te st and its evaluators. The tests were prepared by people who don’t know ho w we [private sector] operate and that is the main reason. Similarly, the principal of the public secondary sc hool expressed discomfort when asked about the national system of evaluation: Question: What do you think about the quality of ed ucation evaluations? Public School principal: I don’t like the use of th ese tests; it is all political…we need to ask why are they [the governme nt] implementing these evaluations, They are trying to prove that pu blic schools are doing a bad job. Besides, I’m sure that those who are prepa ring the evaluations have never visited a classroom. Try to teach math to 35 students and after that we can talk about evaluations. As these testimonies indicate, the principals in th e private and public schools shared concerns about the national system of evaluation, a nd also shared the belief (for different


19 of 35reasons, though) about the private schools’ advanta ges. It is important to emphasize that this belief was maintained even after the results o f the national evaluations of quality showed that urban private and public schools have n ot performed in significantly different manners.The idea that private schools have more flexibility than public schools o change or adapt the academic curricula than public ones was difficu lt to asses. Academic performance was a very important consideration for the three pr incipals, and they all emphasized similar solutions for improving the performance of their schools, namely: better teacher preparation, updated educational materials (compute rs and textbooks), and better discipline in schools.The three principals were very concerned with secur ity and discipline as a way of improving the conditions in which the students lear n. It is important to note that during the field-work, principals, teachers and students i n the three schools did not report extraordinary disciplinary problems. Nevertheless, in many interviews particularly with the adults, the idea of schools being unsafe places seems to have replaced past, more romantic visions of Argentinean schools as the “sec ond home,” sacred places for learning.It is very likely that the concern with discipline expressed by the principals was a response to a few violent situations that occurred in public and private secondary schools during the period 1989-1998, and which were promine ntly displayed in the media. Yet, the lack of any systematic study tracking the rise or decline of violence in schools does not permit drawing any firm conclusion. Nevertheles s, the rise of levels of poverty associated with high levels of unemployment, and th e rising statistics for street crime in general may support the perceptions that the whole society is less safe, including schools.The TeachersThe interviews with teachers confirmed the trend ab out the “private school advantage” but also revealed discomfort with the educational s ystem in general. Yet the reasons for the better performance of the private schools were not conclusive. All the teachers interviewed indicated that private schools have bet ter programs or have advantages over public schools in creating better academic environm ents. However, when the questions searched for the main differences in curriculum dev elopment, evaluation, discipline programs, and incentives, teachers in both public a nd private schools had difficulties in pointing out specific modalities, beyond private sc hools’ better facilities. Teresa P., a female teacher, has been teaching hist ory in private and public schools for more than five years and was teaching at Mountain-V iew when she was interviewed. When the issue of the quality-of-education evaluati ons was raised, her response was evasive. She did not know or did not want to take a clear position regarding that topic. For that reason, the questions focused on other dif ferences between public and private institutions: Question: Where do you feel better? At the public o r at the private school? Teresa P.: Nowhere; I have the same problems, the p lace doesn’t matter, the same low salaries, the same country, the same old-f ashioned curriculum, the


20 of 35same lack of good supervision and the same general indifference about our work.Question: Can you think about any difference?Teresa P.: In the bathroom [laughing] and that is s erious! I mean the lack of investment that you have at the national [public] s chool is disgusting, horrific and the first place that you notice that i s in the bathrooms. In that regard at St. X [a Catholic private school] and Mou ntain-View that is always better and of course there [private schools] we have chalk and an eraser in each classroom, VCR and that kind of stuf f. At the national public school we have to bring our own chalk, it is a sham e! For the rest I think we need a general change, not only talking about schoo ls, we need general changes in the country. The testimony of Teresa P. exemplified a common pat tern expressed by several teachers during the course of this research. The idea that e ducation is not an isolated problem was frequently mentioned by teachers. This trend, which this research has termed “society first,” was equally salient for teachers in public or private schools, and it can be summarized as follows: educational problems are dependent on social problems and thus, educational solutions require country-wide ex traschool, social changes. A possible explanation of the “society first” trend can be found in the severity of the country’s financial and social crises, which were s everely felt by teachers. In the words of Emilio Tenti, a noted Argentinean researcher: There is a national trend of a prolonged decline in the real salaries of teachers from the mid-1970s to the beginning of the 1990s. The best years with regard to salary were during the first half of the 1980s, and a loss in the relative position of teachers’ salary compared to t hat of the salaries obtained by the average salaried workers in the formal secto r of the economy has occurred. (1999, p. 270) In the late 1990s, teachers were earning a third le ss than an average worker in the formal economic system (Tenti, 1999), and in most cases th ey held several part-time school jobs (a condition popularly known as “Taxi-Teachers ”). Nonetheless, the precarious conditions of the teaching profession in general an d the acutely critical circumstances of the mid 1990s did not prevent or protect teachers f rom harsh criticism (especially those working in public schools).Teachers were blamed for declines in student achiev ement and lack of consideration about students’ welfare (due to their political eff orts –a series of strikes, public demonstrations. For almost three years the teachers union held a political protest called the Carpa Blanca (the white tent). The “white tent” was erected in front of the national legislature, and hosted teachers and activists on h unger strikes. This particular form of protest was first condemned, but later received mor e popular support. It is in this context that the relationships betwee n teachers and parents and teachers with administrators and educational authorities grew mor e tense. To some extent the teaching profession entered into a state of acute crisis. It is difficult to determine the extent of this crisis, but the decline of enrolment in teacher edu cation programs, and reports pointing


21 of 35out that more than 40% of teachers answered that th ey would choose another profession are clear indicators of its seriousness. (Birgin an d Braslavsky, 1995; Fischman, 2000) Returning to the central focus of this research, th e comparison of the perceptions between secondary public and private schools, as no ted before, teachers also supported the notion of the “private school advantage” as ill ustrated by the following extended testimony Carlos P. a mathematics male teacher who was working at Lake-View, and who had previous experience at public schools refle cted on his career: Carlos P. (Lake-View): I started my career full of energy! I felt that teaching was my mission, my goal in life. My first year I wa s lucky, I got three temporary positions at three large public schools, 12 hours in each. But one was in [the neighborhood of] Floresta, the other in [the neighborhood of] Devoto and the last one, my favorite in [the neighb orhood of] Belgrano. After four years I ran out of energy, more than thr ee hundred students, you know the time I needed to evaluate tests and homewo rk. It was impossible. I was tired of being a “taxi-teacher.” And the money that you spend traveling! And the time! And the students. It was too much. We ll, I went to MiddleTown [a large private school]. I started with 20 hours and then I got five more hours as a coordinator. It was less money but I negotiated and got more hours in one place. No more traveling, no more taxis. That is better in the private school.Question: Anything else?Carlos P.: Oh yeah! But it is not what you are thin king about! At Lake-View you have someone—the principal and the owner—you ca n discuss and negotiate with them—not money—because that is fixed but everything else. The other element, perhaps the most important one is the pressure of parents on the kids. They [parents] are spending a lot of money and they don’t want the kids joking around. It doesn’t neces sarily imply that those upper-middle class kids are better-motivated or bet ter students [than students at public schools] but they sometimes beha ve as consumers and ask for good service. However, another thing is what th ey [students] think is a good service.Question: What do you mean?Carlos P.: Students, not all of them, but some, som etimes mistake the fact that they are paying for a service and therefore th ey assume that paying is equal to getting good grades or having the right to not do homework. That kind of thing. It is funny how sometimes they ask f or grades! I paid and I deserve, like buying a CD! Question: Do you consider that as a challenge or th at this kind of pressure makes you change your teaching style from what you used to do at the public schools?T.2PrII: Oh no! At the public school you have somet hing similar, teenagers are always challenging us, but the reasons are diff erent. How can I explain this? It is like, well, at the private school some students behave like


22 of 35customers buying services and at the National [publ ic school] some students, those who are more politicized, they ask for their rights. It is like . I know, they always start with “We have the rig ht, we deserve this or that because we are citizens.” Well in both cases I feel like the ham of the sandwich. This teacher’s testimony captures several key quest ions for this research. Is it possible to frame public and private schooling as the expressio n of competence between citizen rights and consumer rights? Do we have any chance o f improving education without changing the working conditions of thousands of “ta xi-teachers”? Given the results of the national evaluation tests: What is the importan ce of the structural conditions of secondary schools? What are the key material condit ions that matter in schools? Better salaries? More VCRs? Good bathrooms? Granted all th e above are important conditions; teachers deserve to be working in environments in w hich their main worries should revolve around learning and not VCRs or bathrooms.Finally, in the interviews with teachers it is diff icult to asses any significant difference in terms of private school teachers enjoying more auto nomy or a more responsive environment to their professional or their students ’ needs due to parents or market pressures. What Glass (1997) indicated was the case of the United States is also applicable in the case of these schools in Argentin a: Autonomy is an issue that does not clearly distingu ish public from private education. The freedom teachers and administrators feel and the constraints they experience are complex. Many of the constraint s experienced by public and private high school administrators and teachers are similar. Both sectors must work within the limits of a set of prescribed laws. They are equally subject to pressures resulting from limited funds. Perceptions of autonomy are individual matters, often experienced within a range of accepted constraints.(Glass, 1997 ) The StudentsThe findings from focus groups and interviews with students from public and private schools revealed three main trends: a) a sense that their school experiences are not very pleasant, or very rich in terms of learning, b) the social group “teacher” deserves solidarity, but the teachers working at their schoo ls less so; and c) private schools are better than public ones.As in the case of the principals, a similar strong belief was reported about the private school advantage by students in both public and pri vate schools. What should be noted is that for the students the sense of competition b etween the two systems was very strong. However, it was difficult for the students to indicate what were the specific bases that sustain the notion that private schools outper formed public schools. In some cases, students from private schools pointed to pressures from their parents (over them and the school) as the main justification; in other cases, students identified loosely defined “higher academic expectations.” Students in public schools indicated the access to better buildings and parents’ pressures. Yet, at the same time most students (in both public and private schools) indicated that they were not satis fied with their schooling experience. One female student asserted:


23 of 35Sudent.1-Lake-View: my parents are always reminding me how much my school costs, and I tell them that given the [sic] ‘crap’ my teachers teach, they should save the money. A male student in his last year of secondary public school reflected about his experience in the following terms: Student.2-Public School: If you look around this sc hool, you will see how depressing it is to be here. Teachers are tired, so me are bored, but for the most part they are tired, and sometimes we don’t he lp. I remember at the beginning when one of the teachers was absent or du ring the strikes we got really happy, it was fun, more free hours, and time to fool around. But lately it all seems a big waste of time. In some classes I cannot remember learning anything. I want to go the university but I’m afrai d I’m not ready. When questioned about possible differences between students in private and public schools Student.2 indicated that: Student.2-Public School: If I have to judge from my friends that go to the private school, I think that they are as ignorant a s I am…but, I don’t know, I guess that they are better prepared … I don’t know, but I think so, they are better prepared. The comments of Student.2 are illustrative of a str ong tendency among the students. They do not know why, but the belief about the supe riority of private schools is rather solid. However, it should be noted that students as a social group had a very definite tendency to present bold opinions. The testimonies of Student1 and Student2 are clear examples of the disappointment with schooling, which in some cases was extended to the society and the government. When students pointed out their frustration with the gov ernment and society, they usually expressed an uneasy sense of solidarity with teache rs. In other words, teachers in general were seen as “victims” of unfair systems, but their particular teachers were in many cases harshly evaluated, or even mocked. This last tendency was equally strong among students from both public and private schools. When asked about a recent demonstration and a possible strike by teachers, Student.3 gave t otal support. But a few minutes later when asked about his opinion of the teachers at his school, he replaced solidarity with mockery. Student.3-Public School: I support teachers demands for better salaries, no doubt that the government lies all the time… there should be money about education… everybody says that education is the fut ure, the priority and all that, but I think they are lying, they [government officials] are not committed…[Student.3Public School continues criti cizing the government]Question: Do you think that your teachers are going to participate in the protests? Student.3-Public School: My teachers? No, … most of them are scared and


24 of 35oldfashioned. They complain all the time, but som etimes I think that they are here because they are a bunch of losers, well t hey are a bunch of losers. The notion that teaching is a noble profession—but somehow the real teachers working at real schools do not deserve much respect—was equ ally prominent among private education students. During a focus group with 10 st udents from the private school Lake-View, 8 out of 10 were very supportive of teac hers striking for better salaries. Nevertheless, when asked the same question about th e teachers at their school participating in a future strike, one of the partic ipants (female student in 4th year at LakeView) expressed these opinions: Student.4-Lake-View: No, teachers here are teachers Question: What do you mean by “teachers are teacher s”? Student.4-Lake-View: … They don’t want to risk anyt hing, they do everything the principal tells them to do, or follo w the textbook, they are … boring, really boring … everything is always the sa me… Student.4-Lake-View: Yes, she is totally right, the re are days we spend as much time sleeping in class as copying idiotic stuf f. The previous testimonies are consistent in showing dissatisfaction with schooling and authorities in general. During this research, in on ly one instance did students point to their own of responsibility in their own schooling when they recognize that cheating is a very common practice. During the first part of one focus group with 9 students from two secondary schools (5 from the public and 4 from Mou ntain-View private school) most participants agreed with the notion that “private s chools are better, than public ones,” or as one of the students from the public school empha tically stated “It is a fact! If you can choose, you go to the private.” None of the other s tudents seemed to disagree. However, almost at the end of the focus group and when quest ioned about the quality of education in general in light of the results of the SINEC eva luations, two students (one form each school) produced the following dialogue which drew the enthusiastic support of the other participants: Student.5-Public School: It couldn’t be different, we share the same teachers!Sudent.6-Mountain-View: Yeah! Mr. Pepe teaches the same nonsense here [private school] and there [public school] and the same over and over. My brother was his student more than seven years ago a nd he can repeat Pepe’s lesson on civics word by word. He [Mr. Pepe] is lik e a tape recorder! Student.5-Public School: Besides, you know, we are experts! Question: What do you mean?Student.5-Public School: You know, cheating is very common; I think that when we finish school they should give us another d iploma with the title, “Master Cheaters.” (Note 3)


25 of 35To sum up this section, students from public and pr ivate schools consistently supported the notion of the private school advantage, but wer e not very clear in their reasons for such belief. They were also able to point to simila r levels of dissatisfaction with their schools. It is also important to mention that notwi thstanding the expressed dissatisfaction with their schooling, for the most part, students were not against teachers in general. However the sympathy and solidarity wit h the abstraction “teacher” were not felt for the teachers from their own schools. This last tendency can be understood as a way of compensating for the sense of frustration th at some students feel about their school experiences.V. Conclusions This research was conducted to assess the extent of curricular and management changes in two private and one public secondary schools in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The main goal was to explore the perception of loca l actors (principals, teachers, and students) of what was termed the “new modernization discourse in education.” It is important to restate that this study did not intend to provide generalizable conclusions valid for all contexts and situations, nor to provide a single unifying narrative that explains the situation of all privat e and public secondary schools in Argentina. Rather it aimed at offering some clues a bout the perception of changes by a limited number of social actors and their understan ding of how public and private secondary schools operate in a particular context.After reviewing all the evidence gathered, the pres umed capability of private schools in absorbing increasing numbers of students with highe r levels of educational excellence could not be assessed. Furthermore, there is no cle ar evidence showing significantly important change in the population’s response to th e promises of the private sector in terms of enrolment and yet, there is a strong belie f among students, teachers and principals in the better performance of the private sector at all levels. Besides supporting the “private school advantage” n otion, both teachers and students in these three schools showed high levels of dissapoin tment with the general status of secondary education. Those levels were not directly related to the relative poor performance of students in the national evaluation tests but with a system of education which seems to offer few opportunities for self and social empowerment and to be unrewarding for both teachers and students.Contrary to what the “free-market” literature predi cts, in the case of these three secondary schools in Buenos Aires and based on the perspectives offered by this small sample of students and teachers, it appears that pr ivate and public schools in the same geographic area are offering similar curricular opt ions and having similar results. According to the marketization literature, this fin ding is somewhat surprising, because private schools should be able to afford “alternati ve” programs, having more flexibility and somewhat better working conditions for its teac hers. Perhaps, the observed similarity can be explained by two conditions: a) 8 5% of the teachers in the two private schools were trained in public institutions, and b) the three schools are located in the same neighborhood and serve students with similar s ocial and economic backgrounds. The findings of this study are also consistent with the results of Glass’s (1997) study


26 of 35about public and private schools in Arizona and Rot hstein,, Carnoy, and Benveniste’s (1999) study of public and private schools in Calif ornia. In their study, Rothstein, Carnoy, and Benveniste (1999) concluded that: [T]he social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the parents and the community in which the school was located seemed to be the main determinant of variation, much more so than a schoo l’s public or private character or, within the latter group, whether it w as religious or secular. Within these particular communities, the similariti es between schools and the problems they confronted overwhelmed the differ ences (1999, p. 75) The three schools studied in Buenos Aires operated in a context in which their pedagogical and administrative decisions were const rained by the emergence of a new discourse about “educational modernization.” This d iscourse has assumed a clear pro-private schools tone, and its defenders contend that it is both a response as well as part of the conditions emerging from the process of globalization. In this discourse, educational modernization is a by-product of global ization, and both developed “naturally” as the only possible response to also “ naturally” occurring situations. Therefore, in this discourse the implementation of programs of structural adjustment, legislative changes affecting the provision of educ ational services, and the strong support of international financial agencies, mainst ream media, the political establishment and large sectors of the population f or private education are presented as the only possible alternatives to“naturally” occurr ing situations, and not part of large and complex political and economical struggles.The importance and influence of the current debate in Great Britain and the USA about markets and choice in education and the internation al financial agencies’ role –which Joel Samoff (1991) has aptly defined as the “Financ ial-Intellectual Complex”–in tailoring the new modernization discourse in Argent ina are two factors that should not be underestimated. As noted before at the turn of t he nineteenth century the nation -state assumed the task of being the engine of capitalist modernization in Latin America. For the enterprise of modernization, national, publicly funded school systems were conceptualized as a key component. (Tedesco, 1989)In the current globalized capitalism, the pressures to transform the models of modernization, the role of the state, and the funct ions and extent of national systems of “public” schools are greater than ever before. The phenomenon of globalization, with its compression of time and space (Castells, 1997), h as created a new set of conditions, some of which were severely felt in the Argentina o f the 1980s and 1990s. The levels of autonomy of the national state are under constant s crutiny because as Jill Blackmore noted “Whereas the welfare state previously discipl ined the market within its national boundaries, in a globalized context the state is no w being disciplined by the international markets.” (2000, p. 335)Under these disciplinary constraints the contempora ry Latin American state can be best characterized as a “conditioned capitalist state” ( Fuller, 1991), which is not a less interventionist state but one that is conditioned b y supranational forces (including the local elites connected to the transnational sector) constraining the national state’s ability to operate within its national boundaries. In Argen tina during the 1980s and 1990s given the circumstances of semi-permanent political and f inancial crises, Argentina’s state as a conditioned state had fewer possibilities for devel oping models of schooling which did


27 of 35not resemble the models developed and promoted by m ore powerful international financial institutions. (Samoff, 1991)Financial institutions such as the World Bank and t he International Monetary Fund respond to the policies of the governments of the r ichest, most industrialized countries in the world (Robinson, 1999). In this scenario it is expected that the most likely educational policies to be developed by conditioned capitalist countries will therefore, resemble those educational policies developed in an d favoring the continuous accumulation of capital by the G-7 countries. Established Western societies are no longer optimis tic that the Welfare State can effectively assist, or even understand, the pro blems facing working class and low-income groups. Individualistic market rules and materialistic preoccupation, earlier advanced by the classically liberal state, are gaining supporters from a widening range of social classes which see less and less meaning in centralized versions of the modern state (Fuller, 1991, p. 141) As the current North American debate over vouchers and choice initiatives shows, the promarket initiatives are gaining momentum. In ad dition, proposals by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund calling for the privatization of schooling of the add more pressure and conditions the options of Argenti na’s public education system. When one of the most recognizable World Bank experts in education proclaims that the best way to solve the problems of public education is to “Privatize as much as you can” (Psacharopoulos, 1990), there is no doubt that priv atization has become a powerful component of the new modernization discourse in edu cation. At this point, with the available evidence from thi s small research in Argentina, and the international experience from countries such as Chi le (Carnoy, 2000), New Zealand (Lauder and Hughes, 1999), the USA (Glass, 1997; Ro thstein, Carnoy, and Benveniste, 1999) and the United Kingdom (Ball and Vincent, 199 8), it is legitimate to question about the advantages of marketizing education and p romoting the replacement of the public school system by one dominated by private sc hools. In answering this question Martin Carnoy (2000) questioned these supposed adva ntages: When the available information is assembled in the U.S. and abroad, the evidence suggests that “marketizing” education incr eases choice for a certain fraction of parents but most likely does li ttle or nothing to improve overall student achievement. (p. 19) The findings of this research support Carnoy’s rema rks. It appears evident, then, that in the case of Argentina before proceeding with the im plementation of more “market initiatives” to improve public education, it would be important to have a better knowledge of the functioning of the supposedly bett er performing private schools. This is especially relevant at the secondary level where private participation is large and very heterogeneous.I would, however, recommend that further studies ab out this topic follow Adam Przeworsky cautions regarding the application of ec onomic changes –or educational ones– under “conditioned democratic situations.” Pr zeworsky (1991, p. 138) wondered whether structural economic transformation can be s ustained under democratic conditions, or whether either reforms or democracy must be sacrificed.


28 of 35This is a threefold question: (1) What are the econ omic costs of such transformation? (2) Under what political conditions are such costs most likely to be tolerated? (3) What is the effect of transformation on democratic institut ions? Przeworsky pointed out that these questions mainly involve speculation informed on the one hand by economic theory and on the other by fragile historical exper ience. Neither explanation appears to be very useful or provide the final word on this ma tter. He concluded: We have no theory of structural transformation, and the empirical evidence is scanty. Market oriented reforms are a plunge int o the unknown, a risky historical experiment born out of desperation and d riven by hope, not by justifiable benefits. ( Pzreworski, 1991, p. 139) I would like to conclude that today, nine years aft er Pzreworsky’s contention, the empirical evidence is far from being scanty, and it indicates that market reforms in education have not delivered “justifiable benefits, ” at least not in terms of better achievement and equality of opportunities for the m ajority of the population. Doubtless, there are excellent private schools in Argentina an d elsewhere offering wonderful and meaningful educational opportunities for their stud ents. But there are also wonderful public schools that today are threatened by politic al negligence, which is self-justified by the argument of the inevitability of globalization, as well as by blind faith in the marketization of schooling. To forget the latter, a nd the continuous uncritical acceptance of the “private school advantage,” seems not only n ave, but also dangerous.Notes The notion of the so-called “Lost Decade” is very p roblematic and misleading. In Argentina, during the “Lost Decade” groups of peopl e did extremely well and their “prosperity” was closely related to the impov erishment of the other sectors of the population. During the period 1975-1990, the to p third of the population (in terms of income) increased its earnings by 26.2%, t he middle class lost 9.2% of its income while the income of the bottom third of the population fell by 14.9% (Boron, 1992). 1. The continuous demands by several national human ri ghts groups as well as the investigations of human rights abuses by internatio nal courts, expose the absurdity of the “historical amnesia” prescribed by the gover nment of President Alfonsin and later by President Menem as the remedy to the h orrors of Argentina’s past. 2. Cheating in secondary schools appears to be very ex tensive. For some of my respondents (teachers, principals, parents, and esp ecially students) cheating is an “institution,” one more of the many rituals that sh ape the experience of secondary education. However, there are other voices that lin k cheating to the larger structures of corruption that typify the daily life of the country. In fact, corruption is such a visible topic that during the last few ye ars, several books that dealt directly with this topic were on the best sellers l ist. In two books, cheating in schools was used as an example of the general level of corruption in Argentina. (See, Grondona, Mariano. La Corrupcion. Buenos Aires, Planeta, 1993 and Moreno Ocampo, Luis. En Defensa Propia. Buenos Aires, Sudamericana, 1993). In addition to these examples, at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), one of the few graduate courses offered not only to university students but also to the public 3.


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31 of 35Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Spain. Paper pre sented at the CIES Annual Conference San Diego. Torres, Carlos Alberto and Puiggrs, Adriana (1995) Editorial essay Comparative Education Review, 39 (1) 1-27. Katz, Claudio. (1992). Economia Latinoamericana: De la decada perdida a la nueva crisis Buenos Aires: Ediciones Letra Buena. Klees, Steven (1993) Resource Allocation and Social Choice in Education: The Need for Alternative Criteria and Processes, mimeo, Florida State University Kugler, Bernardo. (1991 ). Argentina reallocating resources for the improve ment of education Washington, D.C.: World Bank. Lauder, Hugh and Hughes, David. 1999 Trading in Futures: Why Markets in Education Don’t Work, Philadelphia: Open University Press Llach, Juan Jose., Montoya Silvia., and Roldn, Fla via. Educacin Para Todos Crdoba, IREAL, 1999.Ministerio de Cultura y Educacin. (1992 ). Mejoramiento y evaluacion de la calidad de la educacin. Buenos Aires: Proyecto MEJ-BIRF. Moreno Ocampo, Luis. (1993). En defensa propia Buenos Aires: Sudamericana. Nosiglia, Catalina., and Marquina, Monica. (1993). Ley de educacin: Aportes para el analisis y el debate. Propuesta Educativa, 5 (9), 89. Nun, Jose. (1993) Democracy and modernization. Latin American Perspectives, 20 (4), 7-27. O’Donnell, Guillermo., & Schmiter, Peter. (1986). Transitions from authoritarian rule Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Peruzzotti, Enrique. (1993). The Weimarization of A rgentine politics and state autonomy. Thesis Eleven, 34, 127-139. Petras, James., & Morris, M. (1992). Latin America in the time of cholera New York: Routledge. Pini Mnica Eva (2000) Lineamientos de Poltica E ducativa en los Estados Unidos: Debates Actuales; Significados para Amrica Latina Educational Policy Analysis Archives 8 (8). Available at 8.html. Popkewitz, Thomas. S. and Brennan, Mary (1998). Foucault's Challenge: Discourse, Knowledge, and Power in Education New York, Teachers College Press. Psacharopoulos, George. (1990). Fifteen questions a nd answers on quality education. Education and Society, 8 (2), 35. Puiggrs, Adriana. (1990). Sujetos, disciplina y curriculum Buenos Aires: Galerna.


32 of 35Puiggrs, Adriana. (1992). Escuela democracia y orden (1916-1943) Buenos Aires: Galerna. Pzreworski, Adam. (1991). Democracy and the market New York: Cambridge University Press.Rhoten, Diana. (July 1999). Global-Local Conditions of Possibility: The Case of Education Descentralization in Argentina. Palo Alto, CA, Stanford University. Robisnon, William I. (1999) Latin America and Globa l Capitalism. Race and Class 40 (2/3) 111-131Rosenthal, Gerth. (1989). Latin America and Caribbe an development in the 1980s and the outlook for the future. CEPAL Review, 39, 1. Rothstein, Richard; Carnoy, Martin and Benveniste, Luis (1999) Can Public Schools Learn from Private Schools: Case Studies in the pub lic and private nonprofit sectors Washington, D.C. Economic Policy InstituteSamoff, Joel. (1991). Research, knowledge and policy in assistance to Afr ican education: The financial-intellectual complex Buenos Aires: XV World Conference of the International Political Science Association.Samoff, Joel. (1999) Institutionalizaing Internatio nal Influence in Arnove, Robert and Torres Carlos Alberto (eds) Comparative Education: The dialectic of the global and the local Lanham, MD, Rowman and Littlefield, 25-51 Schvarzer, Jorge. (1992). The Argentine riddle in h istorical perspective. Latin American Research Review, 27, 1. Sweetland, Scott R. (2000). Education Vouchers: Del iverance or Disaster? UCEA Review XVI (1) 1-10 Tedesco, Juan. Carlos. (1989). The role of the stat e in education. Prospects, XIX (4). Tenti Fanfani, Emilio (1999) Teachers’ training, wo rking conditions, and salary in Argentina, in Randall, Laura and Joan Anderson (eds ) Schooling for Success, Armok, NY M.E. Sharpe. 265-276Tironi, Eduardo., and Lagos, Ricardo. (1991). Socia l actors and structural adjustment. CEPAL Review, 44.UNESCO (1999) Statistical Yearbook., Lanham, MD: UNESCO-Bernan Press. UNLU (National University of Lujan). (1991 ). Evolucion de los salarios docentes en la Argentina Lujan, Argentina: National University of Lujan. Viteritti, Joseph (1999) Choosing Equality: School Choice the Constitution a nd Civil Society. Washington D.C., Brookings Institution Press Wells, Amy, and Biegel, Stuart. (1993). Public fund s for private schools: Political and first amendment considerations. American Journal of Education, 101 (3).


33 of 35 World Bank. (1995). Decentralization and Improvement of Secondary Educa tion and Polymodal Education Development Project Washington D.C.: World Bank.About the AuthorGustavo Fischman, Ph.D.Email: fischman@asu.eduGustavo Fischman is an Associate Professor in the D ivision of Educational Foundations and Interdivisional Studies, at California State Un iversity, Los Angeles (on leave from Arizona State University). His most recent book is Fischman, G. (2000) Imagining Teachers: Rethinking Teacher Education and Gender Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Copyright 2001 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-0211. (602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. C obb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Education Commission of the States William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX)


34 of 35 Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers California State University—Stanislaus Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois—UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education David D. Williams Brigham Young UniversityEPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de


35 of 35 Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los

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