ED60 - David Labaree - Public goods, private goods, the American struggle over educational goals

As part of my education 60 class, we have to read a paper by David Labaree, on schools: seen as a private vs public goal.

Summary:

  • Three alternative goals for american education:

    • democratic equality: for citizens, everyone needs to know as much as possible, education needs to be accessible to everyone in order to create a true democracy, so anyone can contribute (public good)
    • social efficiency: for workers, everyone benefits from more skilled workers, make education more practical by offering more practical study matters and some degree of stratification (private training for public benefit)
    • social mobility: for individuals, the benefit largely goes to the individual consumer, who gains a salary increase or mainains his/her position on the social scale; this provides further stratification and differentiation between institutions (even with similar programs), as well as within institutions (from remedial to gifted)
  • Democratic equality - Summary:

    • Most political purpose of American education
    • Three distinct operational forms:
    • Citizenship training -- prevent selfishness, instill dedication to public, "it's hard to make Republicans," need to training
    • Equal treatment -- Horace Mann, fear of class conflict, sense of shared membership and community, egalitarian to sex, race, ethnicity
    • Equal access -- everyone should have an equal opportunity, provide enough schools, higher education becomes the norm
  • Social efficiency - Summary:

    • Practical constraints, vocationalism: make the school curriculum more responsive to job needs
    • Ruled by the simple reality that students eventually leave schools and join the workforce
    • Result was the creation of vocational programs, particularly at high school and community college levels
    • General education seen as impractical: "For a long time all boys were trained to be President... Now we are training them to get jobs." (Robert and Helen Lynd)
    • Compelling logic: benefits public (anyone) to spend on education. It is in the interest of the taxpayer (sound investment)
  • Social mobility - Summary:

    • Individual benefit, status attainment. Private good.
    • Asks "what can a school do for me, the individual consumer?"
    • Education understood as a way to get ahead or stay in sync.
    • Grading, hierarchy, more selective at higher levels to ensure distinction
    • Qualitative differences between institutions
    • Qualitative differences within institutions
    • Contrasts with previous two, education is seen as an exchange value rather than a use value
    • "Students quickly come to the conclusion that what matters most is not the knowledge they learn in school but the credentials they acquire there" (Labaree)
    • Education becomes more meritocratic, leads to competition and wariness => fairness
    • Meritocracy much more visible in higher levels
  • Historical patterns of goal ascendancy

    • 19th century was dominated by democratic equality
    • increasing number of students led to need for distinction, potential for getting ahead => social mobility and efficiency
    • 1960s - 1970s - democratic equality again, for racial and sex discrimination
    • 1980s - 1990s - shifted back to social efficiency + mobility, for educational standards and usefulness of education
    • More and more, education goals emphasize winning over learning, opportunity over efficiency
    • Resulted from decentralized control (little federal and state ruling), which led to market/local education, consumer choice, competition, stratified curriculum, local autonomy for schools
  • Social mobility vs social efficiency

    • (agree with democratic equality) Social mobility supports greater access to schooling for people to have an equal chance of getting ahead
    • (agree with democratic equality) Social mobility allocates rewards based on individual achievement, not race, gender, ethnicity, class, etc

    • Ideology of the three programs:

      • democratic equality: politically democratic, socially egalitarian
      • social mobility: politically liberal, socially meritocratic
      • common ground between the above two, socially + politically is considered a progressive view
      • social efficiency: politically conservative, socially reproductive (reinforce existing structure)
    • Successes from coalition between social mobility and democratic equality:

      • variety of choices
      • less discrimination
      • accepting returning students
      • hiring because of credentials rather than characteristics
    • Primary opposition comes from social efficiency

      • need for positions in job market is not met
      • rising costs for poor families
      • more worry about getting a job than getting ahead
      • as taxpayers, contributing to education for other people's children
      • produce workforce to provide measurable economic benefits to society as a whole
    • Dispute over tracking, guidance and vocationalism
    • Result is a bold mixture of purposes in American education, anyone has a possibility to get to the top (contest mobility, acc. to Turner), but with low probability

    • Contrasts:

      • greater access (mobility) vs reducing costs (effective)
      • concentrate resources on highest levels (mobility) vs high quality on all levels (effective)
      • undercuts learning by promoting minimum level to attain credentials (mobility) vs need to upgrade skills of the workforce (effective)
    • Similarities:

      • schools need to adapt to the structure of inequality
      • subordinate schools to needs of market
      • lead to highly stratified structure of education
      • providing high access to highest end, most desirable jobs is counterproductive and also not giving an edge to a select few
    • Social mobility can only be promoted to the extent that it reduce the chance for the lower end to get to the top (opposite of democratic equality)

  • Social mobility vs democratic equality

    • both for equal access
    • mobility against equal treatment and civic virtue
    • equal treatment _opposite of equal _educational treatment
    • civic virtue is about politics as opposed to the market. social mobility is for market value (progressive individualism, capitalist ideology), not political value
    • progressive individualism = individual pursuing competitive success in the market
    • purpose of democratic equality: republicans
    • purpose of social efficiency: workers
    • purpose of social mobility: winners
    • social mobility caused school to have value not for its intrinsic usefulness (things you learn), but for its exchangeability
    • citizenship training has become, as a result, much less present
    • good citizenship has morphed into behaving in accordance with school rules
    • social mobility encourages surrogate learning - as long as credits are gained, what occurs in classrooms is allowed to pass for education
    • exchange value is assumed (mistakenly) to reflect use value
    • schooling for mobility is like farming for the market -- maximize the exchange value
    • Labaree suggests that the reason students are less successful from the perspective of academic achievement is because the purpose of schooling is, at its core, anti-educational --> students are well schooled but poorly educated, master of forms but not of content. The classic question "Will this be on the test?" illustrates this.
    • "levels of educational attainment keep rising, while levels of social mobility remain the same" (pg 70)
  • Conclusion

    • Contradiction:

      • these three goals created a contradiction that is contradictory and frequently counterproductive
      • we distinguish students by merit and grades, but undermine this through homogenizing practices such as grade inflation, social promotion
      • we bring all students under the same roof, but make sure everyone has a different experience there
      • we offer everyone access to higher education, while assuming social benefits are sharply stratified
      • we focus on preparing students for work, but devote our efforts to providing a thoroughly general education
      • education is deficient at carrying out any of its goals effectively -- we continue to ask ends that are mutually exclusive
    • Credentialism

      • translating educational attainment into social attainment
      • since the interests are either job competency or general knowledge (from gen ed), credentials are expected to be irrelevant
      • the reality, however, is the opposite -- Boudon's model predicts this
      • elevates schooling into an instrument for achieving the American dream
      • credentials market is where aspirations raised by education meet the cold reality of socioeconomic limits
      • educational opportunities grow faster than job opportunities
      • the ability of a diploma to buy a good job declines
      • credentialism undermines learning, promotes spending time and money for little economic benefit
      • carries out in a manner that is individually rational and collectively irrational
    • Possibility

      • biggest problem in society nowadays is not that these three major ideals exist and are in conflict, but the thread of social mobility overshadowing the other two => education as private good
      • need to draw on core goal of education -- to provide everyone with the capacities required for full political participation and working abilities

And that's the summary of a 45 page article!

I look forward to writing an essay based on this, in 2 weeks time.

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