Measuring responsiveness to parents

One of the recent projects of OIDEL, the Geneva-based NGO mentioned in my last post, has been to coordinate researchers from across Europe in a project to identify and then apply indicators for how national education systems respond to the concerns of parents, including but not limited to their desire to choose the schools that their children attend. It’s called IPPE: Indicators for Parental Participation in Compulsory Education.

I will just summarize IPPE’s conclusions; you can review the whole study and interact with it here. There is also a book with detail on methodology and results country-by-country, published in French in April and in English in September; look for it on in both languages by searching for the first author, Felice Rizzi.

The study makes a distinction between individual and collective rights of parents. In the first category are:

  • The right to choose which school their children will attend;
  • the right of appeal against certain decisions by school authorities;
  • and the right of information about the progress of their children and the organization and goals of the school and educational system

“The category of ‘collective’ parental rights largely refers to parents’ rights to participate in formal structures organised [sic] by the education system.”

Through working closely with the European Parents’ Association and other official and unofficial sources of information, the study was able to draw detailed – though inevitably preliminary – comparative conclusions about the situation with respect to these rights in seven countries of the EU, and then collected less detailed information from eight others.

I’ll focus just on the first of the rights identified. The survey asked two questions: Are there varied educational projects? And are there financial resources in place allowing parents to choose schools “other than those established by the public authorities?” The phrase in quotes is from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

For each of the countries studied, an answer is offered to both questions, as to the others, and a (rather clumsy) numerical score assigned; thus Belgium receives a score of 100 on the right to choose, Spain a 75, and Italy and Portugal each a 60. I would myself rate Italy considerably lower, based on my work there.

The conclusions of the study call for funding of non-public schools and for measures to protect their autonomy from over-regulation.

The study does not compare the EU countries with the United States, and such a comparison would require a refinement of the questions: There is now extensive variety among schools in the US, more so than in some EU countries, because of the spread of charter schools and – less happily – because of the quality differences which are more marked in the US than in most of the EU. Choice among charter and district schools is essentially free of cost. On the other hand, unlike most EU countries, the US does not provide cost-free choice of schools with a religious character, which millions of parents desire so strongly that they pay for it themselves.

For this and other reasons, the narrative portion of the IPPE report seems to me more useful than the attempt to attain precision by assigning numerical values to the different countries on the various questions. Perhaps the greatest value, however, is simply the effort to reach agreement on indicators derived from commonly-recognized parental rights. As these indicators are used by other and more detailed studies, they will make it possible to advance the discussion of parental rights in useful ways.

Avatar photo

BY Charles Glenn

Charles L. Glenn is professor of Educational Leadership and Development and former Dean of the School of Education at Boston University, where he teaches courses in education history and comparative policy. From 1970 to 1991 he was director of urban education and equity for the Massachusetts Department of Education, including administration of over $200 million in state funds for magnet schools and desegregation, and initial responsibility for the nation's first state bilingual education mandate and for the state law forbidding race, sex, and national-origin discrimination in education. He is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Glenn is author of a number of books, including the historical study The Myth of the Common School (1988, 2002), which has been published as Il mito della scuola unica (Milan 2004), El mito de la escuela publica (Madrid 2006), and will be published in Portuguese in 2012. He has also published Choice of Schools in Six Nations (1989), Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe (1994, 1995), Educating Immigrant Children: Schools and Language Minorities in Twelve Nations (1996), The Ambiguous Embrace: Government and Faith-based Schools and Social Agencies (2000), as well as some twenty articles in four encyclopedias, and several hundred other articles, book chapters, and monographs on education policy.

In 2002 he and Jan De Groof of Belgium published Finding the Right Balance: Freedom, Autonomy and Accountability in Education, a study in two volumes of how 26 countries balance educational freedom with common standards and accountability, pupil and teacher rights with the integrity of school mission. An abbreviated version appeared in Italian as Un difficile equilibrio, and in English (for distribution in Eastern Europe) as Education Freedom.

Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education (2004), a substantially revised and expanded version in three volumes, covers 40 countries. A new four-volume edition will add more than a dozen countries, and up-date the others, for 2012 publication.

Glenn is currently completing a series of books on the history of educational policy in North America and Western Europe. His book on The Netherlands and Belgium, Germany and Austria, Contrasting Models of State and School: A Comparative Historical Study of Parental Choice and State Control, was published by Continuum in April 2011. A companion volume, The American Model of State and School: An Historical Inquiry, is in press, and he is writing Challenging the American Model of State and School: School Choice and Cultural Pluralism on the antecedents and prospects of current structural reforms of education.

African American/Afro-Canadian Schooling: From Colonial Times to the Present and Native American/First Nations Schooling: From Colonial Times to the Present were published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2011. His book-in-progress on the harmful influence of certain ideas about education, The Genealogy of Bad Ideas in Education, will be published by ISI Books. His next project will be The Contested School: State and Church in France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico.

Glenn is active in educational policy debates in the United States and Europe, is vice president of OIDEL (the Geneva-based NGO promoting educational freedom worldwide), and a member of the boards of the European Association for Education Law and Policy and the Council for American Private Education, and of five scholarly journals. He has served as a consultant to the Russian and Chinese education authorities and to states and major cities across the United States, and as expert witness in federal court cases on school finance, desegregation, bilingual education, and church-state relations in education. His BA and EdD degrees are from Harvard, his PhD from Boston University.