Education International
Education International

EI opposes OECD’s case for market mechanisms in education

published 7 September 2010 updated 7 September 2010

Despite unequivocal evidence of the economic crisis resulting from unrestrained financial markets a new report from the OECD argues for spending efficiencies and pursuit of failed market mechanisms in education.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Education at a Glance Report 2010, released today chooses to ignore the results of the markets’ excesses which include massive cuts in education budgets, school closures and the redundancy of tens of thousands of vital teachers.

Despite the compelling evidence of economic and social benefits from education, the OECD defends the idea that, at a time of shrinking budgets, only education systems that are shown to be ‘effective and efficient’ will make the grade, and countries must find new ways to generate greater ‘value for money’ from educational investments. According to the OECD report, it is worrying that in those countries where there have been significant increases in spending per student over the past decade there have not been corresponding improvements in the quality of learning outcomes.

The Report states that improving the performance of education systems and raising value for money is the main task for public policy. This will require those education systems that have tended to operate in a supply-driven way to develop effective mechanisms to understand and respond to the rapidly changing economic and social demands for competencies.

In the future, according to the OECD, the success of education systems will no longer be measured by how much countries spend on education or by how many individuals complete a degree, but by the educational outcomes achieved and by their impact on economic and social progress.

In an Analysis of the OECD report sent to affiliates, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, noted: “EI is concerned by the argument put forward by OECD for school choice based on the assumption that the creation of more autonomous schools combined with money allocation linked to enrolment will lead to efficiency and innovation in curriculum, instruction and governance, as the way to improve outcomes. Other schools, including those competing for the same students, could also improve by adopting innovative practices. However, the Report does not provide compelling evidence that they do! There is considerable evidence from our members that the exact opposite is the case.

“There is growing and strong evidence, ignored by the OECD, on how imposing market mechanisms in education – such as school competition for students, parents and teachers – is related to the emerging trend of high stakes testing, which narrows and simplifies the quality of education, and ultimately leads to increasing inequities and segregation of societies.”

The strong emphasis on the social outcomes of education is the most welcome part of the OECD report. Given the increasing evidence to suggest a significant role of education in raising these outcomes, the Report suggests it would be of interest for policy-makers working on education, health and social welfare to jointly take into account the social outcomes of education. Clearly, educational attainment is positively associated with self-reported good health, political interest and interpersonal trust. That is, adults with higher levels of educational attainment are generally more likely than those with lower levels of attainment to report that their health is at least good, that they are at least fairly interested in politics, and believe that most people can be trusted.

In higher education, the OECD report acknowledges the ever rising enrolment nevertheless warning about imbalance between quantity and quality. While tertiary graduation rates continue to rise, all higher education systems have a problem with retention rates. While more students start tertiary education degrees, a large number never finish a degree. More work still needs to be done to understand the causes of this trend.

In general, the Education at a Glance 2010 report gives a very rich overview of main statistical indicators of OECD and partner countries. As such, it is a valuable source of reference for drawing evidence on the main trends. However, we must remain vigilant of its policy messages. EI believes the data presented in this report only goes up to 2008 and therefore predates the recent economic crisis and does not show the full picture of education “after the crisis”.