Dr. Piia Seppänen (University of Turku, Finland): School choice as education policy: Comparing extremes Chile and Finland.

In the presentation I will outline how the travelling policy of school choice has become embedded in two very different socio-historical, political and cultural contexts: Latin American Chile and North European Finland. Based on empirical findings by Parents and school choice (PASC) research project, I will discuss why was the vision of Milton and Rose Friedman (1980) emphasising freedom of choice and school specialisation, and thus the “common interest” of pupils in fostering integration (ibid. 166), not realised in either of these countries. The presentation will be based on two brand new books of the research project: Contrasting Dynamics in Education Politics of Extremes: school choice in Chile and Finland, 2015 (Seppänen, P., Carrasco, A., Kalalahti, M., Rinne, R. & Simola, H. (Eds.) Sense Publishers) and Lohkoutuva peruskoulu – Perheiden kouluvalinnat, yhteiskuntaluokat ja koulutuspolitiikka [Segmenting comprehensive school – parental school choice, social classes and education policies], 2015 (Seppänen, P., Kalalahti, M., Rinne, R. & Simola, H. (Eds.), Finnish Educational Research Association). In the books we argue that both versions of school choice – hard and soft – manifest in Chile as the necessity of choice (i.e. every family ‘must choose’) and in Finland as the option for choice (i.e. in addition to pupil allocation by residence and selection by schools) create exclusivity in compulsory schooling in both countries: families end up educating their children at some distance from the predominant lower classes. If it is accepted that social class remains divisive in contemporary societies, then ‘parentocracy’ (Brown 1990) in educational decision-making will not promote fairness in educational provision any more than democratic institutions will.

Dr. Barbara Schulte (Lund University, Sweden): Freedom, choice and privatization in education: neoliberal cure or philanthropic disguise?

Private schools lie at the interface of education, the market, and state policies, which obviously each operate according to their own logic and ideologies. However, these logics become partially blended while education is becoming increasingly economified ­ at the same time as this economification takes different shapes depending on socio-political context. The lecture will look at how privatization processes in education have re-framed ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’, turning private education into a sort of alternative embodiment of the ‘public good’, and will relate this back to actual cases of privatization in education.

Dr. Berglind Rós Magnúsdottir (University of Iceland): Cultural politics of middle-class parental choice and school quality in neoliberal times

There is a growing literature focussed on middle-class parents who resist normative school-choice behaviour by enrolling their children in schools ‘lacking’ or challenging middle-class ideals. The data from this critical qualitative case study was mainly collected from white and multi-ethnic professionals in a university town in the United States of America who enrolled their children in an elementary school which had become under-enrolled and demonized as a ‘failing school’ (henceforth Osborne-school). In order to understand the political context of the choices faced by the parents enrolling their children in the Osborne-school, the competing equity discourses surrounding education in the USA were explored, that is the neo-liberal discourse promoting free school-choice and organizational reforms (Chubb & Moe, 1990), as well as the integration discourse which is a call for racial and economic integration among schools (Kahlenberg, 2001).

The main reasons the constrained choosers gave for leaving or avoiding Osborne were a lack of accumulative effects of privilege within Osborne-community followed by a lack of cultural familiarity and adjustment. The parents who stayed throughout the research period deviated more than the constrained leavers and non-comers from middle-class normativity in terms of race, history, the marital and occupational status of the mother, or the ‘special learning needs’ of their child. Analysis of revealed the intersection of racialized, gendered and classed contradictions that these parents encountered in their challenging of elitist school choice models, which resulted in emotional costs (Reay, 2008) and ethical dilemmas (Sayer, 2005).