January 29, 2014

Stephen Ball's Markets, morality, and equality in education

3 out of 5 stars



Title: Markets, Morality and Equality in Education (Hillcole Group paper)
Size: 23 pages (Octavo)
Publisher: Tufnell Press (13 Oct 1993)
ISBN: (10) 187276715X, (13) 978-1872767154

At a Glance

The Book

“Stephen Ball explores the political and ideological antecedents of the education market established by the Education Reform Act […] The book argues that the education market fulfils the requirements of the market forces outlined by neo-liberal economist Frederich Hayek […] (And thus) the ERA constitutes a fundamental social and political experiments with the lives and futures of the children of England and Wales.”

The Author

Stephen Ball is the Karl Mannheim professor of sociology of education at the Institute of Education, University of London, and author of the report Education, Justice and Democracy: The Struggle Over Ignorance and Opportunity for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies

What I Think of the Book

On the definition of leadership

Before I discuss the book I should mention that the fact the book was published in 1993 so to be fair the financial crisis of 2007-08 hadn’t have happened and the trust in free-market was still intact.

The book argues towards Hayek’s economics based on the notion that the market is the only guarantee of progress and civilization, and that inequality is not only inevitable but also necessary in the market to stimulate competition.

Ball claims that the application of Hayekian market in education will bring many benefits and that the core to these benefits is the notion of diversity. Ball explains that in a comprehensive system of schools, all schools will be giving the same service, and offer no choice, hence the ERA comes to the rescue with it’s variety that suits everybody’s needs. I have an issue with this logic; first of all, the premise “in a comprehensive system, all schools will be giving the same service” does not necessarily mean lack of choice in school type instead in means the unity of the quality level. A governed school system can still offer options, but ‘equal options’. The rhetoric comprising words such as ‘freedom’, ‘choice’, ‘variety’ and ‘diversity’ is very attractive and prominent in the book, but let’s not lose focus because of these big words. What a market led system offers in term of choice that is not offered by a regulated system is this: a choice of the quality level of the school, and I don’t claim to speak for others but I doubt any parent would want their child in a school whose quality is any thing less of the best. In other words, parents have the option to choose from a variety of quality levels; the bad schools, the OK schools, the good schools and the really good schools, Mmm, I wonder how valuable if this choice to people. So the premise is unjust and the conclusion is miss represented to mean something else.

Furthermore, when discussing the benefits of the market force, Ball talk about governing bodies, which leads me to my main critique of the education market. As Ball says “Local Education Authority policies on employment will no longer apply. Schools will not be bound by any equal opportunities policies or […]” (p. 13) “another context for analysing the LMS provisions of the ERA is the antipathy of the Conservative leadership towards local government and local democracy. LMS severely curtails the role of local authorities in educational planning and decision-making” (P. 19) now I’m not saying that local authority policies are perfect, but what is the alternative here? Firstly, the policies could be (and in fact are) reviewed; secondly, there could be more nation-wide oversight and regulation; and thirdly, there is a whole spectrum of regulated education markets that could solve the policy issues. However, it seems that the only alternative for Ball is the complete free market. Back to my original concern: if local authorities are no longer in control, then who is? Businesses? I doubt they are either responsible or accountable enough. Besides no free-market scenario should be completely trusted after the Subprime mortgage crisis and the subsequent financial and economic crisis of the 2007-08.

You see, on the individual level, the real problem with the free market is its favouritism towards the successful and the fortunate. So the big cities will get all the best schools at the expense of rural areas. So what would be of the kid born in a small rural town? Do we have to make things harder for him to get to a high-quality respectable school (only found in the big city) is it not enough he is most likely to be poor? Do we have to add another problem? And speaking of poor, the costs of these free market schools are highly contrasting.

Is it Recommended

Well, it's not that relevant now but nice to read. Ball is a great writer who present interesting point of view.

I really enjoyed reading the book and thinking about the ideas it presented.

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