Global Education Reforms: Discursive Trends and Policy Impact, 1960-2020

March 11th, 2024 - 4:45 pm to 6:15 pm

Hyatt Regency Miami, Floor: Third Level, Johnson 2

All around the world, national governments adopt education reforms of various kinds as a strategy to improve their education systems. While some reforms aim to reach specific goals such as increasing access to education or improving student outcomes, others aim to focus on reorganizing education systems, by either creating new organizational structures or implementing credentialing, assessment, and accountability systems. Systematic analyses of national education reforms adopted globally can advance our understanding of the forces shaping education discourse. This is particularly meaningful given the recent challenges to the legitimacy of the liberal order (Mearsheimer 2019), which might ultimately shift the focus of education reform discourse across countries.

The field of Comparative and International Education is replete with studies dedicated to assessing the impact of specific reform efforts, while also attempting to take into account the immense degree of variation in the way reforms are both conceptualized and implemented across the world (e.g.: Carnoy et al 2017; Hanushek et al 2013). Instead of assessing individual programs or policies, our research team seeks to examine the trends, patterns, and effects of education reform discourse at a global scale, comparing across countries and regions. Our main goal is thus to better understand the global and national mechanisms that drive the decision to reform and how these mechanisms reflect cultural and political shifts. In this panel, we propose to present a set of five studies that uncover latent political trends of education reforms at the cross-national level.

Studies in our panel draw upon the World Education Reform Database (WERD), a cross-national and longitudinal dataset of more than 10,000 education reforms from over 180 countries and territories (Bromley et al., 2023). Reforms were collected from country reports including: World Data on Education, published by UNESCO; Project Appraisal Documents (PAD) and Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) published by the World Bank; Education Policy Outlook (EPO), Reviews of National Policies for Education (RNPE) and the Education Reform Finder, published by the OECD; Elsevier Science’s International Encyclopedia of Education; and the European Commission’s SHARE database on educational reforms. A team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants identified education reforms from these reports, using a standardized definition and coding protocol. WERD’s definition of reform is any planned, systemic, and non-routine change to education systems. We consider reforms as ‘planned’ in that they occur intentionally, and they are ‘systemic’ changes at supra-school administrative levels (Brunsson 2009; Cuban 1990). Finally, reforms take on a ‘non-routine’ characteristic, intending to enact something new or different from the existing conditions (Labaree 1997). Our inter-rater reliability checks yielded a result of 0.85, which is considered excellent by the extant literature (Cicchetti, 1994).

WERD was first publicly launched during CIES 2023, and we have greatly benefited from the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from other scholars doing similar work and engaging with our research across the world. In the 2024 Annual Meeting, we build on an updated version of the database to present new studies that engage with the role of education in a changing cultural and political context. This includes studies looking at education reforms that address democratic norms, marginalized groups, early childhood education, and accountability-related issues. We also explore new methods to analyze the data, such as Natural Language Processing. These papers critically consider the normative changes in education reforms from a global macro-level perspective to contextualize our understanding of the influence of recent political shifts on education.