What is wrong with the 'what-went-right' approach in educational policy?

This article critically examines how 'what-went-right' analyses are used to subsequently justify the transfer of reform packages or 'best practices' from one country to another. Similar to evidence-based policy planning, the what-went-right approach needs to be criticized for being presumptuous. There are three fallacies of the what-went-right analysis that the article dismantles: rationality, precision and universality. The article focuses on the façade of universality and examines how the claim to universal solutions is methodologically sustained. First, the author shows how standardized or normative comparison has in recent years overshadowed the other two types of comparison: comparison across time (historical analyses) and comparison across contexts ('simple comparison'). Then, she elaborates on why the what-went-right approach requires policy analysts to downplay differences between educational systems in order to establish comparability between cases. The emphasis on comparability and similarity of cases is a prerequisite to importing 'best practices' from vastly different educational systems. But what if transfer occurs regardless of difference? There is a curious phenomenon that the article addresses in greater detail: the retrospective definition of a local problem. Given the worldwide circulation of 'best practices' and traveling reform packages, policy analysts sometimes are under pressure to align their analyses of local problems with already existing global solutions. The article ends with a reflection on policy borrowing and lending research and situates the what-went-right approach in the broader question of why and how policy analysts 'buy' or 'sell' reform packages that worked well in one context for transfer into another.


Publication year:
2013
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In: European Educational Research Journal. - Vol. 12(2013), No. 1, p. 20-33
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