One of the recent projects of OIDEL, the Geneva-based NGO mentioned in my last post, has been to coordinate researchers from across Europe in a project to identify and then apply indicators for how national education systems respond to the concerns of parents, including but not limited to their desire to choose the schools that their children attend. It’s called IPPE: Indicators for Parental Participation in Compulsory Education.
I will just summarize IPPE’s conclusions; you can review the whole study and interact with it here. There is also a book with detail on methodology and results country-by-country, published in French in April and in English in September; look for it on http://www.amazon.fr/ in both languages by searching for the first author, Felice Rizzi.
The study makes a distinction between individual and collective rights of parents. In the first category are:
- The right to choose which school their children will attend;
- the right of appeal against certain decisions by school authorities;
- and the right of information about the progress of their children and the organization and goals of the school and educational system
“The category of ‘collective’ parental rights largely refers to parents’ rights to participate in formal structures organised [sic] by the education system.”
Through working closely with the European Parents’ Association and other official and unofficial sources of information, the study was able to draw detailed – though inevitably preliminary – comparative conclusions about the situation with respect to these rights in seven countries of the EU, and then collected less detailed information from eight others.
I’ll focus just on the first of the rights identified. The survey asked two questions: Are there varied educational projects? And are there financial resources in place allowing parents to choose schools “other than those established by the public authorities?” The phrase in quotes is from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
For each of the countries studied, an answer is offered to both questions, as to the others, and a (rather clumsy) numerical score assigned; thus Belgium receives a score of 100 on the right to choose, Spain a 75, and Italy and Portugal each a 60. I would myself rate Italy considerably lower, based on my work there.
The conclusions of the study call for funding of non-public schools and for measures to protect their autonomy from over-regulation.
The study does not compare the EU countries with the United States, and such a comparison would require a refinement of the questions: There is now extensive variety among schools in the US, more so than in some EU countries, because of the spread of charter schools and – less happily – because of the quality differences which are more marked in the US than in most of the EU. Choice among charter and district schools is essentially free of cost. On the other hand, unlike most EU countries, the US does not provide cost-free choice of schools with a religious character, which millions of parents desire so strongly that they pay for it themselves.
For this and other reasons, the narrative portion of the IPPE report seems to me more useful than the attempt to attain precision by assigning numerical values to the different countries on the various questions. Perhaps the greatest value, however, is simply the effort to reach agreement on indicators derived from commonly-recognized parental rights. As these indicators are used by other and more detailed studies, they will make it possible to advance the discussion of parental rights in useful ways.