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SSRE Conference 2018

Gita Steiner-Khamsi

Uncovering Global Education Policies in National School Reforms: Findings from Two Social Network Analyses

The presentation investigates the political uses of international “best practices,” studies published in other countries, and in general international references for national school reform. The focus is on international publications and reports that governments use to explain their policy decisions. Three questions, prototypical for policy borrowing research, have guided the comparative study presented in the keynote: (i) Whose knowledge (national, regional, or international) is used to justify the reform? What counts as “evidence” that change is necessary? (ii) Do the references to international publications entail special policies, that is, can we speak of particular “global education policies”?  (iii) What kind of authorization is associated with the references? Are they supposed to prove a need for reform (agenda-setting), or substantiate the proposed revisions with policy solutions (policy formulation)?

Empirically, the presentation draws on text-based social network analyses of two school reforms: the 2014 fundamental school reform in Denmark and the 2020 incremental school reform in Norway. We investigated how policy makers and policy experts use “evidence” to justify reforms and what they “learn” from policy knowledge, published in their own country as well as in other countries. The Danish study examined the papers produced as part of the stakeholder review process (“hearings”) as well as references made in the bibliography sections of those papers. The Norwegian study drew attention to the policy knowledge of the Royal Ministry of Education and Research and its appointed expert panels. In Norway, we applied the social network analysis to two White Papers (written by the Ministry) and twelve Green Papers (written by government-appointed expert panels), as well as texts cited in White and Green Papers. For the Danish study, we analyzed a corpus of 723 references, and for the Norwegian study 3,438 references. The comparative policy studies were carried out in cooperation with faculty and students of Aarhus-University (Danish Pedagogical University in Copenhagen) and the University of Oslo.