26 May 2015, 11:00 – 12:00
Marcela Veselková, Miroslav Beblavý
There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that the sooner the students are tracked, the greater the dependence of the student performance on family background. However, the expert-based information does not automatically or easily translate into policy decisions. Efforts to postpone the age of tracking and reduce the rigidity of student selection are often characterized by intense value-based conflict between policy coalitions and resist resolution by appeal to the facts. In situations like these “the only things left to examine are…stories” (Roe 1994: 3).
This paper examines how the empirical evidence based on the comprehensive datasets from OECD’s PISA program influenced the policy process in the Czech Republic and Slovakia between 2000 and 2013. More precisely, we use the Narrative Policy Framework to examine how advocacy coalitions competed to present the most compelling policy narrative. Our findings are as follows. First, following their accession to OECD, Czech Republic and Slovakia imported OECD’s narrative of less selective schooling. This contributed to the formation of the Pro-Later Tracking coalition in both countries. Second, our findings challenge the view that gradual accumulation of expert information leads to learning across advocacy coalitions and a belief change. In both countries, OECD narrative was adopted by the Pro-Later Tracking coalition and contested by the Anti-Later Tracking coalition. The lack of policy learning across coalitions was the result of high political conflict and intractability of the policy issue of later tracking at the national level. We document this intractability by differences in the use of narrative elements (story type, causal mechanism, policy solution, characters and the use of science) and narrative strategies (diffusion or concentration of costs and benefits, the use of condensation symbols, policy surrogates and the devil shift). Finally, when the Pro-Later Tracking coalition failed to sell the OECD narrative to the general public, it adopted narrative elements and narrative strategies complementary or alternative to the macro-narrative. For example, Pro-Later Tracking coalitions in both countries opted for alternative, “soft” solutions to the abolishment of multi-year gymnasia, such as their reduction. Furthermore, this reduction was framed as a technical problem („optimizing“ or „stabilization“ of the education network) rather than a political problem to contain the conflict. Over time, Pro-Later Tracking coalitions began to wrap the issue of later tracking in the broader developmental discourse. Instead of the equality of educational opportunities, they spun a story of decline if we fail to manage the education network to meet the needs of employers.