Partisanship, Teacher Unionism, and the Politics of Education Reform in Advanced Democracies: Comparing Institutional Change in Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, 1980-95.

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.3.02 (Tower One)
David Neil Lopez, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Why have some countries implemented decentralizing and market-based education policies to a greater degree than other countries exposed to similar macroeconomic and political pressures since the 1980s? This paper explores the political economy of education reform in advanced welfare states. The approach taken here builds upon previous work focusing on the interests of partisan governments regarding welfare state reform and the marketization of social services (Gingrich 2011; Pierson 1996). The paper outlines a preliminary model that focuses on the interaction of teacher unionism and incumbent governments during periods in which the state is under pressure to reform the compulsory public education system along two dimensions: decentralization and marketization. When an incumbent government is under pressure to implement education reforms unpopular with the teaching profession, the state’s capacity to fully implement reforms is contingent on how cohesive or fragmented teacher unionism is as an institution. When teacher unionism is fragmented and an incumbent center-left government advances reforms, greater decentralization of the education system is more likely. When a center-right government is in power and teacher unionism is fragmented, however, both decentralization and marketization measures are likely to be implemented. Alternatively, in countries where the structure of teacher unionism is cohesive, greater decentralization and marketization is less likely under either left or right governments. The paper presents a comparative-case analysis of Denmark, Finland, and Sweden from 1980 to 1995 to test the argument. Sweden’s fragmented unions were less able to influence the reform process resulting in both greater decentralization and marketization of primary and lower-secondary schools. In Denmark and Finland, where teacher unionism is more cohesive, the state was only able to advance greater decentralization. In addition to finding support for the hypotheses, the cases also reveal that public trust for teachers was also a factor that influenced the bargaining position of teachers’ unions. The paper makes three main contributions. First, the theory integrates insights from comparative education and economics scholarship regarding the role of teacher unionism in education reform. Second, by specifying education reform as a multi-dimensional outcome observable through common policy indicators, the analysis lays the groundwork for additional cross-national study of education reform as a dependent variable. Finally, by leveraging qualitative evidence on the reform process, the paper is able to test the assumptions of the theory with respect to the preferences and interests of teachers’ unions and the state.