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Presentation of the National Case Studies

In the following section we will briefly characterize each of the specific national cases under study, Chile and Uruguay, specifically in terms of educational governance. We will do this in order to begin to assess—first theoretically and then empirically—how different “regimes” of education have provided different institutional arrangements that have impacted the way education systems operate. Owing to the complexity of each of the cases at hand, the analysis mostly applies to the last three decades (since the transition to democracy), with emphasis on the processes of educational reforms that took place in the 1990s.

As in the rest of the Latin American region, Chile and Uruguay have developed intense educational reforms while they have adopted divergent institutional set-ups. This section presents a general categorization of both countries in terms of their educational institutions in order to provide a background for the main differences between them.

The focus of this research is on educational governance, which can be defined as the complex interplay between existing institutions, norms, rules, and values (GDN 2009). These myriad factors compose the institutional tissue that shapes the relations between different actors (and their interests) in the process of defining the public agenda in education.

Chile established one of the most extensive decentralized systems among Latin American countries. The transformation occurred in the 1980s under the military government and implied the transfer of responsibility over schools to the municipal districts. The main feature of this process was the transfer of administrative responsibility of public schools (initially 87 percent of them) to the municipalities (Aedo 2003). The assumption behind the educational reform was to allow “greater accountability for the educational clients” (Meade and Gershberg 2006).

The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) is responsible for financing the service, the definition, approval, and supervision of educational policies, the distribution of texts, and the evaluation of educational achievements. The municipalities are in charge of the administration of public schools. That is why Cox (2003) has referred to this structure as a “dichotomy set by law”. This process of deep pro-market reshaping of the Chilean educational system represented a transition from a state matrix of service delivery (the classic “Teaching State”) to a decentralized model of subsidies to demand, becoming the paradigm of liberal transformation of education for both defenders and detractors (Garcfa-Huidobro and Cox 1999). This deep transformation of the educational system removed power away from certain actors (e.g., the state) and gave power to newcomers in the process of management and provision of education (such as the municipalities and the private system).

The Chilean experience is an example of an educational system based on subsidies to demand, where schools (private and public) receive subsidies depending on the number of matriculated students. This policy of shared funding supported the expansion of private providers (Bogliaccini and Filgueira 2003). The main objective of this change of model was to increase—through competition between schools—parents’ free choice and, through this mechanism, improve the overall quality of the educational service (Mizala et al.2005). This model has given great importance to the Assessment of Educational Quality (SIMCE) managed by the Ministry of Education, a system that has focused on guaranteeing the rights of par- ents/consumers to choose among educational units competing freely in the market with minimum intervention of the central government.

Uruguay has followed a divergent path from Chile. Since democratic restoration in 1985, the several impulses to deepen decentralization have failed. The education system works in an extremely centralized and hierarchical way. All decisions—from administrative matters to curricular frameworks—are taken in the capital city of Montevideo and uniformly enforced throughout the country. This centralized model has been defined as a “de-localized” system, since all administrative, managerial, and financial roles are confined to the jurisdiction of the national government. The National Administration of Public Education (ANEP) is the main regulator, provider, and evaluator of educational services in the country. Thus far, the national assessment system has supported the concentration of authority at the central level. Even though it regularly evaluates public and private schools, it has privileged the analysis of socioeconomic factors on student performance over other variables such as school management or internal efficiency of the educational system.

In this country, most of the educational centers are public and state-run, versus a private sector that gathers around 15 percent of the enrolment in basic education. The debate over municipalization and subsidies to the private sector has not even been present in the public agenda. Private education does not receive any direct subsidies and its budget is basically regulated by supply and demand, without any restrictions on behalf of the state.

In sum, Chile and Uruguay had similar educational systems in the past, but in the last decades, the two countries have adopted divergent institutional arrangements. Chile handed over the administration of schools to municipalities and consolidated the subvention system. Uruguay has been faithful to its historically state-centralized educational matrix. The Chilean model gives great importance to management control through results, while Uruguay has limited use of the student tests scores for any control of schools. Ravela (2002) distinguished between national assessment systems with “strong” consequences that involve sanctions, such as Chile, versus national assessment systems with “weak” consequences, such as Uruguay, where the results are only used for information and formative proposes. In this second case, the test results are generally handled as aggregates. Therefore, they only affect the definition of educational policies at the macro level (Aristimuno and Kaztman 2005). Table 5.1 summarizes the main characteristics of each of the countries when considering the educational factors under study.

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