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10 - The Comparative Politics of Education: Teachers Unions and Education Systems Around the World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2016

Terry M. Moe
Stanford University
Terry M. Moe
Stanford University, California
Susanne Wiborg
University College London
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Country by country, the chapters of this book speak for themselves. When viewed collectively, however, they provide a rich empirical basis for gaining perspective on the bigger picture of teachers unions and education politics throughout the world. My aim in this final chapter is to begin moving in that direction—stepping back from the country-specific details and identifying some of the patterns, trends, and key comparisons that, in my view, help point the way toward a larger understanding. In the process, I also aim to show that a theoretical perspective directing analytic attention to vested interests—along the lines that Susanne Wiborg and I set out in the Introduction (see also Moe, 2015)—has much to offer in promoting such an understanding.

In addition to structuring our thinking in terms of vested interests, we believe important leverage can be gained by distinguishing between two institutional eras in the history of world education systems: an early period of institutional formation and a later period of performance-based institutional reform. Here in this overview chapter, I am most interested in exploring the politics of the modern era: the era in which all of us live, and whose fundamental features are likely to prevail for many decades to come. I will devote most of my attention to that time period. But the challenges faced by modern-day governments, as well as the politics that shape their agendas and decisions, are very much a function of political institutions and power structures inherited from the past—from the early era of institutional formation. So that is the place to begin.

The Era of Institutional Formation

It comes as no surprise that different nations developed their school systems at different times, at different rates, and in different ways (Green, 1990). Germany and France, for example, began to build bureaucratic national school systems more than 200 years ago, although the French approach was centralized and the German one was not. The United States saw the first stirrings of public education in the mid-1800s, but didn't develop a true nationwide, bureaucratic system—albeit a highly decentralized one—until the early 1900s, thanks to the concerted efforts of Progressive reformers.

The Comparative Politics of Education
Teachers Unions and Education Systems around the World
, pp. 269 - 324
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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