Balance of Powers: Public Opinion on Control in Education

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  • Balance of Powers: Public Opinion on Control in EducationAuthor(s): David Zarifa and Scott DaviesSource: The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, Vol. 32, No. 2(Spring, 2007), pp. 259-278Published by: Canadian Journal of SociologyStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 15:30

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  • Balance of Powers: Public Opinion on Control in Education*

    David Zarifa

    Scott Davies

    Abstract: Public opinion may be exerting greater influence on the organization of professional work as a consequence of two trends. First, political parties are placing issues of governance in

    social services on their agendas. Second, governments are subjecting professionals to more

    stringent controls, often for public relations purposes rather than to make workplaces more

    effective. In this study, we examine public opinion about teaching, an occupation which

    sociologists view as a "semi-profession" that combines several professional traits with a

    subordinate position in bureaucratic hierarchies. To gauge support for different kinds of control over schooling, we operationalize Freidson's typology of bureaucratic, client, and professional

    logics using the 2002 OISE/UT Public Attitudes Towards Education in Ontario Survey. We find

    considerable support for all forms of control, yet also significant opposition to a further extension

    of any single type. In estimated logistic regression models neither background variables nor

    educational attitudes consistently predict preferences for forms of control. We interpret these

    findings as indicating that Ontarians prefer public education to be controlled via a balance of

    powers shared among the provincial government, teachers, and parents. This preference signals,

    nonetheless, an acceptance of a decade-long trend that has strengthened central government and

    parental powers at the expense of teachers.

    Resume: L'opinion publique exerce une plus forte influence sur l'organisation du travail pro

    fessionnel comme cons6quence de deux tendances. D'abord, les partis politiques placent les ques

    tions relatives a la gouvernance dans les services sociaux a leur ordre du jour. Ensuite, les

    gouvernements soumettent les professionnels a des contrOles plus rigoureux, souvent a cause des

    * Earlier versions of this paper were presented in 2005 at the International Workshop on the

    Professions, McMaster University, and in 2006 at the annual meetings of the American

    Sociological Association in Montreal. We would like to thank David Livingstone, Doug Hart

    and Lynn Davie for generously supplying the data. We would also like to thank Nico Stehr and

    the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

    Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers canadiens de sociologie 32(2) 2007 259

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  • 260 Canadian Journal of Sociology

    relations publiques plutot que pour rendre les milieux de travail plus efficaces. Dans cette etude,

    nous analysons l'opinion publique sur l'enseignement, que les sociologues considerent comme une > combinant plusieurs caracteristiques professionnelles a une position

    subordonnee dans la hierarchie bureaucratique. Pour mesurer le soutien accorde a differentes sortes

    de contr8les sur l'enseignement, nous operationnalisons la typologie de Freidson axee sur la

    logique bureaucratique, professionnelle et du client, en utilisant le Sondage de 2002 de l'Institut d'etudes pedagogiques de l'Ontario de l'Universite de Toronto sur les attitudes dupublic a' V'egard

    de l'enseignement en Ontario. Nous trouvons un soutien considerable pour toutes les formes de

    controle, de meme qu'une opposition significative a une plus grande extension de tout type

    particulier. Dans les modeles de regression logistique evalues, ni les variables de renseignements

    generaux ni les attitudes par rapport a l'education ne predisent avec regularite les preferences pour

    certaines formes de contr6le. Nous interpretons ces resultats comme indiquant que les Ontariens

    preferent que l'enseignement public soit contr81e par un equilibre des pouvoirs qui sont partages entre le gouvernement provincial, les enseignants et les parents. Cette preference signale

    neanmoins 1' acceptation d'une tendance qui s'est prolongee pendant une decennie et qui a renforce

    le gouvernement central et les pouvoirs des parents au detriment des enseignants.

    Introduction: New Controls Over Professional Work?

    What influence does the public have on the organization of professional work?

    Sociologists typically view "classic" professions in medicine and law as

    exemplars of professionalism, characterized by collegial control over work,

    autonomy from the dictates of government, and public recognition of their

    declared service ethics (Abbott, 1988; Freidson, 2001). Yet, sociologists have

    also noted that the public can indirectly influence professional autonomy either

    through market forces or through electoral politics, particularly in jurisdictions

    that are highly politicized and influenced by inter-party competition (Abbott,

    1988: 59-60). Indeed, over the past two decades, governments in most English

    speaking nations have adopted new stances towards public service profession

    als.' As described in theories of "new public management" (e.g., Savoie, 1995;

    Olssen and Peters, 2005), governments are increasingly embracing neo-liberal

    rationales which aim to make public services more productive and accountable,

    and which view public-sector professionals as self-interested actors who are

    prone to inefficiency, and who require stern management through imposed

    performance targets. Whereas professionals idealize forms of work character

    ized by collegial governance in relatively flat structures, many business-minded

    governments are retracting some of the autonomy once ceded to professionals,

    and are themselves dictating more of the conditions and goals of service work

    (Leicht and Fennell, 2001).

    1. Research indicates that public opinion generally has a moderate influence on social policy,

    though the extent of this influence and its causal direction is the subject of some dispute

    (Brooks and Manza, 2006; Petry and Mendelsohn, 2004; Petry, 1999; Monroe, 1998; Wlezien,

    1995; Page and Shapiro, 1983).

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  • Balance of Powers: Public Opinion on Control in Education 261

    How can these various processes be set within a broader sociological frame

    work? Freidson (2001) offers a typology of three logics that govern work:

    bureaucratic, market, and professional. What Freidson calls "the third logic" is

    the defining character of professionalism: exclusive control and discretion over work in the hands of experts. According to this logic, work is organized by

    socially-recognized expert knowledge. Licenses are obtained only through lengthy training periods by an exclusive set of recruits. Only those individuals

    who have obtained formal credentials are authorized to practice, thus obtaining

    a monopoly or labour-market shelter from any competing occupations that

    attempt to encroach upon their jurisdiction (see also Abbott, 1988).

    In contrast, a "bureaucratic" logic invokes a top-down, centralized structure of control. In ideal form, bureaucracy rationalizes production through a

    hierarchy of power, creating cost-effective methods to deliver services in an orderly manner. Bureaucracy tends to restrict professional discretion via initiatives to cut costs and signal accountability. These bureaucratic forms of

    control are appearing in several professional realms. For instance, health care

    organizations are replacing heteronomous structures of authority with hierarchical forms in which doctors are merely represented on boards that are

    governed by salaried administrators. Similarly, increasing numbers of lawyers,

    information technology experts, and accountants work in large corporations

    managed by CEO's (Leicht and Fennell, 2001: 23). This logic is also guiding

    accountability initiatives in public services such as social work, and as we

    describe further below, education. Freidson's other logic is that of a free market, where suppliers compete to

    satisfy the demands of the client or consumer. According to this logic, power

    rests in the hands of consumers, who choose those services that best serve their

    needs. No occupation can proclaim a monopoly on a particular task jurisdiction,

    and suppliers thus jockey for customers, needing to be flexible and adaptive in

    light of market pressures. With free-flowing skills bases, this logic forces

    loosely-defined occupations to survive not by creating credential barriers or

    issuing licenses, but through sheer competition for clients in an open market.

    This is of course an ideal-typical model; Freidson recognizes that most

    occupations are hybrids of more than one form. Nevertheless, these three logics

    illuminate new pressures on public services. In realms affected by the new

    public management, state officials sometimes impose performance criteria on

    social service provision, thereby bolstering bureaucratic hierarchies. In other

    instances, governments champion the use of market mechanisms. In either

    instance, the net result is to erode the workplace autonomy of professions. As

    Freidson (2001) puts it, both bureaucratic and market logics are slowly "slicing

    into the soul of professionalism" by raising public scepticism of the ethics of

    social trusteeship that hitherto guided professional tasks (see also Brint, 1994).

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  • 262 Canadian Journal of Sociology

    Changing Logics of Control in Education

    Teaching is a strategic occupation in which to employ Freidson's ideal types.

    As much as any other occupation, teaching combines all three logics of con

    trol, straddling the boundary between professional and non-professional

    statuses. Indeed, for decades, sociologists have categorized teaching as a "semi

    profession" (see Ingersoll, 2001; Brint, 1994; Etzioni, 1969). Teachers possess

    several professional-like traits on the one hand, such as requiring university

    credentials, certification, and possessing a considerable degree of task

    discretion. Most public school boards in Canada require both an undergraduate

    degree and additional years of teacher training. Required certificates give

    teachers a near-monopoly to practice. Teachers are subject to little direct

    monitoring in their classrooms, facing only infrequent and largely ceremonial

    evaluations (Ingersoll, 2001). Indeed, staple concepts in organizational research

    such as the "logic of professional confidence" and "loose coupling" (e.g., Meyer

    and Rowan, 1978) were originally spawned from studies of schools. Each of

    these traits offers teachers a modicum of professional status (Abbott, 1988:

    209). On the other hand, teaching lacks several qualities that are typically regarded

    as the hallmarks of professionalism. Its knowledge-base has been decried as thin

    and unscientific (Ingersoll, 2003). Whether teaching involves specialized skills

    and exclusive knowledge is continually disputed. Theories of pedagogy are

    often characterized as lacking substance, as a set of vague goals and platitudes

    more than a meaty body of technique (e.g., Rowan, 2006). Such disputes

    encourage teachers to embrace a form of professional authority based on "social

    trusteeship" and proclaimed concern for societal betterment rather than on

    esoteric expertise (Brint, 1994; Ingersoll, 2003). Moreover, since teaching is

    mostly conducted in large classrooms rather than in intimate settings, it

    necessitates abilities for managing order and student discipline rather than

    cognitively complex procedures (Hum, 1993). Teachers' one to two years of

    specific training is relatively brief compared to medicine, law, academics, and

    other traditional professions. Finally, even though teachers are seldom

    monitored directly in their classrooms, most key decision-making is made by

    provincial, board or school administrators. Since teachers occupy a relatively

    marginal position within extensive bureaucratic hierarchies, they are sometimes

    depicted as "proletarians" rather than "professionals" (e.g., Filson, 1988).

    Yet, despite these shortcomings, the decades between 1950 and 1980 repre

    sented an era in which teachers considerably improved their professional

    standing. Before the 1950's, teaching was a largely female occupation that was

    poorly remunerated and was practiced under some trying conditions. But the

    occupation enjoyed several gains over the ensuing decades. Provincial govern

    ments poured millions of dollars into education to accommodate the baby boom

    generation, reduce dropout rates, and widen access to higher education. They

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  • Balance of Powers: Public Opinion on Control in Education 263

    built larger schools and consolidated small administrative units into county-level school boards (Gidney, 1999). Hundreds of smaller and older schools were replaced with larger, state-of-the-art educational facilities. Teacher colleges increasingly migrated into universities and required undergraduate degrees from their applicants. Teacher federations attained a near-monopoly in public schools, and made the credentialed instructor an institutional standard. A norm of profes

    sional development emerged, as teachers were increasingly e...


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