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School Effectiveness and School Improvement 2001, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.

740

0924-3453/01/1201-0007$16.00 # Swets & Zeitlinger

Sociological and Political Concerns about School Effectiveness Research: Time for a New Research Agenda
Martin Thrupp
King's College London, UK

ABSTRACT
In recent years school effectiveness research (SER) has become increasingly criticised for being a socially and politically decontextualised body of literature which provides support for inequitable educational reforms. This article demonstrates that SER proponents have not responded much to these criticisms and suggests that this is primarily because they do not share the same epistemological commitments as their critics. Nevertheless it is argued that the concerns of critics should be taken seriously by SER proponents because they speak powerfully to a number of key problem areas within the SER eld. Three such areas are discussed: the overclaiming of SER; the continued undertheorising of SER, and the inability of SER to control the political use of its ndings. The article concludes by noting that some SER researchers are attempting to connect more with the sociological and political concerns of their critics and argues that this has to be the key SER agenda for the future.

INTRODUCTION Over the last 21 years school effectiveness research (SER) has attracted considerable practitioner and political support: in this sense at least it has become the educational research success story of our time (Mortimore, 1998b; Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000; Townsend, Clarke, & Ainscow, 1999) At the same time, SER faces a growing level of external criticism with a number of recently edited collections, texts and articles, my own included, explicitly devoted to critiquing its aws and limitations (Hatcher 1998; Morley & Rassool, 1999; Slee & Weiner with Tomlinson, 1998; Thrupp, 1999a; Willmott, 1999). The central theme of this critical work has been that school effectiveness research
Address correspondence to: Martin Thrupp, Centre for Public Policy Research, School of Education, King's College London, Franklin-Wilkins Building, Waterloo Road, London SE1 9NN, UK. E-mail: Martin.Thrupp@kcl.ac.uk

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is a socially and politically decontextualised body of literature which, wittingly or unwittingly, has provided support for the inequitable educational reform programs of neo-liberal and managerial governments. For instance writers in the Slee and Weiner with Tomlinson (1998) collection regard SER as


 

 

``bleach[ing] context from its analytic frame'', ``educationally and politically dangerous'', ``politically promiscuous and malleable'', a ``juggernaut'' which ``rides roughshod over educational policymaking and research'' (Slee & Weiner, 1998); ``an ethnocentric pseudo-science'', ``peddling `feel good' ctions'' (Hamilton, 1998); the ``antithesis of. . . empowerment'', a literature which pathologizes and renders invisible the lived experiences of those studying and teaching in poorer areas (Rea & Weiner, 1998); containing ``deep tensions'', systematically omitting key variables and concepts (Lauder, Jamieson & Wikeley, 1998); a case of ``policy entrepreneurship'', which articulates with the commodication of education and which ``t[s] perfectly. . . into the discourses of derision'' (Ball, 1998); and a ``hurried'', ``abstracted'' and decontextualised literature, which replaces political questions with technical ones and which provides a means of the ``hollowed out'' state ``steering from a distance'' at the lowest cost (Lingard, Ladwig, & Luke, 1998).

Given the uncompromising tone of these kinds of criticisms, in this article I am concerned with whether SER has responded adequately to them, and if not, whether it should1. Drawing especially on the new International Handbook of School Effectiveness Research (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000) I shall argue that
1 The term school effectiveness is itself contested and a brief explanation of my use of it here is warranted. First, while SER has traditionally been regarded as being concerned with school effects research and effective schools research, Teddlie and Reynolds (2000) include school improvement as part of SER as well. This is probably a strategic move given that the SER movement has been losing its place in the sun to the more `relevant' school improvement literature, especially in the UK where the two have traditionally been seen as more distinct than in the USA. Nevertheless I have also included school improvement under the heading of SER in parts of this article. Second, I have also been concerned to focus on school effectiveness research rather than school effectiveness as a wider educational discourse or educational industry: as Morley and Rassool (1999) point out, the latter is supported by public policy and nance as well as research. Finally, I should also acknowledge that the article mainly discusses British SER, reecting my greater familiarity with SER in that context than others.

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while there is considerable evidence of discussion and debate within SER circles, it has done much less well at responding to external critics. The article goes on to consider why this might be, and then attempts to illustrate how the concerns of external critics might intersect with some of the concerns of SER proponents themselves. In other words, while I agree with almost all of the criticisms of SER in the Slee and Weiner with Tomlinson (1998) collection and elsewhere, I want to use this forum less as an opportunity to further rehearse those concerns as to encourage researchers within the SER eld to reconsider the potential usefulness of the critics' arguments for solving some problems identied within SER. My rationale for this is that, for reasons discussed shortly, external critique may be having only a limited impact on SER whereas a more school-effectiveness centered critique may bring about more rapid change. I shall begin then by considering how school effectiveness researchers are currently responding to external criticism. HOW SCHOOL EFFECTIVENESS RESEARCHERS RESPOND (NON-RESPOND) TO EXTERNAL CRITICISM The new Teddlie and Reynolds (2000) handbook provides much evidence to support Angus's (1993, p. 340) contention that the SER eld contains ``a great deal of internal debate and criticism, an awareness of many past limitations and a strong desire to remedy methodological weaknesses and build a theoretical base''. At the same time the responses of SER proponents to external critics have usually been inadequate, perhaps sometimes even disingenuous. Here I want to consider seven ways in which school effectiveness researchers fail to respond to their critics. They often overlap and no doubt there are others. The rst and most common type of SER non-response to critics is to simply ignore them. An obvious example is the deafening silence from school effectiveness researchers which followed Angus's review of SER in the British Journal of Sociology of Education (Angus, 1993). Given the scathing nature of this review, and the fact that critics of SER often cite it, it would be reasonable to expect some rebuttal of Angus's claims from school effectiveness researchers wishing to defend their eld. Yet as far as I am aware this review has been barely mentioned in SER work. At the same time, this is less surprising when it is realized that many school effectiveness researchers never respond to external criticisms of SER. Fortunately this myopia is not sup-

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ported by a number of leading school effectiveness researchers who generally will respond or at least more actively non-respond! in some way or other. A second kind of non-response is to basically shrug shoulders, to acknowledge criticism but not try to counter it. This may sound odd in an academic context but it does happen. For instance the introductory chapter in the Teddlie and Reynolds (2000) handbook has only this to say about criticisms of SER in the UK: It is also important to note the considerable volume of debate and criticism about school effectiveness now in existence in the United Kingdom [references] concerning its reputedly conservative values stance, its supposed managerialism, its appropriation by Government and its creation of a societal view that educational failure is solely the result of poor schooling, rather than the inevitable result of the effects of social and economic structures upon schools and upon children. Given the centrality of school effectiveness research in the policy context of the United Kingdom, more of such material can be expected (Reynolds, Teddlie, Creemers, Scheerens, & Townsend, 2000, p. 17). What are we supposed to make of this comment? Surely if the external criticisms were genuinely considered ``important'' more explanation and critique of the claims would be provided. Admittedly there is some discussion of ``Current Criticisms of SER'' in the nal chapter of the handbook (discussed below) but this is over 300 pages away and the speed with which criticisms are passed over in this introductory chapter is telling. Stoll and Riley (1999) provide an even more obvious example of shoulder shrugging. While they give a good summary of six areas of criticism of SER, they only bother to counter one of them: Of all the critiques, perhaps the one that is viewed as most unfair by many within school effectiveness and school improvement has been the suggestion that both researchers and those in the eld are ``pandering'' to policymakers. In reality politicians and ofcials in government department and agencies ``cherry pick'' ndings to legitimate their policies (Stoll & Riley, 1999, p. 29). The notion of `cherrypicking' is relevant to a third kind of non-response since it seems that school effectiveness researchers often do their own cherry picking when they respond to some critics and some criticisms but not others. A good example of this is Mortimore's (1998b, pp. 326327) response to the

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Slee and Weiner with Tomlinson (1998) collection noted above. In this case the only chapter responded to was the contribution by Lauder and colleagues (1998). But what about the other contributions, many by highly regarded academics? In this situation not replying just doesn't work: it smacks of not being able to respond. A fourth kind of non-response is to acknowledge criticisms but to downplay the problems by under-responding. There are many kinds of ways that this occurs. For instance in response to criticism from Elliot (1996), Sammons and Reynolds (1997) defend value-added approaches to assessing school effectiveness as being ``far from music to the ears of politicians'' because they demonstrate the limitations of league tables of raw exam results (Sammons & Reynolds, 1997, p. 124). Yet as Myers and Goldstein (1998) have noted, Ironically, contextualising performance, by using adjusted league tables of test scores, for example, may actually strengthen the belief that blame resides in the school by encouraging the view that all other factors have been accounted for, and that any residual variation must reside in the school. (p. 184) In this case the Sammons and Reynolds response simply does not go far enough. The Teddlie and Reynolds (2000) handbook provides more examples. This text as a whole has relatively little to say about critical perspectives on SER but, as noted above, does have a concluding discussion of ``Current criticisms of SER''. This section attempts to respond to political, methodological and theoretical criticisms of SER in just two pages (Reynolds & Teddlie, 2000, pp. 323324). It starts by essentially arguing that because early critiques of SER were different than those of the 1990s they can all be dismissed: Political criticism is probably always going to be part of the literature associated with SER. It seems safe to conclude that as long as the researchers in the eld are accused of supporting both conservative and liberal causes, these criticisms can be accepted as simply an unwarranted part of the territory in which we work. (p. 323) However this conclusion is not at all safe since it ignores the political shifts which have occurred over the last 3 decades. It also overlooks the fact that a number of key criticisms have actually been common to both periods, for instance the concern, discussed more later, that SER downplays the links between social inequality and achievement (e.g., Angus, 1993; Ralph & Fennessey, 1983).

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Reynolds and Teddlie's discussion then moves on to methodological and theoretical criticisms of SER (2000, pp. 323324). This section illustrates a more subtle form of under-responding which occurs when SER proponents assume or pretend to assume that their own approaches and concepts are actually meeting the concerns raised by critics when they are in fact of a different order. For instance they assume that statistical advances in designing ``methodologically correct'' studies will meet the concerns of critics whereas this is unlikely since many have fundamental concerns about the general bias of SER towards large scale quantitative studies let alone technical issues within the way these are carried out. Similarly while Reynolds and Teddlie cite some theoretical advances these are actually only in relatively weak forms of organizational theory whereas their critics are often calling for the theorising of more fundamental social problems. A fth, and especially frustrating response, is inconsistency. This is when SER researchers appear to agree or semi-agree with critics but then shift their emphasis to a more traditional ``schools can make a difference'' stance at other times or with other audiences. For instance in the introduction to No Quick Fixes, Stoll and Myers (1998) make some thoughtful comments about the limits of school effectiveness, the importance of the social and political context of schooling, and the need to avoid the politics of blame: School effectiveness research has demonstrated that. . . school can make a difference. In taking up these important research ndings, some policy makers however, have construed this to mean that the school is responsible for the success or otherwise of its pupils. There is some truth in this but only to a limited extent. (Stoll & Myers, 1998, p. 10) and In our view, every child has a right to the best possible education. For this to occur, attention must be paid to the contextual causes of failure that lie outside the remit of the school as well as what occurs within it. (Stoll & Myers, 1998, p. 16, their emphasis) Nevertheless in another chapter in the same collection, Stoll and Fink (1998) outline their notion of a ``sinking'' school culture in which ineffectiveness is blamed on poor school organization and low teacher expectations even though they acknowledge that ``sinking'' schools are often in the low socio-economic settings previously acknowledged by Stoll and Myers (1998) as highly problematic for schools:

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A sinking school is a failing school. It is not only ineffective: the staff, whether through apathy or ignorance, is not prepared or able to change. It is a school in which isolation, self-reliance, blame and loss of faith are dominating norms, and powerfully inhibit improvement. It will often, although not always, be in socially disadvantaged areas where parents are undemanding and teachers explain away failure by blaming inadequate parenting or unprepared children. (Stoll & Fink, 1998, p. 192) Of course Stoll is not alone in this, other school effectiveness researchers appear to suffer from much the same problem. For instance in 1996 Stringeld (Stringeld & Herman, 1996, p.176) argued ``The credibility of the U.S. school effects eld has been called into serious question in the last ten years. We believe that the primary cause of this questioning has been the overpromising of dramatic results''. But more recently Stringeld has argued that While the maps must be improved, and while ever better routes must be explored and developed, we can look forward with a great deal of optimism knowing enough seriously to take on the historically unimaginable tasks of eradicating functional illiteracy and inadequate mathematical skills from virtually all school children, regardless of background. We can do this in our lifetimes. (Stringeld 1998, p. 219220) Similarly Reynolds (1995, p. 59) quite rightly expressed concern that school effectiveness was ``creating a widespread, popular view that schools do not just make a difference but they make all the difference''. Nevertheless he was also soon arguing the possibility of ``failure-free schooling'' (Reynolds & Stringeld, 1996). What could do more than that to create the view that schools can make all the difference? For some SER proponents, inconsistency also appears to stem from a reluctance to criticize school effectiveness work that has had an inadequate emphasis on social and political context of schooling. For instance as part of a sociologically and politically oriented collection, Mortimore (1997a) has written Because of the capacity of those who are advantaged to extract from any situation more than those who are disadvantaged, schools will always be inefcient and partial mechanisms for compensation [for social inequality]. It is also important to ensure that schools are not blamed for all the ills of society nor held responsible, unfairly, for failing to overcome all the pre-existing differences in attainment amongst their student intakes. (p. 483)

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In a similar vein he has written (alongside Geoff Whitty, a sociologist) that ``we must. . . be aware of the dangers of basing a national strategy for change on the efforts of outstanding individuals working in exceptional circumstances'' (Mortimore & Whitty, 1997, p. 6). These sorts of comments suggest sensitivity to the limits of school effectiveness and yet elsewhere Mortimore seems too quick to endorse research, including his own earlier work, which has not given enough emphasis to the effects of social disadvantage on school effectiveness. For instance Mortimore provides a glowing preface to a book by Joyce, Calhoun, and Hopkins (1999) which offers the misleading advice that there are numerous examples of schools where [the socioeconomic, ethnic and gender] characteristics of students do not predict performance. Where the learning environment is working optimally for all students, these variables do not predict attainment or lack thereof. . .If there are large demographic differences in achievement, you know right away that some aspect of the school can be improved. (p. 64) In another account, Mortimore (1998a) criticises governments for not heeding the messages of earlier British SER studies with which he was involved regarding the effects of disadvantage on school effectiveness. But he does not acknowledge the extent to which the same studies emphasised the ability of schools to make a difference over the effects of social context. Invoking the need for future improvements in the eld may be regarded as a sixth kind of SER non-response. This is because when some SER developments (e.g., theory building, developing more understanding of processes, context and so on) have been called for repeatedly by school effectiveness researchers over the years but with little actual progress, calling once again for the same developments begins to stretch credibility. This becomes most obvious when one tracks a particular problem through the SER literature. For instance my own investigation into the possible mechanisms underlying compositional effects (Thrupp, 1995, 1999a) took as one starting point a comment from Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, and Ouston (1979, p. 155) that ``our analysis can only represent the beginnings of attempts to unravel the network of interacting inuences''. However I soon found numerous other school effectiveness and school effects researchers had noted the same need for detailed research while overlooking the fact that because of their methodological commitments no-one in the eld was actually doing this research or was indeed likely to do it.

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Lastly, school effectiveness researchers have occasionally responded to critics by simply denying their claims. For instance Mortimore and Sammons (1997, p. 185) indignantly refute the argument that SER uncritically supports neo-liberal school reforms. They exclaim: How can anyone who understands research methodology and who has taken the trouble to study our publications and the way we work make such an unfair accusation?. . .We reject utterly and completely this accusation and challenge its makers to provide evidence for the statement or withdraw it. REASONS WHY SCHOOL EFFECTIVENESS RESEARCHERS DON'T RESPOND TO CRITICISMS Especially when they deny outright that the problems external critics are identifying are genuine, it seems that school effectiveness researchers either do not perceive or do not want to consider the same problems as their critics. One likely explanation for this is that school effectiveness researchers believe that external critics do not understand the SER eld so they refuse to take their criticisms seriously. This stance comes through strongly in much of the work already noted (e.g., Mortimore & Sammons 1997; Reynolds & Teddlie, 2000). No doubt there is some truth in this perception too since SER has now developed a considerable level of detail (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000) albeit only in relation to a very constrained agenda. Moreover there are signicant differences in SER between nations, between individual researchers and in the published quality of SER work. Consequently I have suggested elsewhere that if the aim of critics is to change the thinking of SER proponents, there must be a willingness to engage with the detail of their arguments and to differentiate between more and less problematic work within SER (Thrupp, 1999b). On the other hand, the Slee and Weiner with Tomlinson (1998) collection suggests that many critics would probably counter the charge of overgeneralising or misinterpreting by arguing that the SER approach is so generally awed that there is little point going into more detail. Some might further argue that the indignation demonstrated by researchers like Mortimore and Sammons (1997) is mere rhetoric since they not only have a vested interest in the ow of research money and political endorsement which comes from supporting right-wing social policies but are well aware of it. This view is also understandable because in as much as SER prefers to highlight possibilities and potentials rather than constraints and limitations, it does open itself up to

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the charge of trading on the political appeal of its central claim that schools can make a difference while qualifying it only in the small print. At the same time school effectiveness researchers often seem quite genuine in their belief that SER is a force for good and the fact that they do occasionally cross swords with policymakers (e.g., Mortimore, 1997b) should not be overlooked either. Yet neither of these explanations can in any case be divorced from what is probably the most fundamental reason why school effectiveness researchers do not perceive the same problems as external critics. As demonstrated by Willmott (1999) the epistemological commitments of school effectiveness researchers will often not allow them to recognise how their work is problematic to their critics: Their commitment to a positivist epistemology. . . itself causally conditions their indignant response [to external critics. . .] exponents of school effectiveness are unable to see the full force of the criticisms leveled against them since the causal mechanisms postulated by critics. . .are deemed to have no real existence and thus are held not to be permissible contenders in their explanatory framework. (Willmott, 1999, p. 255) Willmott explains that whereas the realist perspectives favored by those criticizing SER tend to see schooling problems rooted in inegalitarian social structures, the positivist epistemology favored by SER reduces social structures to atomized individuals and schools in a way which disavows the prior structured distribution of resources (structural inequality). In short, school effectiveness researchers and their critics are often coming from such different epistemological (and hence theoretical and methodological) premises that school effectiveness researchers will not recognize themselves in the texts of their critics or even be particularly interested in their critical concerns. Instead, in their understanding that they are following good, neutral, objective research approaches and working towards the development of ``normal science'' (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000) they will exhibit what one critic has described as a ``distressing blindness to the ideologically and epistemologically situated nature of [their] own intellectual position'' (Fielding, 1997, p. 139). HOW EXTERNAL CRITICISMS MIGHT INTERSECT WITH SER CONCERNS The argument that SER proponents and critics are often talking past each other might come as no surprise to school effectiveness researchers when it is

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claimed that there are ``humanists'', ``scientists'' and ``pragmatists'' with substantially different outlooks even amongst their own numbers (Teddlie & Reynolds with Pol, 2000). Nevertheless it has important implications for the debate over the merits or otherwise of SER. It suggests that if the aim of critics is to change the thinking of SER proponents, conventional external critique may not always be the best approach. For this reason in the rest of this article I want to try to turn the problem around and illustrate how problems identied within SER literature by school effectiveness researchers themselves might be connected with the sociological and political problems raised by their critics. While this is unlikely to be entirely successful since the difculties identied by critics will often not be seen as so important by school effectiveness researchers and vice versathere are issues of common concern which SER will only be able to address if it takes on board the sociological and political concerns of its critics. Three central problems of this kind are:
  

the overclaiming of SER; the continued undertheorising of SER; and the inability of SER to control the political use of its ndings.

The Overclaiming of SER As noted earlier, by the mid-1990s school effectiveness writers such as Stringeld and Herman (1996) and Reynolds (1995) were expressing concern that SER was offering, or was being seen to offer, too many of the answers to problems faced by schools and students. The problem has recently been reemphasised by Townsend et al. (1999) who suggest ``. . . it is perhaps this issue, rather than anything else that needs to be kept in mind when we consider the future of school effectiveness and school improvement'' (p. 354). Yet here is an example of an SER concern intersecting with the concerns of critics because the problem of overclaiming is related not just to the success of school effectiveness research but to its success with an excessively narrow agenda. School effectiveness research rests on several false ``givens'' including student background, school composition, and the school curriculum. While these false givens may have been useful in terms of dening the SER agenda, it is SER's silence in these areas which has led to the overclaiming of school effectiveness research and played a large part in opening it up to the charge of providing ideological support for the Right. Consider rst the issue of student background. In SER individual family backgrounds of students (social class, ethnicity and so on) are usually re-

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garded as a factor which is `containable' through value-added analyses and which should not be examined in any case because it lies outside the control of schools. As Angus has noted ``Family background, social class. . .. are typically regarded as `noise' as outside background factors which must be controlled and then stripped away so that the researcher can concentrate on the important domain of school factors'' (Angus 1993, p. 341). This approach began when school effectiveness researchers eschewed the important (social) structural questions raised by the early studies of Coleman (Coleman et al., 1966), Jencks (Jencks et al., 1972) and others about the relationship of students' social origins to their school achievement and adult life-chances. However bleak those ndings may have seemed, the enduring strength of the research was to demonstrate that student achievement is powerfully inuenced by students' family backgrounds. This of course remains the case today with most school effectiveness studies showing that 85% or more of school achievement can be explained by student background rather than schools (see Teddlie, Reynolds, & Sammons, 2000). Yet rather than responding to and exploring this powerful relationship, early school effectiveness researchers chose to turn their back on it. They instead maintained, rst, that `exemplary' schools exist which achieve considerable academic success regardless of student background, and second, that specic, identiable and reproducible characteristics could be identied to explain the success of these schools. As Angus (1993, p. 335) put it, the school effectiveness response to the pessimism of the 1970s ``was simply to deny it, assume that schools do make a difference to student outcomes, and search for indicators of this difference''. The school effectiveness response was, no doubt, well intended. It was a polemic directed against what proponents believed was the overdeterministic nature of Coleman et al.'s (1966) and Jencks et al.'s (1972) concerns. The early school effectiveness position was clearly taken to focus more attention on the potential for positive reform of low SES schools. Ron Edmonds, a `founding father' of the effective schools movement in the USA, was a key proponent of the argument that schools could make a difference. He appears to have believed that Coleman and Jencks must have simply got it wrong. His work from 1973 on was retrospectively described by Edmonds himself as ``an attempt to determine whether schools existed anywhere in the United States that did not have a familial effect'' (Edmonds, 1986, p. 205). By 1979 he was arguing that ``repudiation of the social science notion that family background is the principal cause of pupil acquisition of basic school skills is probably

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prerequisite to successful reform of public schools for the children of the poor'' (Edmonds 1979, p. 23). Ralph and Fennessey (1983, p. 689) countered ``To repudiate an established relationship between family background and schooling simply because it conicts with one's goals is neither pragmatically productive nor intellectually respectable behaviour''. Nevertheless it was not long before an emphasis on the ability of schools to ``make a difference'' became popular in educational discourse and the broader (social) structural agendas signaled by the research of the 1960s and 1970s began to disappear. One reason it may have been difcult to counter Edmonds' polemic arguments was that he was a black educator and the inner city schools about which he was concerned were full of ethnic minority students. In this context the mostly white critics of the developing school effectiveness program may have been vulnerable to being dismissed as monocultural or racist, although it should also be noted that the early school effectiveness research did not actually focus on understanding the impact of ethnicity on student achievement and still does not (Hatcher, 1998). However another reason that school effectiveness researchers were able to develop such a socially blinkered approach was because those who might have challenged it were otherwise engaged. While SER proponents were abandoning social class, so too were many in the sociology of education that had carried the concerns of the 1960s and 1970s. Mac an Ghaill (1996) points to the `decentering' of social class in SER being related to the more general problem of the `erasure' of social class in sociology which has accompanied the rise of post-modern forms of theorising which emphasized social complexity and difference. The net effect was surprisingly little critique during the 1980s of the socially decontextualised approach which SER was developing. Yet to return to the school effectiveness stance on family background, a key problem is that it is not really a ``given'' at all it is socially constructed, moreover it can be made worse or better through housing, health, employment and taxation policies, all of which will therefore affect levels of student achievement (Anyon, 1997). Yet it is the failure to question this underlying social inequality and the nature of policy that impacts on it which inevitably leads school effectiveness researchers to overemphasize school solutions. This occurs not in the body of their analyses where they are usually quite honest about the small size of school effects versus background effects but in the sheer weight of discussion given over to the effects of schools rather than broader social structures.

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The student composition or mix of schools is a related false given in SER. Like family background, the SER literature tends to regard variation in this area as none of its business and in doing so helps to naturalize it. For instance Scheerens (1992, p. 93) argues that ``High numbers of disadvantaged pupils and ethnic minorities push down the performance of the entire pupil population [of a school]'' but adds ``Because the central concern [here] is with the `construction' of effective schools no further attention is given to these contextual characteristics''. However this approach fails to question the longstanding provision of schooling via a social hierarchy of schools or the problem that education policy can and does in fact impact on levels of segregation, for instance through the introduction of quasi-market policies (Lauder et al., 1999). It is hardly surprising then that to many critics the school effectiveness agenda mostly serves to distract attention from the effects on individuals and schools of social inequality. As Anyon (1997) has put the problem: . . .we are aware and over 30 years of research has consistently demonstrated that academic achievement in US schools is closely correlated with student socio-economic status. To really improve ghetto children's chances then, in school and out, we must (in addition to pursuing school based reforms) increase their social and economic well-being and status before and while they are students. We must ultimately, therefore, eliminate poverty: we must eliminate the ghetto school by eliminating the underlying causes of ghettoization. . . Unfortunately educational ``small victories'' such as the restructuring of a school or the introduction of a new classroom pedagogical technique, no matter how satisfying to the individuals involved, without a long-range strategy to eradicate underlying causes of poverty and racial isolation, cannot add up to large victories in our inner cities with effects that are sustainable over time (Anyon, 1997, pp. 164165, her brackets). It is SER's focus on ``small victories'' rather than large which is part of what opens it up to the charge of being ideologically biased towards the Right where there is a similar lack of concern with fundamental questions about educational or social inequality. It also effectively leaves school effectiveness researchers silenced about the 80% or more of school achievement which is not attributable to schools and prevents them from interrogating what is probably the most marked feature of schooling of our time: its Savage Inequalities (Kozol, 1991), its Great divide (Davies, 2000). Of course all of

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this raises numerous questions for school effectiveness researchers. How do they feel about the likelihood that the success of their work is encouraging governments to view school reform as an adequate response to educational inequality, rather than only one avenue for action? Do school effectiveness researchers see any value in co-ordinating reform efforts within schools to efforts for change beyond the school? Is the evident self-censoring of the eld in these `given' areas of student backgrounds and school composition not incredibly frustrating at times? What is the long-term prognosis for SER if its concerns are too narrow? Because of SER's polemic beginnings and narrow agenda there does not appear to have been enough serious discussion of these kinds of issues within SER circles yet. However another important ``given'' which clearly is becoming a problem to at least some school effectiveness researchers is the curriculum. Reynolds and Teddlie (2000) single this out as a cutting edge area for SER for the future. They explain (with admirable frankness) that the curriculum has been neglected in SER because of ``the orientation of researchers. . ..towards a behavioural, technicist approach in which the vessel of the school is studied rather than the contents'', ``a conservative political orientation in which schooling was seen as a `good' which SER was to encourage more children to take up'', a reaction against researchers who wanted to discuss ``what ought to be the goals of education'' and because of the ``immense difculties involved in measuring the variable'' (p. 341). They also express concern that the reluctance to think about curricular issues cuts the eld off from the very widespread discussions now in progress about the most appropriate bodies of knowledge that should be in the schools of a ``postmodern age'' or an ``information economy and society''. (p. 341) If SER interest in the curriculum is mostly new, sociological critics have long held concerns about the normativism of SER in relation to curricular issues, especially in relation to social justice concerns. They would largely agree with Reynolds and Teddlie's analysis of why SER has not taken on the curriculum as an area of interest. For instance Angus (1993) argued that in SER Knowledge and curriculum are generally regarded as unproblematic and it is assumed that students must simply learn them. . .. Effective students, regardless of class, race, gender or culture, merely adjust to and accommodate what is presented to them. Since measures of school

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effectiveness typically amount to measures of basic skills but may also include generally good and polite behaviour (dened as social outcomes), it seems likely that cultural discrimination is built in. This means that not only is there a lack of engagement with sociological (or other) theory, but also effectiveness work is largely trapped in a logic of commonsense which allows it, by and large, to be appropriated into the Right's hegemonic project. (Angus, 1993, p. 343) Hatcher (1998) points to some of the most obvious costs of this when he notes that SER never tapped into the egalitarian educational reform movement of the 1970s and 1980s which developed an extensive theoretical and practitioner-oriented literature centered on curricular issues concerning race, gender and social class (e.g., see Hatcher, 1998, pp. 271272). From its beginning this movement was inuenced by developments in the USA and while it reached its peak in Britain in the mid-1980s, it remains an important strand of teacher culture today despite attacks from the Right. The key point about this movement is that it has not assumed that the curriculum is ideologically neutral but has highlighted the problem of working class and minority students being expected to `jump through the hoop' of a middle class schooling system. In doing so it has worked towards a goal of what Connell (1994) has called ``curricular justice'', a fundamental shift in curriculum and pedagogy to suit groups other than the white middle class (e.g., see Apple & Beane, 1999). It offers rich theoretical and practical pickings for the SER movement were it willing to look not only at what is, but what could be. The Undertheorising of Key School Effectiveness Processes and Concepts If what has been left out of the school effectiveness framework creates some serious difculties, it is apparent that there are also fundamental problems with what might be described as SER's ``core business'', the so-called ``school effect''. Because of their adherence to a positivist epistemology and mostly large scale ``scientic'' methodology, school effectiveness researchers have failed to embrace the kind of detailed micro-level research which builds rich data suitable for generating theory, nor, despite schools being inherently social places, have they been comfortable about tapping into the rich body of theory available in the sociology of education, for instance the work of Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). Instead they have preferred to draw on organizational theories which shed only limited insights on schooling pro-

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cesses (Creemers, Scheerens, & Reynolds, 2000). As a result, school effectiveness processes and concepts remain poorly theorised 21 years after Edmonds (1979) and Rutter et al. (1979). As suggested earlier there are repeated calls in SER for theory building around the school effect (e.g., Creemers et al., 1998; Reynolds, Sammons, Stoll, Barber, & Hillman, 1996; Stringeld & Herman, 1996) but without better methodological and conceptual tools nothing much ever happens. I would argue that SER is most theoretically vulnerable when it privileges the effects of school organization over the effects of school composition (e.g., student SES) in order to establish an independent ``school effect''. The roots of this problem go back not so much to Edmonds as to the British study of Rutter and colleagues (1979) and the US study of Brookover, Beady, Flood, Schweitzer, and Wisenbaker (1979). Rutter's study used the notion of school ``ethos'' to explain away processes which might have alternatively be seen as the result of school social composition or school mix. Rutter and colleagues hypothesized that the mean intake characteristics of a school, its ``balance of intake'', could be one important variable determining ethos: The presence of a relatively high concentration of pupils in the upper ability groups may work to the advantage not only of the pupils themselves but also to their peers. In a similar way, a largely disadvantaged intake might depress outcomes in some cumulative way over and above the effects of a disadvantaged background on the individual pupil. (Rutter et al., 1979, p. 154) Despite this Rutter and colleagues eventually privileged ethos over balance of intake (see Thrupp, 1999a for more discussion). Yet as Acton (1980) and Purkey and Smith (1983) soon observed, the ``balance of intake'' variable assumed such importance in Rutter's analysis that it was quite plausible that it, rather than school ethos, was what was really inuencing school outcomes. A similar causal privileging can be seen in the work of Brookover and colleagues (1979). This study examined two pairs of low SES elementary schools one predominantly white, the other largely black. Each pair shared a similar SES mix but differed considerably in their mean level of achievement. Following eldwork in each school, observers concluded that there were predictable differences in school climate variables between the low and high achieving schools in each pair. Brookover and colleagues attributed the differences in achievement between each pair of schools to these school climate variables. They argued:

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The fact that some low SES white and black schools do demonstrate a high level of academic achievement suggests that the socio-economic and racial variables are not directly causal forces in the school social system. We therefore conclude that the school social climate and the instructional behaviour associated with it are more direct causal links in the production of achievement. (Brookover et al., 1979, p. 142) However this conclusion was really unwarranted, both because the study was ``beset with multicollinearity problems between SES and school climate items'' (Teddlie et al., 2000, p. 82) and because it was also apparent that ``exemplary'' was at best a relative term in Brookover's study. The mean score of the exemplary black school was considerably less than that of the exemplary white school and the state as a whole. Purkey and Smith (1983, p. 436) pointed out that ``while the black school may have narrowed the gap, the gap remains''. Nevertheless it was the studies of Rutter and Brookover and their colleagues which really established the privileged explanatory role accorded to school ethos or climate over school composition in SER. Subsequent school effectiveness researchers do not appear to have seriously questioned this causal assumption although school SES composition has tended to come back into the SER picture in several less fundamental ways (Teddlie, Stringeld, & Reynolds, 2000). To begin with it seems that for every school effects study which has indicated weak ``compositional'', ``contextual'' or ``peer'' effects (e.g., Harker & Nash, 1996; Strand, 1998; Thomas & Mortimore, 1996) there has been another which indicates a much stronger impact of school composition on student outcomes (Lauder et al., 1999; Robertson & Symonds, 1996; Willms, 1992). As well, the effective schools studies of Hallinger and Murphy (1986), Teddlie, Stringeld, Wimpleberg, and Kirby (1989) and Teddlie and Stringeld (1993) have demonstrated that high and low mean SES schools often have quite different effectiveness correlates. Finally some school improvement researchers have highlighted evidence of greater constraints on improvement in low SES settings (e.g., Chrispeels, 1992; Gray et al., 1999). Given all of this it is not surprising that school effectiveness researchers today tend to acknowledge that SES context could have some inuence on school processes and therefore impact on student achievement; indeed Teddlie et al. (2000, p.184) go as far as to conclude that ``the SES makeup of a school has a substantial effect upon student outcomes beyond the effects associated with students' individual ability and social class''. At the same time, until very recently (see below), there has been little willingness to question the core

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assumption that there is a school effect which can be theorised independently of a schools composition. For instance Teddlie and Stringeld's (1993) study did not argue that low SES schools were by nature likely to be less academically effective than high SES schools but rather that they required ``different strategies for success'' (p. 42). Nevertheless there have been fundamental problems with the SER position on the impact of school composition. To begin with, it is likely that the statistical evidence both for and against compositional effects is weak. This is not only because of the growing reservations within SER circles about the use of HLM noted by Teddlie and colleagues (2000, p. 115) but because HLM studies continue to use an input/output formulation and omit the crucial role of modeling how compositional inuences act through school processes. This was pointed out by Erbring and Young (1979) who demonstrated the fallacy of ignoring the nature of the social structure between peers through which variables such as ability and socio-economic status probably act. For example assuming that a variable such as the social mix of a school has a directly interpretable inuence on the outcomes of its pupils is of little value if the exact mechanism and any necessary conditions are not specied in the model, resulting in the failure of such input/output regression models. Cuttance (1982) raised a similar concern in relation to Rutter et al.'s (1979) work. This problem holds for both the regression models available at the time Erbring and Young and Cuttance were writing and the hierarchical models since developed. The size and nature of the inuence of such effects is almost certain to vary dependent on which of the many possible processes is operative. It is qualitative rather than quantitative analysis that is required to disclose likely generative mechanisms. As Sayer (1992) has argued The conventional theory of causation abstracts from such concerns and instead focuses on regular sequences of events. As such, it is more easily associated with mathematical approaches, although clearly this does nothing to remedy its shortcomings, in particular its inability to distinguish causal from accidental relations, as manifested in the problem of spurious correlations . . . the concept of a ``variable'' that is used in quantitative analysis is an indifferent one as regards causal explanation: variables can only register (quantiable) change, not its cause. The vocabulary of mathematics may be useful for recording the effects associated with the exercise of causal powers but other ``languages'' are needed to show why objects possess them. . . (pp. 179-180)

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Given this, there has been an over-reliance on large-scale quantitative research in SER at the expense of studies employing more detailed qualitative methodologies. The latter cannot determine causality either but they can shed more insight by exploring school processes. In the sociology of education we nd a number of such studies which, in various ways, suggest that school composition is a very important inuence on school processes (Connell, Ashenden, Kessler, & Dowsett, 1982; Metz, 1990; Proudfoot & Baker, 1995; Thrupp, 1999a). My own study in four New Zealand schools (Thrupp, 1999a) drew a rich picture of how school social class composition (which I call ``school mix'') might impact on school processes in numerous ways so as to cumulatively drag down the academic performance of schools in low SES settings and boost it in middle class settings. This study emphasised the importance of seeing the culture of schools as negotiated with students on the basis of class-related levels of compliance, motivation and ``ability'' which are in turn related to students' views of schooling and their likely occupational futures. The school mix study also pointed to the importance of critical mass. In a predominantly middle class school, the struggles of working class families and students are marginalised and can have relatively little effect on school management, teaching and student reference group processes. As a school becomes more working class however, it can be predicted that the processes of the school will shift, despite resistance from middle class teachers and students, towards the culture of the increasingly sizeable working class group. This negotiated view of school processes is quite different from that taken by SER which uses notions of school culture which emphasis the organizational, management and instructional dimensions of schooling at the expense of the culture of students and the community. As a result we get school and teacher cultures which are variously ``stuck'' and ``moving'' (Rosenholtz, 1989), ``individualist'', ``collaborative'', ``contrived'' or ``balkanised'' (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1992; Hargreaves, 1994), ``wandering'' and ``promenading'' (Hopkins, Ainscow, & West, 1994), ``formal'', ``welfarist'', ``hothouse'', ``survivalist'', ``traditional'' and ``collegial'' (Hargreaves, 1995) and ``cruising'', ``strolling'', ``struggling'' and ``sinking'' (Stoll & Fink, 1998). What is missing here, however, are ways in which these various models of school culture relate to middle class schools and working class schools, white schools and minority/indigenous schools and so on. As they stand, they fail to consider the impact of students and their cultures on school organization and management and instruction. Hatcher (1998, p. 280) regards this ``failure to recognise

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that school cultures are the product of the interaction between the `ofcial' culture of the school and the cultures of pupils'' as ``a fundamental theoretical aw'' in the SER literature. There are also important differences between the way the school mix study was theorised when compared to the way compositional effects are typically understood in SER. When school effectiveness researchers are called on to explain compositional effects, they are often likely to do this through the lens of contingency theory which argues that organizational effectiveness results from a t between situation and structure (see Creemers et al., 2000, pp. 292 297). However rather than offering a genuine explanation, contingency theory appears to be mostly an acknowledgement that a wide range of conditions or factors might inuence organizational effectiveness. Moreover contextual effectiveness ndings in SER such as those of Hallinger and Murphy (1986) and Teddlie and Stringeld (1993) have actually been developed more from a mixture of correlations and common sense than contingency theory: Creemers et al. (2000, pp. 295296) point out that ``[m]aking a lot of sense as they do, the outcomes of contextual effectiveness studies are only vaguely related to contingency hypotheses from the general organizational science literature''. In contrast the ndings of the school mix study (Thrupp, 1999a) are able to be given considerable theoretical depth by linking them to Bourdieu's wellknown sociological theories about a highly organic or inter-connected relationship between schools and middle class families which is not shared by working class families (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990). Solidly middle class schools have strongly supportive student cultures which allow them to teach an academic, exam-based curriculum and to organize and manage themselves relatively smoothly, while working class schools will, in general, be quite the opposite. Thus the study highlights the extent to which school effectiveness in an academic sense appears to rest upon the cultural resources and responses of students from middle class families. The school mix study, drawing on the sociology of education, therefore offers an alternative theory of school culture which rejects any useful conceptual division between school effects and compositional effects because their interaction is regarded as so considerable that much of the ``school effect'' will in fact be an effect of school composition. This perspective poses some fundamental challenges to the school effectiveness ndings of the last 2 decades. For instance the school mix study suggests that school effectiveness researchers may not have been able to `control' for student social class as well as they have thought, so that many school processes considered to contribute

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to student achievement may be less independent of school mix than typically allowed. It also suggests that many effectiveness factors will be hard to replicate because while they may be school-based, they may nevertheless not be school-caused. They will relate to students' class backgrounds and therefore be difcult to modify. Overall the implication is that schools with differing SES intake compositions will not be able to carry out similarly effective school policies and practices, even with similar levels of resourcing and after taking account of individual student backgrounds. The study highlights enduring constraints for teachers and school leaders in low SES schools, which should lead us to be cautious of school effectiveness claims of their success against the odds. Are school effectiveness researchers moving in this direction as well? I suggested earlier that just recently there has been a new willingness in SER to question the assumption that the school effect can be theorised independently of a school's composition. It is Reynolds and Teddlie's (2000) discussion of additive effects as a future ``cutting edge'' direction for SER which signals some change. They argue that: There are now a number of data sets across a variety of national contexts which suggest that family background and school quality are related. . . [this work] shows that even if one has controlled the effects of individual pupil background factors and/or achievement levels, there is a tendency for schools in low SES areas to do worse than one would have predicted and for schools in middle class areas to do better. . . (pp. 332333) Also signicant in terms of the arguments employed here is Reynolds and Teddlie's further comment that The additive idea is an important one, since it might explain that most persistent nding of all post-war educational reform attempts that social class inequality in access to educational qualications has been largely unchanged by educational ``improvement'' on both quantity and quality dimensions. It also integrates the two literatures which have appeared to be at cross-purposes, much to the detriment of the scholars working in the two elds that from the sociology of education which stresses the inuence of social structure, and that from school effectiveness which stresses the independent effects of schools. Schools do make a difference in this formulation, but that difference acts to reinforce pre-existing differences in the structure of society. (Reynolds & Teddlie, 2000, p. 333)

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If properly pursued, all of this would represent a fundamental shift in SER thinking which would begin to address many of the concerns of external critics: as a future direction for SER research it can only be applauded. Moreover, while Reynolds and Teddlie are uncertain why more effective schools tend to be schools with higher SES intakes, as indicated by the preceding discussion they might nd the sociology of education holds some helpful insights. The Inability to Control the Political Use of SER Findings School effectiveness researchers today are often concerned with preventing what they see as the misuse of their ndings by politicians. This is especially the case in the UK where it seems many now accept that this may be an intractable problem born of the overclaiming already mentioned. For instance Reynolds (1998, p. 20) has noted that while school effectiveness researchers need to ``prevent the knowledge base of our discipline from being abused as it is being used by Government'' it is also the case that ``School effectiveness has sung the policymakers tune in its emphasis upon how schools can make a differenceindeed we wrote their words . . .''. Tomlinson has also argued: The intention of the [early studies] was not to pillory or deride schools that did not appear to be as successful as others . . . however by the 1990s the school effectiveness research had been hijacked by politicians who used evidence which indicated that some schools with similar intakes of students appeared to be doing better in GCSE league tables, or at key stages, to castigate less effective schools. (Tomlinson, 1997, pp. 1314) By comparison the critics of school effectiveness, drawing on education policy analysis, saw much earlier how the kind of position taken by Edmonds and others in the interests of equity could be easily turned to the cause of efciency and accountability. For instance Ball wrote as early as 1990 that SER ``provides a technology for the possibility of `blaming' the school'' (1990, p. 161) while by 1993 Angus was writing: school effectiveness researchers [do not] necessarily see themselves as being of the Right . . . However this does not prevent the school effectiveness project sitting quite comfortably with the conservative educational project . . . School effectiveness research indicates that resources don't matter . . . it is simply a matter of incorporating effectiveness factors into school practice. This pragmatic orientation suits

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conservative governments that are interested as much in cost cutting as conservative restoration. (Angus 1993, pp. 342343) The critics of SER generally do accept however that these days school effectiveness researchers have a tiger by the tail in as much as SER has today become part of a global industry legitimized by public policy and nancial interests as much as research. This means that SER cannot be held responsible for everything done in the name of school effectiveness. Nevertheless critics remain concerned with how school effectiveness researchers may have acted, and may continue to act, as apologists for damaging reforms carried out in the name of school effectiveness. Traditionally the most common complaint amongst critics albeit expressed in a variety of ways has been that SER provides support for the social policy of the Right. This concern continues today, for instance Willmott (1999) has recently argued that without a (social) structural perspective, SER upholds what he refers to as the fallacy of composition (the assumption that what is possible for an individual must be possible for all) in a way which provides support for the individuated social policy of neo-liberals. This problem of course reects the epistemological differences noted earlier. Whitty, Power, and Halpin (1998) have recently put the problem of support for the Right a slightly different way: While those working in the areas of school improvement and school effectiveness would probably distance themselves from the values of neoliberalism, there is more common ground than appears at rst sight. Both the New Right and the school effectiveness lobby take the discursive repositioning of schools as autonomous self-improving agencies at face value, rather than recognising that, in practice, the atomization of schooling too often merely allows advantaged schools to maximize their advantages. (p. 113) At the same time, as noted above, at least some school effectiveness researchers are starting to acknowledge that SER has unintentionally supported the reform agenda of the Right. Given this, criticism is likely to increasingly shift to two problematic ``fallback'' positions of school effectiveness researchers on the politics of their work, both of which have recently been discussed by Richard Hatcher (Hatcher, 1998; Hatcher & Hirtt, 1999). One is that while SER may have provided support to damaging policies in the past, government policies are now becoming increasingly in tune with the focus of SER. This

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perspective is illustrated by Gray et al.'s (1999, p. 29) comment in the English setting that ``There is much in the school effectiveness research that resonates with. . .the apparently increasing concern of government to intervene with a view to improvement''. Yet Hatcher and Hirtt (1999) suggest that this comment, and the examples Gray and his colleagues provide to support it, is very much a case of wishful thinking: Let us put a blunt question to the school improvement movement: how do they see the body of theory and practice which they are developing relate to the neo-liberal agenda which is driving government policy?. . .. Does the Tory marketisation of the school really represent what school improvers mean by the school as a unit of change? How closely does Michael Fullan's conception of pressure and support correspond to the pressure exerted by Chris Woodhead's regime? Is their notion of the role of the Head [Principal] the same as that envisaged in the Green Paper, controlling teachers through performance-related pay? The answers are: of course not, there is a gulf between them, which the school improvement movement typically (with some exceptions) prefers to gloss over. . . . Gray and his co-authors scarcely mention key elements of the ofcial agenda such as increased selection and differentiation, and make no mention at all of the drive towards commercialisation and privatisation. (Hatcher & Hirtt, 1999, pp. 2021) A second fallback position sometimes used by members of the SER movement is that the more `progressive' dimensions of SER can hold out in the face of neo-liberal ideologies and reform programs. Hopkins (1996) illustrates this kind of stance when he argues that schools which are developing [as a result of SER] are those which are able to ``survive with integrity'' in times of change. . . In other words the schools that are developing continue to keep abreast with innovation within the context of a pervasive political reform agenda, whilst remaining true to the educational futures they desire for their students. (pp. 3233) Yet as Hatcher (1998) has also pointed out, the research evidence on the impact of reform simply does not bear out this claim. Instead he suggests that ``It is not so much that `school improvement' has enabled schools to resist the Conservative offensive, rather that `school improvement' itself has tended to accommodate to it'' (p. 270).

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So far I have mainly been discussing the politics of SER claims and arguments, but based on their understanding of the politics of education, SER's critics would also typically have a different perspective on the politics of doing educational research and its dissemination to policymakers. For instance they would probably never expect the reasoned response from politicians most school effectiveness researchers appear to. Many seem to see themselves as ``neutral'' researchers providing ``objective'' ndings for policy makers. This is a perspective from which ``bad'' policy is created mostly by misinformed policymakers who can, however, be reasoned with. For instance Gray and colleagues have suggested that ``The current range of initiatives, programmes and sanctions being utilised with `failing' schools would strongly suggest that educational policies need the silent voice and truths of research knowledge more than ever before'' (Gray et al., 1996, p. xi). Nevertheless it is not hard to nd examples of the folly of expecting an objective response from politicians and policy makers. The implication is not that school effectiveness researchers should be more cynical about policy processes but that they should seek to better understand policy agendas so that good intentions are less likely to be abused. SER's critics would also typically be more careful about overt complicity in educational reforms where these have the potential to be harmful. There are many examples of school effectiveness researchers not just providing research support for, but actually implementing, the agendas of neo-liberal/managerial governments in various roles around the globe. No doubt they would respond that they should be involved in creating public policy, but such activity often has the effect of silencing potential critics who become compromised by their involvement. For instance in the UK leading SER proponents are involved in developing, promoting and evaluating New Labour's educational reforms (e.g., Michael Barber, David Reynolds, & Michael Fullan). Researchers who question New Labour's approach to school improvement have been dismissed by SER proponents within the Government as arguing that schools make no difference (Barber, 1997). There is also the problem that even where school effectiveness researchers argue in hindsight, as Sammons and Reynolds (1997) do, that ``political expediency'' has taken precedence over their advice, their involvement has already given that policy, including unsupported aspects, status and legitimacy. Admittedly, the decision whether or not to support a government initiative is rarely clear cut and it is probably all too easy to criticize those instances where involvement has started off looking promising but then

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becomes unacceptable. But where to draw the line? Isn't the writing well and truly on the wall in some cases because of the politics of the government agency or organization concerned (e.g., OFSTED in the UK)? And how often do we hear of school effectiveness researchers pulling out of research projects/ commissions/taskforces because they do not like the direction their involvement has turned? A further difculty needs to be signalled here. Hatcher (1998, p.271) has commented in the UK situation that ``It is unclear, both logically and politically, to what extent those educationalists who occupy key positions within OSI [`Ofcial School Improvement', New Labour's school reform agenda] will be able to continue to voice criticisms of government education policy while sharing responsibility for implementing it''. This returns us to the problem signaled earlier of real if not always acknowledged conict between the focus of SER and neo-liberal and managerial government policy. The effect of this conict may be that SER will nd itself trying to straddle a widening gap between its principles and its involvement in government policy in order to try to inuence that policy and retain funding. In this unenviable situation, external academic criticism might well become the least of SER's worries: it would not be surprising to see rifts developing in the SER movement as the gulf between the more progressive dimensions of SER and government policy become too obvious to overlook and school effectiveness researchers have to choose sides. CONCLUSION: TOWARDS A NEW AGENDA FOR SCHOOL EFFECTIVENESS RESEARCH Teddlie and Reynolds (2000, p. 23) refer to SER in the late 1980s revolving around a new generation of educational researchers who had not been intellectually and personally ``burnt'' by the failure of the 1960s liberal dream. In our own time the challenge has become to avoid being burnt by the failure of the neo-liberal dream. Whether SER can do this will depend on whether it can unhook itself from the reform agenda of the Right and begin to address sociological and political concerns such as those already discussed. As Hargreaves (1998, p. 293) has put it there is a need to ``revisit some of the fundamental issues . . . and connect with sociological and political forms of inquiry that are attuned to the highly contested terrain [of schooling]''. But what would be the likely costs and benets of this and what would it require?

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The main cost of more attention to sociological and political matters would be a loss of support for SER in some quarters. At the school level this will be because SER's lack of social and political complexity is undoubtedly part of what has provided its appeal to many practitioners. Bell (1999) argues for instance that SER generates a level of spurious certainty amongst senior staff in schools who see the way forward through professional leadership and shared vision, and a similar feeling of false security among teachers for whom purposeful teaching is characterised solely by efcient organization, clarity of purpose, structured lessons and adaptive practices, (p. 220) Similarly SER would quickly fall out of favour with politicians if it could no longer be so easily turned to the cause of neo-liberal and managerial reform. For instance it is the claim that management and teaching can make a difference which provides the attraction of the school improvement movement to New Labour but this claim has been so insistent that researchers who have raised questions about it have been dismissed as ``sceptics'', ``cynics'', ``energy sappers'' and even ``middle class elitists'' (David Blunkett, cited in the Times Educational Supplement, 6 June 1997, July 23, 1999). On the other hand, I have tried to illustrate that there would potentially be much to gain for SER both in terms of solutions to various problems within the eld as well as a generally more balanced and rewarding set of research concerns. With plenty of evidence that educational fads and fashions tend to come and go (Tyack & Cuban, 1995), the staying power of SER is yet another consideration. Continuing interest in the effectiveness of schools (variously dened) is assured, but whether the current SER eld will survive will depend on its willingness to substantially broaden and deepen its outlook. To move the SER agenda forward in the directions I have suggested, school effectiveness researchers initially need to accept that there is a problem. Some are already starting to do this, at least at times, for instance Reynolds (1998) has written: Precisely because we did not waste time on philosophical discussion or on values debates, we made rapid progress . . . However future progress may depend upon the extent to which we can broaden our remit, can interact with the other disciplines that have different beliefs, and can permit self-criticism which thus far has been singularly lacking. (p. 20)

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Yet this sort of outlook is by no means common in SER circles. There has to be more understanding of the historical context of SER, that what we have seen over the last few decades has been a rather hurried and polemic response to what came beforehand. The work of researchers like Edmonds needs to be seen as a product of its time. Similarly, there needs to be more acceptance of the theoretical and methodological limitations of SER. While the Teddlie and Reynolds (2000) handbook indicates how far the eld of SER has come over the years, it also indicates that the eld is desperately short of genuine insight. So little is really understood (rather than described) in SER that for a critical reader there is a strong sense of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Finally there needs to be more acceptance of the problematic politics of SER research. When it comes to entering the political arena to try to bring about change, school effectiveness researchers need to more often consider the worst case scenario along with the best. To their credit some school effectiveness researchers have already been making efforts to connect with sociological and policy concerns (e.g., Mortimore & Whitty, 1997; Ramsay with Afeck, 1999; Stoll & Myers, 1998) and I have already mentioned Reynolds and Teddlie's important (2000) acknowledgement of the gulf between SER and the sociology of education and their apparent interest in building bridges between the two2. Conversely my own work (Thrupp, 1999a) might be seen as an example of an attempt by one critic to connect with and shift SER from a sociological perspective, while the recent work of Whitty (Mortimore & Whitty, 1997) is a further obvious example of this. Of course reconnecting the elds will never be easy when their respective proponents are coming from such different starting points. Nevertheless we do need to somehow move past the present standoff where school effectiveness researchers and their critics mostly ``agree to disagree'' and instead engage in a continuing process of critique, counter-critique and counter-counter-critique for as long as it is necessary to work through the issues.

Their handbook actually contains a chapter on ``School effectiveness research and the social and behavioural sciences'' but this is less promising than it sounds. It includes a section on the sociology of education (p. 303) but leaves out work which provides a critical challenge to SER. There is also a discussion of SER tapping into political theory (p. 320) but this again ignores the political work which is currently critiquing SER.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The author would like to thank Stephen Ball, Richard Hatcher, Tony Robinson and Rob Willmott for their helpful advice and comments on an earlier draft of this article. This article is based on a presentation at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, Louisiana REFERENCES
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