Comparative education examines educational systems, education practice and policies, and educational achievement across multiple settings or countries. Goals of comparative education are reviewed in this article, along with the characteristics of the field of comparative education. The role of benchmarking studies and international testing in comparative education is described. Concepts such as reform, globalization, and conflict are also discussed in reference to comparative education.
Keywords Benchmarking; Comparative Education; Educational Effectiveness; Globalization; International; Program for International Student Assessment (PISA); Theory of the State; Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS); Unit Ideas
Comparative education involves studying education from a vantage point where contexts, often international in scope, are situated in relation to one another. Observations are then made that aid in comprehending the nature of the various educational systems that exist within numerous contexts around the world. Comparative education, also referred to as comparative and international education (CIE), has been conceptualized as a multidisciplinary endeavor that attends to the local and global, incorporates scientific theory, and entails knowledge that is both broad and specialized (Sutton & Post, 2006). Professionals within the field of comparative education are also known as comparativists or comparative educationists (Cowen, 2006; Schuster, 2007).
There are multiple objectives within the field of comparative education. According to Fairbrother (2005) these objectives can be summarized as comprehension of school systems across countries, detailing how educational systems might be changed, anticipating the effects of such changes to educational systems, and creating theories to ground efforts in the field of comparative education. Across the educational levels studied in comparative education, there are more typical questions asked by comparativists. Dale (2005) listed four levels for the comparative education field to address when asking educational questions:
• Educational practice,
• Education politics,
• Politics of education and
Education politics and politics of education can be distinguished by the focus on the politics by which education is implemented in the former and attention to the political processes in which educational systems are grounded in the latter.
Units of analysis are integral components in the research conducted as part of comparative education (Fairbrother, 2005). For instance, comparative education research does not have to be international if several societies or communities exist within one country such that the society is a unit of analysis. Whatever the unit of analysis in comparative education research, outcomes of interest are usually some facet of educational standards. Valverde and Schmidt (2000) defined standards as, "content goals, performance expectations and attitudes" (p. 654). Standards are examined within units of analysis and across education levels beginning with the preprimary level, continuing onto primary then secondary levels, and often concluding at the level of higher education (Miller, Sen, & Malley, 2007).
There are numerous other constructs investigated in comparative education. Among the theories used to elucidate comparative education, Carnoy (2006) delineated the "Theory of the State" whereas the state's role in education serves as a foundation for understanding education policies and practices across settings and countries. Sweeting (2005) detailed how the constructs of comparing, importance, and time are integral to comparative education. He asserted that comparing important times, being timely in comparing important areas of education, and acknowledging the importance of comparing time periods are all fundamental in comparative education. Cowen (2006) referred to his prior work when he delineated space, time, educational systems, praxis, the state, and the constructs of transfer and context as the 'unit ideas' of comparative education with context and transfer of particular importance.
Characteristics of the Comparative Education Field
Historical views on the development of comparative education as a field note the 1950s and 1960s as the periods when researchers in the United States and Soviet Union formed comparative education organizations (Steiner-Khamsi, 2006). An example of such an organization is the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES). The CIES is a part of the larger World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES). Members of CIES were assessed on their background as well as their viewpoints of the state of comparative education (Cook, Hite, & Epstein, 2004). Responses were gathered from 419 members of the CIES with the majority, approximately 69%, from the United States. Educational policy and planning was the primary area of study within comparative education cited most frequently by CIES members.
Sabina (2006) highlighted the foci at the Twelfth Congress of The World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES). In regard to comparative education, the focal points were theory and method. Postmodern existentialism was posited as having grown in influence in the field. Examples of other theories used in comparative educational research were Marxist/Critical and Poststructuralist theories (Sweeting, 2005). Sabina (2006) also commented on the idea that there was a need for a different perspective to be used when working with developing countries than what is usually used with more industrialized countries.
Insight about the field of comparative education can also be garnered from a review of the topics and themes explored in the academic journals in the field. Raby (2006) conducted an investigation in which she created a bibliography from her examination of almost 350 journals relevant to the field of comparative education during 2005. In the review, Raby focused on articles that addressed education, involved an area outside of the United States, or attended to various factors that impacted education. More than half of the articles did not center on education but rather had a more general social science perspective. Comparative education, along with higher education, was the most prevalent theme across the journals included in the 2005 bibliography.
According to Schuster (2007), topics of interest in comparative, historical research, as noted by a presence in journals such as Comparative Education Review (CER) and Historical Education Journal/Quarterly (HEJ/Q), are Colonialism, Reform, Philosophy of Education, and Historiography of Education. Both the CER and HEJ/Q focused on Europe most frequently followed by East Asia and Africa, for CER, and Canada for HEJ/Q. Additionally, Fairbrother (2005) reviewed 30 articles in the Comparative Education and Comparative Education Review journals. Each article examined at least two countries in regard to some aspect of education. Fairbrother noted that the articles he reviewed had several aims in regard to comparative education. Some articles were descriptive while others compared countries in order to ascertain common attributes of educational systems and unique components of such systems.
Little (2000) evaluated 472 articles from the Comparative Education journal in order to ascertain how comparative education has been represented in a flagship journal in the field. In slightly over two-thirds of the articles, more than one country was noted. Most attention was focused on European, North American, and Asian countries. Development as it related to education was a theme in approximately 13% of articles with almost 18% of articles pertaining to reform.
Shaping Educational Policy
Carnoy (2006) posited four suggestions for the conduct of comparative education research. These strategies were:
• Studying individual countries and/or regions and then comparing these results;
• Using prior studies as a foundation and expanding on that work in a comparative manner;
• Selecting several countries or regions to study with a uniform research method; and
• Utilizing international datasets.
Shaping educational policy has been commonly thought to be the purpose of conducting comparative education scholarship and research (Cowen, 2006).
Educational effectiveness is a growing area within the field of comparative education (Kyriakides, 2006). Kyriakides and Charalambous (2005) delineated consistency, cohesion, constancy and control as components integral to illustrating the presence of educational effectiveness when assessing educational indicators in comparative education research. Higher education is another topic of interest in the comparative education field; Kreber (2006) described higher education systems across nine countries. University and vocational institutions characterized many of the educational systems at this level with differences in systems related to economic and personnel resources.
Carnoy (2006) made the assertion that the ideal comparative studies would be comprised of an investigation of how various countries implement intervention procedures and what outcomes...
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