Chubb and moe: consumer choice

A good example of the New Right perspective on education comes from the work of the Americans, John Chubb and Terry Moe (1940). They argue that American state education has failed and they make the case for opening it up to market forces of supply and demand. They make a number of claims:

  1. Disadvantaged groups – the lower classes, ethnic and religious minorities and rural communities – have been badly served by state education. State education has failed to create equal opportunities and therefore is not meritocratic.
  2. State education is ineffective because it fails to produce pupils with the skills needed by the economy.
  3. Private schools deliver higher quality education because, unlike state schools, they are answerable to paying consumers – the parents.

Chubb and Moe base their arguments on a comparison of the achievements of 60,000 pupils from low income families in 1,015 state and private high schools, together with the findings of a parental survey and case studies of ‘failing’ schools apparently being turned around. Their evidence shows that pupils from low income families consistently do about 5% better in private schools.

Method Link: Using Surveys

Based on these findings carried out a survey of parental attitude to schooling. Surveys involve asking people a fixed set of questions either: through interviews or written questionnaires. This is a very quick way of collecting data from a large sample of people. Chubb and Moe chose this method so as to make generalisations about parental views on the way schools should run and how much choice parents should get.

However, Interpretivist sociologists argue that using a fixed list of questions impose the researchers feeling on respondents by limiting what answers they can give. Chubb and Moe’s survey may thus have produced results that shared their New Right perspective.

To introduce a market into state education, Chubb and Moe propose an end to the system where schools automatically receive guaranteed funding, regarding of how good or bad they are. Instead, they propose a system in which each family would be given a voucher to spend on buying education from a school of their choice. This would force schools to become more responsive to parents’ wishes, since the vouchers would be the schools’ main source of income.

These principles are already at work in the private education sector. In Chubb and Moe’s view, education standards would be greatly improved by introducing the same market forces into the state sector.

Two Roles for The State

However, while the New Right stress the importance of market forces in education, this does not mean that the see no role at all for the state. In the New Right view, there remain two important roles for the state.

Firstly, the state imposes a framework on schools within which they have to compete. For example, by publishing Ofsted inspection reports and league tables of schools’ exam results, the state gives parents information with which to make a more informed choice between schools.

Secondly, the state ensures that schools transmit a shared culture. By imposing a single National Curriculum, it seeks to guarantee that schools socialise pupils into a single cultural heritage.

The New Right believe that education should affirm the national identity. For example, the curriculum should emphasise Britain’s positive role in world history and teach British literature, and there should be a Christian act of worship in school each day because Christianity is Britain’s main religion. The aim is to integrate pupils into a single set of traditions and cultural values. For this reason, the New Right also oppose multi-cultural education that reflects the cultures of the different minority groups in Britain.

Evaluation of The New Right Perspective

  • Gewirtz and Ball both argue that competition between the schools benefits the middle class, who can use their cultural and economic capital to gain access to more desirable schools.
  • Critics argue that the real cause of low educational standards is not state control, but social inequality and inadequate funding of state schools.
  • There is a contradiction between the New Right support for parental choice on the one hand, and the state imposing a compulsory national curriculum on all its schools on the other.
  • Marxists argue that education does not impose a shared national culture, as the New Right argue, but it imposes the culture of the dominant minority ruling class.