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Governments, markets, and instruction: considerations for cross-national research

Donald J. Peurach (School of Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
David K. Cohen (School of Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
James P. Spillane (School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 21 March 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine relationships among governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and the organization and management of instruction in US public education, with the aim of raising issues for cross-national research among countries in which the involvement of non-governmental organizations is increasing.


The paper is structured in four parts: an historical analysis of the architecture and dynamics of US public education; an analysis of contemporary reform efforts seeking to improve quality and reduce inequities; an analysis of ways that legacy and reform dynamics manifest in two US public school districts; and a discussion of considerations for cross-national research.


In US public education, dependence on non-governmental organizations for instructional resources and services is anchored in deeply institutionalized social, political and economic values dating to the country’s founding and that continue to function as constraints on educational reform, such that new solutions always emerge in-and-from the same problematic conditions that they seek to redress. The consequence is that reform takes on an evolutionary (vs transformative) character.

Research limitations/implications

The US case provides a foundation for framing issues for cross-national research comparing among macro-level educational infrastructures, patterns of instructional organization and classroom instruction.


Such research would move beyond reductionist approaches to cross-national research toward new approaches that examine how histories, legacy architectures, contemporary reforms and patterns of instructional organization and management interact to shape students’ day-to-day lives in classrooms.



Work on this paper was supported by the Spencer Systems Study at Northwestern University and University of Michigan, funded by a research grant from the Spencer Foundation (SP0034639-201600066). The authors gratefully acknowledge those who shared comments on earlier manuscripts and presentations on which the paper draws, as well as the members of the research team: Naomi Blaushild, Kathryn Gabriele, Daniella Hall Sutherland, Whitney Hegseth, Christine M. Neumerski, Melissa Ortiz, Jennifer Seelig and Maxwell Yurkofsky. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any funding agency.


Peurach, D.J., Cohen, D.K. and Spillane, J.P. (2019), "Governments, markets, and instruction: considerations for cross-national research", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 393-410.



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