Framing Educational Policymaking in Australia Through an Advocacy Coalition Framework

Year: 2016

Author: Beach, Paul

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper applies the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) to unify recent research on educational policy in Australia. Originally developed in the United States and rooted in social psychology, ACF is a lens to understand how coalitions of individuals and organizations with similar values, belief structures, and perceptions of policy problems coalesce around sets of strategies to achieve their goals (Sabatier & Weible, 2007). Scholars from various fields have used the ACF to frame policy change in analyses of data sets that run a decade or longer, however the framework has been applied only in non-educational contexts in Australia. Using ACF as my lens, I constructed a case study of Australia’s educational policy subsystem based on international and domestic governmental documents, interest group publications, and extant research. I used content analysis to test all 12 ACF hypotheses, which span three broad categories: (a) advocacy coalitions, (b) policy change, and (c) policy learning across coalitions. Findings show that a coalition of international and Australian actors in both public and private spheres share a set of values and beliefs that guide coordinated activity and policy advocacy. Since 2008, Australia adopted a national curriculum, instituted an annual standardized testing regimen that privileges numeracy and literacy, and created an accountability model that relies on public dissemination of school-aggregated test scores and administrative data to promote transparency and choice. This so-called “Education Revolution” (Rudd & Gillard, 2008) culminates nearly three decades of incremental reforms, which a unique coalition of actors has endorsed (Savage & O’Connor, 2015). Internationally, numerous scholars have argued that this coalition shares neoliberal economic policy beliefs with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including market-driven approaches to improving human capital and global competitiveness (Lingard, 2010; Savage, Sellar, & Gorur, 2013). Within Australia, researchers have identified an emergent network of edu-businesses, think tanks, academics, and public officials supporting this policy agenda (Hogan, 2015; Lingard, 2015; Savage, 2016). Many of Sabatier and Weible’s (2007) hypotheses were supported, with some caveats indicating that the ACF needs adaptation to fit ideally to the unique educational policy subsystems in Australia. Overall, this study demonstrates the potential of ACF-informed analysis to bring systematic coherence to understanding large-scale policy change, which is increasingly marked by fluid, transnational social networks. I conclude with areas of future research, including possible Australia-U.S. comparisons to illustrate how ACF might converge and diverge for each context.