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The Educational Policy Process: A Case Study of Bureaucratic Action in China

Lynn Paine

Some bureaucracies are strong; others are weak. Education is a weak bureaucratic actor. Why is this so? How does the education sector cope in an environment dominated by more powerful organizations competing for scarce resources? These are the questions of concern in this chapter.

What makes the education bureaucracy weak? There are many factors, including the devastating legacy of the Cultural Revolution (which disproportionately affected education); the history of debates over education's very functions, which therefore remain unclear; the continued absence of a powerful champion for education; and the power of noneducators—especially the Party—to set the education agenda and determine boundaries for action.

Political explanations aside, important economic factors also contribute to education's relative weakness. Education is often considered a nonproductive sector. Schooling in China was long perceived as consumption (Yuan 1988, 26). Despite current exhortations to recognize education as valuable investment, it is at best an investment that only pays off in the future, after a generation of students graduates from an improved system. Yet the resources necessary to upgrade education significantly need to be provided now and on an enormous scale. In making


a case for this position, education bureaucrats suffer from an inability to guarantee their "product," since education's technology is unclear (that is, it is not clear how to "produce" the ideal student, if there were even agreement about what that student would be like).

These ambiguities and uncertainties help keep education spending low and fuel the continued debates about funding for education. While that funding in recent years has increased, education expenses in the 1980s have stayed well below 4 percent of GNP, a low figure internationally. What for China represents a high-water mark in educational spending—32.1 billion yuan budgeted in 1988—amounts to only about 32 yuan per person (ZGJYB , 4 April 1989, 1). Annual expenditures per pupil are very limited: 128.5 yuan for general secondary school students and only 47.3 yuan for elementary students in 1985 (Zhongguo shehui tongji ziliao 1987, 172). And these very "limited outlays and educational construction actually decrease" in value in the current period of inflation. Economically, the education bureaucracy is constrained (Yuan 1988; ZGJYB , 18 August 1988, 4).

Finally, organizational fragmentation further weakens education in the political struggle. Who is the education bureaucracy? Officially, education is represented by the State Education Commission (SEdC), yet SEdC-administered schools represent only a part of the nation's education activity, since other ministries fund and to a large degree control their own educational institutions. (In fact, their funds in 1987 represented 13.73 percent of government allocations to education.)[1] Further, the majority of precollegiate education is funded and directly administered by provincial or local (municipal, county, or township) educational authorities.[2] As a result, the formal-education bureaucracy of the SEdC must share authority horizontally and vertically.

These constraints burden the contemporary education bureaucracy. Yet today and in the future, education must play a central role if China's modernization is to progress. Today, approximately one-fifth of China's population is in school (ZGJYB , 18 August 1988, 4), and whether in strengthening science and technology, in raising worker productivity, or in training management, education is important.

Against this backdrop of weakness confronting enormous tasks, how


does education cope? How does it try to improve its situation? I argue that China's institutional environment requires much strategic action, consensus building, and, where possible, persuasion.

The policy process in education involves much interaction and negotiation up and down the hierarchical system and many alliances across sectors. Bureaucratic action proceeds through a groping process reminiscent of Cohen, March, and Olsen's garbage can model (1972). Within that process, participants at all levels have some power, yet each is constrained. The patterns of interaction of these participants reveal that the education bureaucrat relies on multiple coping strategies.

Hence, to talk about Chinese educational policy we must look both horizontally across ministries and vertically from central organs to provinces, municipalities, districts, and even the basic bureaucratic unit of individual colleges and schools. While education's resource dependence reduces the possibility of bargaining among equals, there are ways in which the education bureaucracy exerts pressure internally and on other sectors. Taking advantage of what Gustafson (1981, 51) calls the open window, the education bureaucracy has achieved some policy victories through forged alliances and the pressure of symbolic action. The limits of the education bureaucracy's authority and its coping responses are the topics of this chapter.

The Issue: Policy Related To Teachers

Since the 1978 Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee, education has been at the center of debates about China's development strategies. The "strategic focal role" of education has been stressed with increasing energy in central-level plans, and teachers have been a frequent topic of public debate and policy reform. Perhaps the most significant example of this is the placement of teachers on the list of targets of the landmark 1985 Education Reform Decision (the jiaoyu tizhi gaige jueding , hereafter called the Education Decision). In the wake of that Decision and the 1986 Compulsory Education Law, central leaders, education bureaucrats, and education researchers argued that teachers—better qualified, in larger numbers, and more highly rewarded—are an essential part of these reforms. Changes in the condition and ranks of teachers are viewed as a precondition for national education reform and, thus, for broader economic and social reform.[3]

Yet even in this purportedly supportive climate for education, one


finds evidence of education's limits. The education system's bureaucratic weakness, its interdependence with other sectors, as well as its multiple coping strategies, can all be illustrated through examination of policies related to teachers. This issue area provides a window on broader aspects of bureaucratic behavior and educational policy formation.

Below I outline the structural constraints on the education bureaucracy as preparation for discussion of four interrelated features that described dominant patterns of bureaucratic behavior in China's educational system. These features, described through analysis of two case studies of teacher policy, include (1) the groping process of policy activity; (2) the power of subordinates to shape policy; (3) the multiple coping strategies sought by participants in the educational policy process; and (4) the necessity of cross-sectoral work to support sectoral interests.

Formal And Informal Structures In Teacher Policy

The formal bureaucratic home of educational policy, the State Education Commission, is itself an acknowledgment of the weakness of the education bureaucracy. Initially, the Ministry of Education (MOE) headed up the education sector. The MOE was functionally on a par with other ministries in competition to obtain scarce financial resources and official attention. But, as the then head of the SEdC, Li Peng, explained, this arrangement made it "very difficult for the Ministry of Education to map out an overall plan for education as a whole" (FBIS , 14 June 1985, K7).

The weakness of the MOE's position often undermined efforts regarding teachers. One MOE official I interviewed in 1983, for example, described how the MOE by itself could not solve the problems of the teaching profession. Instead, the ministry had to rely on the State Council, but had to compete with advocates of other sectors for State Council support, attention, and action. While he believed that central leaders like the then premier, Zhao Ziyang, understood the problem, the official said it would take much persuasion before teachers' situations could be improved. "Those of us doing education push education. ... But other ministries have their problems as well."

The creation of the SEdC in 1985 was intended to address directly this problem of cross-ministry competition for money and attention. The goal was to improve the education system's persuasive position. Appointing members to sit concurrently on the SEdC and other ministries or commissions was to facilitate coordination across ministries and simplify structural arrangements. In addition, naming someone with the stature of Li Peng as head was to lend credibility (and symbolic clout) to the claims about the importance of education.

Yet although these structural changes, designed to reduce fragmenta-


tion, have occurred, interviews with officials in 1986 and 1987 suggest that education bureaucrats still must work regularly with other ministries, at times competing with them for attention and support. The presence of the concurrent members on the SEdC leadership group may have facilitated cross-ministry and cross-commission communication, yet it has not obviated the need to persuade policymakers outside the SEdC to cast their lot with education (as the second case study illustrates). Senior SEdC officials say that they still have to call on superiors to intervene in cross-sector bargaining. Though the SEdC may have more clout through its organizational structure than its predecessors, it must nevertheless negotiate with other bureaucracies.

Though the SEdC's role overlaps with other ministries, commissions, and the State Council, I focus chiefly on the SEdC organization and its role. It is the SEdC that bears the responsibility for studying and articulating major educational concerns, preparing guidelines for schools, overseeing the administration of much of higher education and—at a distance—the direction of precollegiate schooling, and the organizing of educational reform.[4]

The Formal Organization: A Horizontal View

The education sector, as formally represented in the central government by the SEdC, is connected to its organizational environment. That is, it is organized to include representation from other ministries and commissions whose work affects the education system. In 1987 the SEdC was headed by a leadership group consisting of its head (then Li Peng, and since 1988 Li Tieying), eight vice-ministers, a former vice-minister of education, and vice-ministers from the State Planning Commission (SPC), the State Economic Commission (SEC), the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Labor and Personnel, and the State Science and Technology Commission.

The SEdC is composed of some thirty-five departments and bureaus (si and ju ), with various offices (chu, shi ), and, below them, sections (ke ). Policy issues often cut across several departments or bureaus in the SEdC. An issue area is typically the responsibility of a vice-minister; in the case of teachers, Liu Bin was responsible in 1988. (He also was responsible for precollegiate education and minority education.) He oversaw the extensive cross-department work that is required for teacher-related policies. The majority of teacher-related work comes


under the authority of the Teacher Education Department (shifansi ), which is responsible for tertiary-level teacher-education institutions (that is, normal colleges and universities), their secondary equivalents (teacher-training schools), in-service training of teachers, and teaching materials. Teachers' work conditions are the concern of the Precollegiate Education Department. While these two departments shoulder the chief responsibility for teachers, some aspects of teacher-related policy come under the purview of other SEdC departments: the Political and Ideological Education Department, for example, and the bureaus of Capital Construction and of Planning and Financial Affairs.

At the same time, the policy process in education is not restricted to the SEdC. Teacher-related policies require contact and cooperation with other ministries. One SEdC official in 1987 explained that the SEdC necessarily has "closer relations" with the Ministry of Finance (for funding issues), the Ministry of Labor (for policy on personnel and salaries), and the SPC, the SEC, and the State Science and Technology Commission (SSTC). The presence on the SEdC of vice-ministers from these sectors is an acknowledgment of the interdependence among tasks.

The Vertical View

The formal description of the education system's bureaucratic actors portrays the focus of policy activity as being at the SEdC, albeit with active collaboration with or coordination of other ministries and commissions. But the educational policy process also involves much vertical movement. The State Council needs to approve major policy and, at times, mediate disagreements between participants. Provinces, counties, municipalities, and individual schools also are centrally involved. And there is substantial autonomy at the lower levels.

What is the relative power of these different levels within the educational system? Most generally, the central-government level (SEdC) is seen as having the greatest power, though provincial and local levels also have responsibilities that give them power over schools. It is the SEdC that determines broad policies, provides the outline for curriculum in precollegiate education, determines texts, and, to a large extent, runs higher education (through its control of the university entrance-examination system and the determination of academic majors). Provincial education authorities run the secondary education system (through their control of the secondary school entrance exams), provide some financing of precollegiate education, and control some aspects of the nonkey sector of higher education (its financing, student recruitment, and, in part, job assignments). Local governments provide the majority of funds for local elementary and secondary schools.


It should be noted also that the power of different levels of the education bureaucracy is complex because of overlap in the function of central, provincial, and local levels; regional variation; range in types of policy and kinds of resources that connote power; and the distinction between state-run and community-run (minban ) schools. Power over funding, for example, depends on the level and type of school (e.g., key or nonkey). Power over the curriculum is also somewhat influenced by more than one level and varies by place: though in the 1980s the SEdC controlled a nationally unified curriculum, provinces and localities had the authority to supplement that curriculum (and varied greatly in the degree to which they did so). In the late 1980s Shanghai used its own experimental curriculum in place of the national curriculum. Finally, depending on the type of education policy (e.g., curriculum, funding, administrative structure), even individual schools can exert a kind of veto power in their ability to obstruct, delay, or reinterpret policy.

In short, the pattern of power within the education system is complex. The pattern has also changed. Over the 1980s there occurred nationally an increase in the relative strength, autonomy, and influence of the local bureaucratic level and individual school units as greater responsibility for finance devolved to local levels and schools were encouraged to rely on entrepreneurial solutions to many operational problems. At the same time, in policies regarding the admissions systems, bureaucratic structures, rules, and standards of evaluation, educational reforms have tied schools more closely to unified plans or central authority. The result of this two-sided change is the increased autonomy of lower levels of the educational system within a more circumscribed boundary of action.

With respect to teacher policy, the patterns of fragmented power parallel those described above for education generally. Formally, the departments responsible for teachers at the central level (in the SEdC) have provincial counterparts in the Bureau of Education (BOE).[5] These provincial offices have power over teacher policy through provincial administration of teacher education,[6] through direct administration of provincially run secondary schools, and indirectly through the oversight of county and district education offices, where the bulk of elementary and secondary schooling is administered. Provinces, like the counties and


districts below them, play a noticeable role in interpreting and in effect shaping educational policy.

In this structure there is much delegation of discretionary authority. The Center decides that teacher competence must be assured, but municipalities choose the subjects in which to test their elementary teachers (ZGJYB , 10 November 1987, 1). The central government announces a 10 percent wage increase for teachers, but provinces and localities are authorized to find the money and make decisions about the actual allocations (ZGJYB , 3 December 1987, 1). And the former Ministry of Education announced that teacher education would be upgraded, but local institutions had to decide what that meant in curricular terms (Paine 1986).

Nonetheless, stopping with the observation that there is delegation of discretionary authority assigns too much rationality, foresight, and decisive clarity to the central education bureaucracy. Instead, closer examination of the process of educational policy formation suggests less rationality, more interaction, and iteration. Horizontal and vertical interactions produce a process and a set of policies that are at one time more responsive, vaguer, more heterogeneous, and slower than the delegation or discretion model suggests.

Two cases of policy formation—one regarding a regulatory issue, the other distributive in character, are analyzed below. While each illustrates the profoundly interactive nature of the process, the two differ in the locus of and approaches to authority and influence. The first concerns regulations for teacher competence. Through this case we see the grouping process, the powerful role of subordinates, and the variety of coping strategies invoked. The second case concerns efforts to improve the social, economic, and political situation of teachers. Here we observe the limits of the education sector and the subsequent need for cross-sector alliances and cooperation.

Case Study I: Standards For Teachers

The Problem of Standards and Quality

Central to the discussions of teacher policies and educational reforms is the issue of standards for teachers. By the time of the 1978 Third Plenum a teacher shortage greater than that experienced before the Cultural Revolution existed quantitatively and in terms of credentials and competence. As figure 7.1 suggests, the rapid expansion of precollegiate education since the 1950s had not seen a commensurate growth in teacher education or trained teachers. The national shortage in 1977 was estimated at 3.45 million elementary and secondary school teachers (Cui 1979, 31). According to leaders, quality was a bigger problem than quan-


Fig. 7.1.
Elementary and Secondary Expansion, 1951–78


tity. The Chinese indicate that quality—as measured in terms of qualifications (teachers' academic credentials)—fell over the years, as is seen in table 7.1.[7]

If China was to reach its broader educational goals, there had to be a strengthening of standards. Yet given the vigor of the attacks on teacher education and professionalism during the years of the Cultural Revolution, the urgent need to coordinate and regulate the establishment of professional standards for teaching posed a major policy challenge. The study of bureaucratic behavior and the use of authority that were called


TABLE 7.1. National Percentage of Academically Qualified Teachers



Junior High

Senior High













SOURCES : Cui 1979, 32; Department of Planning 1984, 222; Wu 1983, 82; ZGJYB , 31 December 1988, 1; Zhongguo shehui tongji ziliao 1987 1987, 161.

a Based on a survey of 2,601,400 teachers in 1963 (Department of Planning 1984, 222).

b Based on a survey of 5,216,600 teachers in 1978 (Department of Planning 1984, 222).

c This figure represents the percentage of qualified senior high (gao zhong ) teachers nationally in 1985, but does not include teachers in specialized secondary schools (zhongzhuan ).

on to meet this policy challenge illustrates three aspects of the process of educational policy formation within the vertical educational policy system: its slow, reactive, and groping character; the power of subordinates; and the limited authority available to education bureaucrats and the resulting strategies they adopt.

The Groping Pace of Bureaucratic Action

Bureaucratic wrestling with the issue of teacher policy has occurred outside any routine temporal cycle. In the case of teacher standards, superiors have placed no deadline. (Contrast this with what an SEdC official described as the one-year deadline the Central Committee gave the SEdC for formulating the draft of the "Education Decision.") Instead, the regulation of teacher standards appears to be a case of an issue looking for a policy, what Cohen, March, and Olsen might describe as "issues and feelings looking for decision situations" (1972, 2). What we see is a practice of management through groping (Paine 1986; Behn 1988).

The policy process in this case involved the simultaneous occurrence of goal setting, discussion, and implementation.[8] Goal setting began in


1978 with "problem recognition" (Kingdon 1984, 19): the shortage of qualified teachers was identified as a policy problem at the 1978 National Education Work Conference, the 1980 National Teacher Education Work conference, and in numerous articles published during this time. National leaders and high education officials gradually formulated a set of goals and principles for the reform of standards for professional preparation and practice,[9] yet these statements have been distinguished by their vagueness and breadth. The most frequently cited statement of goals, for example, simply claims that teachers (1) "must study hard and become more erudite; (2) they must seriously study and grasp the science of education and understand educational laws; (3) they must have a noble moral character and a lofty spiritual realm and must be worthy of the title teacher" (FBIS , 30 June 1980, L1).

While national political and education leaders gradually announced policy goals, discussion of teacher standards and teacher education reforms grew. Since 1978 the topic got increasing scholarly and popular attention. Over one hundred articles were published on teacher education between 1978 and 1982 (Tan, 1983), and at least six new teacher-education journals were started between 1982 and 1984. Nonetheless, the discussion did not become markedly more specific. Instead, the discussion was mired in epistemological and fundamental questions, with the most discussion of teachers' professional standards (accounting for 46 percent of the literature) concerning the need for increased attention to be given teacher education and its "special characteristics" (Tan 1983).[10]

Despite the absence of clearly defined goals, individual institutions, sometimes acting independently and sometimes acting in concert with the MOE or other schools, carried out numerous changes in all major areas of professional teacher preparation. Repeatedly in my interviews with school administrators, faculty, and education officials, respondents referred to this as a process of "groping" (mosuo ), conveying a sense of exploration, trying to find something out, trying to accomplish something. In the Western literature we might prefer the phrase "muddling through" (Lindblom 1959).[11]


The practice of management-by-groping results in an unevenness of policy activity. For example, during the 1980s bureaucratic and structural changes internal to the system of teacher education and its institutions occurred in a rather swift and uniform way; throughout the country, educators were promoted as leaders in teacher-education institutions, new institutions were established, and the system became more coordinated.[12] Yet other responses to policy discussion—especially regarding curriculum, admissions, and job allocation—were more idiosyncratic, uneven, and even problematic. Curricular change is a particularly illustrative example of three key features of management-by-groping: local interpretation, mutual adaptation, and policy fluidity.

As early as 1978, schools turned to their curricula to experiment practically with how quality could be assured. Formally, the changes appeared to be carefully controlled by the ministry, with the announcement of precise policy formulations about professional preparation in 1978 and 1980 (through MOE-published jiaoxue jihua , or teaching plans for eleven departments in teacher-training colleges, and jiaoxue dagang , or teaching outlines for 140 courses offered at normal colleges.)[13] Yet both the plans and the outlines are "reference" (cankaoxing ) documents, which act as guidelines rather than as regulations. Without enforcing power, the guidelines allow for some measure of autonomy for individual institutions of teacher education.

Schools experimented with curriculum reform, and the plans of most schools deviated in some way from the MOE guidelines. Local experimentation varied, but beginning in 1978 it generally tended first toward expansion of and specialization within the academic curriculum and the reduction of course work in politics and education and time spent in student teaching.

Alteration of the central policy subsequently occurred, demonstrating


the interactive quality and mutual adaptation that are at the core of the groping policy process. In the keynote address to the 1980 National Teacher Education Conference, Gao Yi, as a central-level representative, warned against an overly academic curriculum. This served as a response to the experimentation of local units and represented pressure from the Center (Gao 1980). Reorientation of teacher-education programs followed. According to department chairs interviewed, some departments reduced their elective offerings, and others shifted the course content away from theoretically advanced work to "fundamentals." The political-theory core sequence was strengthened, and a new required course in moral education and an extra year of physical education were added. And the MOE, in refusing the request by some normal colleges to expand to a five-year, academically more extensive B.A. program, like those that Beijing Normal University and East China Normal had established, asserted the limits of acceptable reform.

In sum, then, under the guidelines of these vague policy discussions, this reform policy has had fluidity that allowed it to change over time. Typical of the groping process, the current standards represent an evolutionary compromise between the broad objectives of the central bureaucracy (that is, upgrading teacher standards) and specific experiments of local experience. Policy is recast by those carrying it out, somewhat akin to Manion's "policy remakes" (see chapter 8 in this volume), yet different in that here those involved are relatively weak actors with limited power to revise policy. Groping is characterized by responsiveness, as implementation proceeds alongside the process of continual formulation. This policy process is iterative. Thus, the broad goals and principles for strengthening professional standards have not changed, but the boundaries of acceptability shifted after a certain amount of local experience was collected. Reformulation continues.

Actors in the Process: The Power of Subordinates

At the Center the SEdC has moved to regulate and strengthen standards for teachers by improving teacher education—through the promulgation and revision of curricular guidelines and the establishment of an elaborate network of in-service and preservice teacher-education programs—and by introducing a system of professional examinations and certificates.[14] Yet, we need to be wary of attributing too much leadership to the


MOE and the SEdC. A review of participants highlights the limits of the Center and the resultant power of subordinates within the education bureaucracy.

The MOE and the SEdC are constrained horizontally in ways that weaken their efforts: the upgrading of teacher education depends first on attracting students of higher quality, something the MOE could not do on its own. Vertically constrained as well, the Center is limited in the extent to which it can direct and supervise activity. In the early 1980s, for example, the MOE's Teacher Education Bureau had a staff of only six. Shorthanded, it was only able to convene meetings with representatives from normal colleges to "exchange experience" and hold up for emulation the exemplary activities of individual programs. Its staff made occasional school inspections, but regular systematic review of all programs was impossible.[15]

The result is a kind of autonomy that is rationalized as education intelligence: responding to local needs, encouraging grass-roots initiatives, and so on. While the references in the Education Decision to reforms in higher education grant official legitimacy to this, my 1982–84 interviews at eighteen higher-education institutions indicate that this constrained autonomy predated the Decision.

The autonomy outlined above lends strength to the influence and power of lower-level units. Subordinates have participated in the policy process in four main ways: experimenting, interpreting, and undermining policy, as well as reshaping policy conceptualization.


Local and provincial education authorities exert their power to shape policy by initiating experiments that later are disseminated provincially and nationally. In 1984, for example, a provincial official told me about one province's reforms in job assignment, which included movement toward more contractual arrangements in hiring recent graduates in teacher education. Because the reform was described as an "experiment," it did not require MOE approval.

This situation—played out in provincial, municipal, and institutional practices—illustrates the significance of local experimentation. Many times local and provincial officials and school administrators talked


about reforms they had initiated "as experiments"—in admissions to teacher education, curriculum, and professional standards. A commonly told story line runs like this: Some change in practice occurs that will serve the interests of local institutions, enterprises, or the local community's educational needs. An agreement is worked out, later noticed and encouraged by provincial or central officials, and finally widely implemented as a new development of the policy.

The process of experimentation, when it is successful, becomes one form of policy formation. The central bureaucracy, in fact, is organized to support that sort of persuasion-through-successful-experience. The teacher education and the teachers' conferences convened by the SEdC serve this function, as do the regularly featured stories of "successful" experiments of schools and local education authorities described by the education press, particularly Renmin Jiaoyu and Zhongguo Jiaoyubao . The value given to experimentation strengthens the negotiating position of local-level units. The recent distribution of rewards for reforms further encourages this.[16] Speaking of the power of grass-roots experimentation, one provincial official explained in 1984, "In recent years the big reforms in teacher-training colleges have come mainly from the teacher-training college itself."


The influence of local institutions is also made possible in part by weak connections within the educational bureaucracy. Loose coupling between the Center and local areas has its parallel within individual institutions and schools. A de facto delegation of authority has important consequences for the power of lower-level actors to interpret and redefine policy.

The Dean of Studies office (jiaowuchu ), the unit responsible for overseeing academic work within the normal college, like the SEdC, conducts only limited regular close inspection of its charges. The jiaowuchu typically has only a few staff members in each of four or five sections. Given personnel shortages and weak or nonexistent hardware for management in most of these schools, these offices, like the SEdC, are kept busy simply reviewing department schedules and plans and doing occasional in-depth sampling. Even during the 1980s reforms they could not afford to do regular lengthy studies of program quality, the impact of standards, or the fate of curriculum programs in use. There is no regular feedback mechanism. As a result, the jiaowuchu must delegate much


supervisory authority to leaders of each academic department. What occurs is the regular delegation of responsibility to lower levels—whether from ministry and provincial bureau to the grass-roots institution or from the institution to its academic departments.

Given this delegated authority, departmental-level interpretation of central-level policy is significant. Personalized decision making enters in. Within institutions there were unclear goals, little sense of how they were to be achieved and of who should make decisions. As a result, who participated in the decision in each department was significant, as the arrival of a "problem" allowed participants to match the problem to their pet solutions. The decisions, therefore, varied from unit to unit.

One example of this personalism and the range in policy interpretation comes from the Center's effort to provide more qualified teachers to rural and remote areas. The dingxiang (fixed destination) program of admissions and job assignment was introduced nationally in 1983 as a means of filling rural teaching positions with rural graduates and thereby avoiding urban students' resistance to rural teaching assignments. Although the program officially commenced in 1983, interviews in 1983–84 with eleven department chairs at one teacher-training college revealed a range of interpretation of the policy and consequently of its implementation. Some department chairs described plans to implement the policy, others assured me that they were not planning to do so, and one leader said that he did not know what the policy was.

Undermining Policy

A third pattern of participation is to undermine or contradict policy. A variant perhaps of Manion's concept of "policy remakes" (see chapter 8 in this volume), this autonomy allows grassroots actors to willfully recast policy according to their interests. This policy process can produce reforms that are inconsistent and at times conflicting.[17]

Reforming professional standards offers a good case of contradictory action. At one institution, one part of the curriculum was undermined by another, as each department interpreted "higher quality teacher educa-


tion" as meaning expanding its own course hours and offerings. In effect, departmental plans that simultaneously called for strengthened preparation in education and more advanced work in the students' major fields produced an increase in specialization at the expense of professional training in education. In the school's 1980 course plan, for example, education courses for all departments constituted only 2.7–5.8 percent of student course hours, in contrast to an earlier 10–20 percent. Struggles within colleges demonstrate ways in which lower-level units deflect decisions in ways they find congenial.

Shaping Conceptualization of Policy

In addition to provincial and university or school actors in the teacher policy process, researchers and consultants play an increasingly important role. Halpern (see chapter 5 in this volume) describes the growing role of research centers and experts as one of "competitive persuasion." In education the influence of researchers and consultants is evident in their ability to shape the conceptualization of policy.

The SEdC conducts its own research within each of the various bureaus and departments and assigns responsibility for policy research to its Office of policy Study and its Educational Development and Research Policy Center. The Policy Center researchers, as described by one educator, write for "leaders" in ways contrasted with the "more open" ability to "expose problems," which the many recently established research centers possess.

The contribution coming from these research institutes and consultants outside the SEdC grew in the late 1980s. The SEdC frequently called on researchers based at university research institutes to serve as consultants on teacher policy. At one university, for example, the SEdC asked one research group to prepare a paper on the academic specializations appropriate to teacher education, another to investigate the qualifications of all teacher educators involved in teacher-training institutes, and a third to analyze teacher standards in other countries. While noting that it is still "authority-driven policy," not "research-based policy," that is developed, researchers claim that the role of research in the policy process has increased since 1978. They find themselves called on more often for a wider range of tasks.

There seemed to be a common formal interpretation of the policy process: the administrative and political center raises an issue, the SEdC responds, and researchers get consulted. Still, this passive or reactive version of the consultant's role does not entirely coincide with the evidence of frequent and informal interaction between key researchers and SEdC officials. In 1987 several different researchers mentioned being


consulted by phone by newly appointed SEdC vice-ministers,[18] called by an SEdC official to spend a morning talking about teacher education and this researcher's own research, and appointed on short notice to a small SEdC task force to evaluate the success of the reform efforts.

These phone calls, conversations, and last-minute committee assignments all suggest a rather close, informal, and personal network of scholars and officials, one that has grown stronger and perhaps tighter in recent years. Implicit in these anecdotes is the sense that the knowledge of and familiarity with academics is not insignificant in SEdC work. The expansion of the consulting role appears closely related to status—institutional status, personal connections, and status accrued from time overseas. (In teacher policy, researchers from Beijing Normal University and East China Normal appear to be most frequently consulted by SEdC officials.) As these ties grow, researchers also stand to influence policy—particularly the conceptualization of policy issues. As Kingdon found for the United States, these consultants are more likely to affect "alternatives" than national agendas (1984, 58).

Multiple Coping Strategies

The groping process of teacher policy described above rests on the interaction of several levels of actors. Each influences policy, although each is also constrained in its ability to form and carry out policies regarding standards for teachers. Acting with few material resources and both organizational and political constraints, education bureaucrats have pressed for their interests by relying on a range of coping strategies.

Many of the constraints on the education bureaucracy can be explained in organizational terms. In the absence of sufficient personnel and regular feedback mechanisms, weak articulation of central and local levels within the education system reduced the Center's ability to inspect performance at the grass roots. But local-level actors were also constrained, given their reliance on approval by the Center, which sets boundaries for acceptable action. All levels within the system are further constrained because the resources available to education are limited, with a budget representing 11.17 percent of government outlays (Yuan 1988, 24).

External factors also impose significant constraints on bureaucratic options within the educational system. The political, social, and economic climate for schools discourages talented people from entering and staying in teaching, and this situation profoundly limits the ability of the


SEdC to make standards for teachers (Paine 1986). A popular phrase sums up the problems about teachers: "You can't get them, can't use them, and can't keep them" (jinbulai, yongbushang, liubuzhu ) (Gu 1983a). Teacher-training colleges, despite reforms, are unable to recruit top students.[19] Assuring that well-qualified graduates of teacher-preparation programs end up teaching in elementary and secondary schools has likewise proven a formidable task. Despite heightened attention to the issue, there remain many ways in which universities and their students can conspire to escape high school assignments, especially as nonteaching units hire normal-college graduates. The central education bureaucracy's inability to determine and enforce hiring policies (that is, which units employ graduates of teacher-education programs) and the reward structure for teachers simply compounds the difficulties.[20]

Limited as they may be in resources and by the context in which they work, education bureaucrats use a range of strategies to achieve their policy aims. Three of the most common are linking to other agendas, piggybacking other education reforms, and spreading success stories.

Linking To Other Agendas

Kingdon (1984) argues that changes in the "political stream" and, more important, agendas are significant. Changes in China's national agenda gave force to the reforming of teacher standards. Education actors were keen to link their interests with those of national reform. It is noteworthy, for example, that in an authoritative book on major policy documents of the educational reforms, the 1984 Economic Reform Decision and the 1985 Science and Technology System Reform were included (Jiaoyu gaige 1986). The reform of education is regularly and symbolically connected to other broader changes. Teacher-education respondents frequently related the bureaucratic reforms within their system to changes in economic enterprises or the agricultural responsibility system. For administrators at the grass-roots level there was a keen awareness that the bureaucratic changes associated with reforming teacher standards were part of a


larger national agenda. For them, this connection gave persuasive power.

Thus, many of the changes at the local educational institution intended to raise the quality of teachers corresponded with the restructuring of political economic patterns nationally. As part of the process of policy change in teacher standards, for example, autonomy in some areas of educational work increased: using the rhetoric of decentralization, some provinces were able to vary from the national plan to institute early-admissions policies in teacher education that were to increase their chances of attracting strong candidates into teaching. This phenomenon of increased autonomy was justified by the renewed emphasis on expertise and decentralization elsewhere in the system.

Using Momentum of Other Educational Reforms

If grand national changes in the political economy's landscape justify changes in education policy, even more forceful pressure for reform in teacher standards came from other educational reforms. Advocates for higher standards for teachers were able to use the 1985 Education Conference and subsequent Education Decision to increase the pace and specificity of their reforms far beyond what had occurred during the broad discussions in 1978–85. In December 1985 attention focused on teacher examinations, preservice and in-service teacher education, and restrictions on teacher mobility ("Yao zhuajin" 1986, 2–3). Soon after, in March 1986, the SEdC made specific recommendations regarding curriculum, admissions, and job assignments—areas that had previously experienced experimentation but no clear SEdC mandate.[21] Similarly, policy for teacher standards gained momentum with the April 1986 Compulsory Education Law's discussion of teacher testing and certification; this has encouraged a subsequent increase in both the level of attention and the degree of specificity of policy regarding teacher standards, with the SEdC and provinces moving ahead in developing and administering tests of teacher knowledge.[22]

Closet Reforms and the Spreading of Success Stories

The groping and incremental quality to the policy change and the constraints felt by individuals at all levels encouraged official conservatism and unofficial experimentation. In the early unfocused stages of reform, the tendency to interpret policy literally and the vulnerability of educational institutions


generally encouraged a wait-and-see attitude. Many university officials whom I interviewed expressed this by saying that local reforms depend on reforms elsewhere; they did not feel that their school could go alone in its reform. (It is also clear, however, that higher-status organizations and individuals acted more boldly in interpreting reforms on their own.)

Despite this general conservatism, however, I observed a striking creativity among subordinates as departments or faculty conducted what I call "closet reforms." These reforms often represented significant changes from previous practices, yet their creators seemed to avoid publicizing them until informal support was gathered horizontally (at other institutions) or vertically (in the MOE, the SEdC, or the provincial BOE). An example would be one normal college's early revision of admissions practices before the dingxiang policy was created. The university, faced with graduates unwilling to teach at the secondary level, began to take proportionally more students from the countryside because they had, in the words of one administrator, fewer "conditions" and were more compliant. Within the space of one year the rural share of the entering class jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent. Soon after, the dingxiang program was introduced nationally. The experimentation observed at the local level was generalized as a popular coping strategy for the education sector as a whole.

In sum, the case study of teacher-standards policy represents many common qualities of the educational policy process. This groping process was shown to be interactive and slow and to involve many levels of the educational system. The SEdC, the BOE, institutions, and researchers all have some influence, but each is limited and is therefore forced to rely on multiple strategies for achieving their policy goals. The strategies vary with the unit's location in the structure of the education system's hierarchy, yet generally three kinds of strategies stand out: linking to changes in the political stream, riding the coattails of other educational reforms, or disseminating successful experiments.

Case Study II: Improving The Lot Of Teachers

Teacher-standards policy illustrates many important aspects of the education bureaucracy's behavior and authority structure. A second case involves policy related to improving the living and work conditions of teachers. It offers us a second vantage point on educational policy by illustrating horizontal connections, rather than vertical links. This case represents a distributive decision, as opposed to the regulatory quality of teacher standards.

Despite these differences, these two cases share many qualities. Each has evolved slowly, outside recurrent rhythms of yearly work confer-


ences or the patterns of annual budgets. They involve the Center and localities groping for and experimenting with solutions to complex and pressing problems. Each demonstrates the surprising power of lower-level actors, as well as the need to try multiple avenues toward the SEdC's goals. Finally, each reveals the severe constraints under which education policy is made. Below I quickly outline the policy problem in the second case and specify the process of response. This chronology reveals an ever-widening circle of involvement and the need for cross-sectoral cooperation, in this case culminating in a 1987 agreement that was intended to produce a 10 percent wage hike for teachers. Nonetheless, the weakness of the education sector is very apparent in this story.

The Problem

Economically, teachers ranked among the lowest-paid professionals in the country during the post-Mao years (Zhishifenzi Wenti Wenxian Xuanbian 1983, 136; ZGJYB, 6 September 1988, 1). Politically and socially, their position—never high—was very low. Professionally, they represented poorly trained and demoralized individuals. The resultant problem of recruitment, noted above, coupled with school expansion, has produced shortages, especially in rural areas, particular subject areas, and vocational and technical education, clearly an impediment to national efforts to transform the once virtually uniform academic secondary school system into a highly differentiated, multitrack system in which a majority of students receive vocational or technical training.[23]

Compounding the problem is teacher attrition. Particularly since 1978, discouraged teachers have left teaching in large numbers. Of special concern is the fact that departing teachers tend to be strong, experienced, middle-aged faculty, known as "backbone teachers" (gugan jiaoshi ). Though aggregate national figures are not available, frequent reports from individual provinces, counties, and districts suggest that the scale of the problem is large.[24] Between 1985 and 1988, 100,000


secondary school teachers a year (or approximately 3–4 percent of that group) have left their jobs (Xiang 1989). Of the remaining teachers, it is estimated that only 37.5 percent are qualified ("Zhongxue xiaozhang" 1988, 17).

The SEdC described this situation as a major obstacle to education reform and diagnoses the problem as having social, political, and economic roots (ZGJYB, 23 August 1988). The prescription has been a series of policy moves aimed at reversing the devaluing of teachers. But, as the narrative below suggests, horizontal or cross-sectoral action has been essential. Only when the SEdC could move the issue onto the agenda of other ministries and the State Council has any substantive progress been made.

Strategies for Improving the Teacher's Lot

Social Work

The common explanations for teachers' problems are social—lack of prestige and respect, as well as repeated instances of violence against teachers.[25] These incidents have received increasing publicity; consequently, one of the SEdC's first targets for change has been the social position of teachers.

Several specific efforts have been made by the central education bureaucracy to change social attitudes toward teachers. The most visible of these has been the institution of a national holiday to honor teachers. Inaugurated on September 9, 1985, with much publicity and elaborate public ceremonies, Teachers' Day honors the teaching profession and individual teachers. The message in the stories, reports, poems, and photographs of the day is clear: teachers play a valued role in society; they are supported by the country's top leaders; and they are appreciated by ordinary people.[26]

Similar themes appear in other socially oriented reforms as well. These range from the "respect teachers, love students" campaign (zunshi aisheng ), to the 1986 Compulsory Education Law's stipulation to prosecute assaults on teachers, to the establishment of a system of honors for exemplary teachers (mofan jiaoshi and teji jiaoshi ) (Cai 1985, 8; Zhongguo jiaoyu nianjian 1949–1981 1984, 200).


Each of these efforts, initiated by the SEdC, has been largely symbolic and used few material resources (although, in the case of teacher awards, the actual recipients do get material benefits). Yet there has clearly been the hope that these symbolic gestures would both placate teachers and remind the general public of the importance of teachers' work. My interviews with teachers suggest, however, that while these symbolic gestures have been somehow comforting to "backbone teachers," they have provided little solace to young teachers and little attraction to people considering teaching (Paine 1987). Teachers interviewed noted both cryptically and cynically that these social reforms were "not hard to carry out."

Political Efforts

A second area of relatively early attention, often discussed in connection with social efforts, centered around political gestures. These have required the cooperation of a wider range of units and individuals, have ultimately required going beyond symbolic action, and have proven more difficult.

The goal has been to confer political legitimacy on teachers. The two major efforts involve (1) the lending of credibility to the teaching profession and its work by state and Party and (2) the acceptance of teachers into the Party. Within the activities of the state bureaucracy there is evidence of success. Teachers interviewed often cited Teachers' Day, the 1985 National Meeting on the Work of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers, and the transformation of the Ministry of Education into the State Education Commission as important state activity.

A more direct yet less successful attempt to improve the political status of teaching is seen in the efforts to recruit teachers to the Chinese Communist Party. This has occurred as part of the Party's active recruitment of intellectuals (Jiaoyu gaige 1986; Zheng Lizhou 1986). Moreover, teachers have been the specific object of recruitment efforts: Party leaders have been urged to go to schools to encourage strong candidates to apply for Party membership. Despite official policy, however, reports indicate that local areas sometimes continue to experience resistance to the political legitimation of teachers. A 1984 study found that 15.7 percent of teachers complained of being denied Party membership after many years of testing, and some schools had stopped recruiting new Party members (He 1985). More recently, inadequate support from the Party was listed as a key concern for 62.5 percent of rural teachers surveyed in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia.[27] The experience of political efforts demonstrates again the SEdC's use of symbolic policy, but the difficulties encountered in implementing nonsymbolic aspects of the policy (such as Party recruitment) illustrate the limits of the SEdC in overseeing compliance.


Economic and Material Reforms

Reforms in this area can be grouped into four major categories: housing, health, family economic security, and income. One notes certain patterns across these: the difficulty the SEdC has had in procuring resources; its tendency therefore to delegate responsibility for these changes to lower levels of authority; and its work to persuade other sectors to take part in these efforts.

Housing shortages in urban China are notorious. Teachers (particularly at the primary and secondary levels) are more vulnerable to this problem than almost any other urban workers, since schools—unlike factories, enterprises, and government offices—typically have not been able to provide dormitory housing for their employees. Researchers in 1985 estimated that nationally 32.3 percent of urban elementary and secondary teachers lacked housing (Li 1985), and in Beijing the principal of a prestigious high school reported that 80 percent of his faculty had housing difficulties ("Zhongxue xiaozhang" 1988). Acute housing problems count as an important reason for the current instability of the teaching force.

Therefore, the central government has encouraged provincial and municipal initiatives to solve the problem. The SEdC has primarily played a facilitating role, with an SEdC vice-minister in 1986 explaining that teachers "need to rely chiefly on local areas" for help (Jiaoyu Tongxun 1986, 16). The SEdC organized national meetings to coordinate discussion of teachers' housing problems and publicize local successes (Zhang Hongju 1985, 5–6). There has followed increased provincial and local activity. In one province, an education official interviewed in 1986 illustrated the changes: during a two-year period (1984–86) there was a fourfold increase in funds set aside for housing, with 24 million yuan allocated in 1986. Jinzhou's range of strategies, held up nationally as exemplary, typified many local solutions. These included directing 2 percent of the annual city and town housing investment to construction of housing for elementary and secondary teachers, returning to the provincial BOE (rather than other departments) the housing of teachers who leave, using income from school factories to buy housing, and, in cases of couples where one person is a teacher and the other not, relying on housing allocated to the nonteaching spouse. Nationally, housing problems had been resolved for some 90,000 families of teachers by 1986, but, according to SEdC vice-minister Peng Peiyuan, this was "still very far from what we need" (Jiaoyu Tongxun June 1986, 7).

Solutions to the housing problems, like those in Jinzhou, have tended to come from local initiatives and cooperation with noneducation sectors. Bargaining by school leaders with other units has been one important means by which housing (and other problems) of teachers has been addressed. In one instance, for example, high school leaders I inter-


viewed explained that they negotiated with a nearby factory to admit a set number of its workers' children in exchange for construction and money. In another case secondary school administrators agreed to exceed their student enrollment quota to admit, for a fee, local students with lower entrance exam scores. Each "high-priced student" brought 2,000 yuan to the school. In both cases a portion of these earnings was allocated to teachers' housing.

These contractual agreements and informal bargains have been applauded by superiors as examples of how the grass roots can cope with scarcity. They represent some increase in decentralized authority and highlight the value of personalized ties, as well as the tendency for bureaucrats to negotiate in ways that support the needs of their institution. The increase in entrepreneurial solutions to educational problems illustrates the need for negotiation with organizations outside of education and the importance of Party policy in legitimating bureaucratic action. Certainly the heavy engagement of school principals in "creating income" as a solution to teachers' problems is only possible through its congruence with the Party's agenda for national reform.

The issue of health insurance and health care for teachers, in contrast to housing, is more a rural teacher problem, but it has been addressed in much the same way. Teachers hired by the state as public teachers (gongban jiaoshi ) have the same benefits as employees in Party organs and cadres in enterprises. But minban teachers, who are hired by rural communities to work in community-run schools, do not automatically have comparable benefits. For these 3.6 million teachers, the situation is bleakest. Moreover, recent increases in the costs of health care are worrisome for the minban teachers, given their lack of guaranteed insurance. The patterns of bureaucratic action are familiar: reforms have been encouraged by the central government, but resources and action are expected to come from local areas.[28]

A third problem for teachers involves family economic security. Teachers, unlike their colleagues in factories and enterprises, have few ways to assure their children of a secure and desirable job. Though the problem is of concern to the SEdC, the commission serves chiefly as an information clearinghouse, spreading "success stories" to help local areas learn how other areas have addressed the problem. An SEdC report claimed that cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Personnel was needed for more direct action (Jiaoyu Tongxun, 10 June 1986).

Finally, and most significant for this discussion, are reforms in wages and bonuses. This issue has been at the heart of discussion concerning


the treatment of teachers. Unlike many other areas, this issue could not be handled with symbolic gestures, the delegation of authority, or the spread of success stories. SEdC efforts alone were insufficient. For wages and bonuses, cooperation with other sectors has been essential.

There has been clear state action in recent years. For most elementary and secondary school teachers, there have been three wage increases in the ten years between 1977 and 1987: in 1977, in 1978, in 1980 or 1981.[29] The 1985 wage-system reform also resulted in higher wages. That reform replaced the previous system, based solely on rank, with a wage structure reflecting the sum of a basic wage, a wage for the years of employment, and a "teacher's years of service" wage, or jiaoling, which is money included only in salaries of teachers, computed on the basis of years of service in education.[30] This reform favors job stability for teachers and, in the formal wage structure, rewards teachers over and above other urban or industrial workers. Finally, as in the industrial sector, there has been room for bonuses within schools. While the presence, size, and allocation methods vary greatly by school, my interviews suggest that, in all cases, bonuses are a smaller percentage of the total income for teachers than for industrial workers.

These wage increases, the restructuring, and bonuses represent attempts by the central government to prompt provincial and local governments and schools to improve pay. Nonetheless, the ability of the central education bureaucracy to effect economic improvement for teachers has been very limited, being constrained by the entire national economy. Wage changes for teachers have not kept pace with improvements experienced by workers and, especially in the late 1980s, with inflation. My interviews reveal that teachers were frustrated as their recent wage increases, although ostensibly aimed at redressing inequities, were followed almost immediately by comparable and even greater increases in the wages for workers and others. The official teachers' union journal took a critical stance in assessing the problem: "Generally speaking, the economic and social situation of teachers has continued to rise. ... But it is still not enough. ... In recent years when teachers had their salaries


raised a level, soon after other fields would also raise theirs a level, and the disparity in incomes which had just been reduced was once again created" (Zhu 1985, 20).

In addition, as a Ministry of Education official explained in 1984, "with expanded enterprise autonomy and workers in enterprises having increased bonuses ... secondary and elementary teachers' salaries have dropped in comparison" (Zhang Wensong 1985, 3). Bonuses in 1986, for example, accounted for 13.4 percent of the total wages of staff and workers in state-owned units, but a 1988 study shows that bonuses contributed only 3.4 percent and 3.2 percent to the average secondary and elementary teacher's income (State Statistical Bureau 1987, 101; Wang 1988). Opportunities for augmenting wages with outside income, one feature of the 1980s reforms, have been quite limited for teachers, with Beijing teachers ranking lowest of twelve occupational groups for outside income generated (Xiang 1989, 15). Workers' income is thus often three times that of teachers (Wei 1985).

The wage changes have also failed to keep pace with inflation. Inflation in the mid and late 1980s cut sharply into increases in allocations to education. One Beijing principal, for example, showed that the 7.3 percent increase in budget allocations to Beijing education and the 7.8 percent increase to Beijing's Xicheng district fell below the official Beijing inflation rate of 8.7 percent, a rate he and others saw as an underestimate ("Zhongxue xiaozhang" 1988, 14). In 1987 the nation's teachers received only a 5.8 percent increase in wages, whereas the industrial workers received 10.8 percent. Teaching's position relative to other occupations remains weak, and inflation contributes to the increasing disparity (ZGJYB, 6 September 1985). "With price increases in recent years the real standard of living of teachers has not only not risen but actually declined" (Yuan 1988, 25). Thus, whatever headway had been made in teachers' living conditions tended to evaporate with the combined impact of inflation and the relative increases in the actual income (wages, bonuses, and outside earnings) of workers in other sectors. A 1987 report found the average income of teachers ranking eleventh out of twelve occupations (Yuan 1988, 25).

It was not until late in 1987 that the SEdC was able to work out an agreement with other ministries that would allow a teacher-specific wage hike, this time for 10 percent across the board for teachers. The story of that wage hike, the most significant act in the ten-year history of the government's efforts to improve teachers' lives, indicates the high level of dependence of the SEdC on the cooperation of other sectors. Through long years of persuasion, the SEdC was able to achieve its objective, which, ironically, was announced in the name of another ministry (the Ministry of Labor). As one SEdC official explained, it was the


SEdC that called for the wage hike, but it did not have the power to do this on its own. Rather, they had to approach the Ministries of Finance and Labor, who agreed. Together they wrote the proposal for submission to the State Council. This project took about half a year's work, "since people agreed" on it.[31] The problem was not agreement about need, but resources—could the Finance Ministry get the money?

Several conditions appear to have contributed to the SEdC's apparent speed in bringing about the agreement on 10 percent wage increase. Together they created a "policy window" of opportunity that allowed the SEdC to get agreement on the salary raise (Kingdon 1984). First, as an SEdC official I interviewed implied, the Finance Ministry had to be convinced that there were sufficient resources. Second, social campaigns and partially successful political reforms had done little to solve the problem of teachers' conditions. The inadequacy of these symbolic actions made clearer teachers' demands. Further, it is likely that the persistence of frustration among teachers about wages, the increasing sense of relative deprivation, and the subsequent attrition problem all contributed to the sense that this raise was necessary. The passing of the "Education Decision" and the Compulsory Education Law (with its scheduled deadlines) added legitimacy, specificity, and pressure to the need to raise teachers' salaries. Finally, that the education reforms (and, indirectly, much of the modernization drive) hinge on getting and keeping good teachers at their jobs gave urgency to the policy. There was a policy fit with the national mood and agenda.

The change in wage-increase policy is significant for what it tells us of the SEdC's need to seek alliances and to persuade other ministries, particularly those with resources. Like the teacher-standards issue, policy regarding teachers' conditions shows the value of piggybacking on other important reforms and being perceived as pivotal to their success. But the policy change is also important for what it may suggest about the ability of constituents to plead their case or apply pressure from the grass roots—even if through negative action.


Finally, the story of the teachers' wage increase may tell us more of the education bureaucracy's failures and limitations than it does of its success—the wage increase may simply be one more symbolic gesture. Announced in 1987, the distribution of the increase by late 1988 was still being hammered out in provincial and county-level debates (ZGJYB , 6 September 1988). Moreover, basing the increase on a percentage of an already low wage is little solace too late for most teachers. Given inflation rates of that year (the year of China's steepest price increases since 1949, with food costs in large cities rising 20–30 percent) the 1987 raise represents an actual decline in standard of living (He 1987). And with provincial-level delays in the increase being distributed to teachers, the actual value of the increase has declined further.

Summary And New Directions For Education Policy

The process of educational policy moves in a constrained, iterative fashion. It is an interactive process vertically and one that requires intersectoral cooperation. For the education bureaucracy, symbolic action is clearly the easiest to provide. For many other issues, a piecemeal incrementalist approach that delegates much responsibility to local levels must do. The management of teachers' housing problems and the establishment of teacher-preparation curricula are examples of this. In the most important cases, however, these strategies have proven insufficient. To raise teachers' salaries, as we saw, the SEdC had to wait for the right moment in terms of fiscal resources and national agendas. At that point, with an open policy window, the symbolism, public concern, and submerged professional protests worked together to thrust forward the issue of teachers' wages. Even with this, only partial success was possible.

Consensus building, negotiation, and persuasion are central features of much of the education policy process, yet they take different forms, depending on whether bureaucratic interaction occurs within the education system or across sectors. The vertical connections within the system are such that teacher policy is negotiated and defined through a process of local-Center interaction and mutual adaptation. Connections to national agendas or other education reforms speed the process of policy implementation locally. At the same time, local experimentation, interpretation, and contradictions eventually shape the SEdC's view of appropriate practice.

If the loose coupling within the education bureaucracy gives a distinctive cast and pace to educational change, cross-sector negotiation represents horizontal connections and characterizes the formation of major education policies. Because it is not a productive, income-generating ministry, the SEdC has to turn elsewhere for resources. In general, the


education bureaucracy has little to bring to the negotiating table. It must forge alliances with more powerful actors. The case of teacher salaries suggests that there are some forms of persuasion available to education, though they are slow to be expressed. While the education bureaucracy had little clout with which to influence other ministries, unorganized but persistent signs of a grass-roots boycott (through teacher attrition and the withholding of their labor) may have lent persuasive pressure to the discussion of teachers' wages.

The teacher policy case suggests several ways that the education bureaucracy copes. In the past, this bureaucracy has relied heavily on symbolic action. This is dangerous, inasmuch as people will only accept symbols for a finite period. One new strategy, however, focuses on education itself as a valuable commodity. In today's negotiations the resource that education can call on is the service it provides. In the late 1980s the Party's emphasis on scientific and technological development added to education's prestige, and changes in the bureaucracy and society began to create a credential market with tighter links between education and the labor market. As a result, at the level of the individual consumer (the student or parent), education has come to be seen as a form of investment in human capital. For the present, education, though still a weak bureaucratic actor, is enjoying a favorable moment.

An important consequence of education's new exchange value is the recent trend of the educational bureaucracy and its institutions to highlight and rely on economic activity. It is likely that current patterns we observe today will continue in ways that strengthen ties between educational institutions and enterprises.[32] With little inherent financial clout or productive capacity, the education bureaucracy can now gain some internal leverage through lucrative arrangements with factories and enterprises. For educational institutions this has become a significant way to augment state support and offers one avenue for local solutions to policy problems (like teachers' welfare). Education institutions such as schools or local (or provincial) education authorities can bargain with other (noneducation) units for exchanges that benefit their own constituencies and organizational interests; training can be offered in exchange for fees, goods, or services. Within the education system the resources that these cross-sector negotiations make possible alter the landscape in varied ways and reshape the traditional divisions of power. Already it is clear that some local units benefit from these bargaining possibilities more than others (since they are able to strike bargains their counterparts cannot), and some local units therefore now can be less reliant on or more persuasive with superordi-


nate bureaucratic organizations than they had been previously. The basic entrepreneurial principles underlying these new strategies in cross-sector work have been endorsed by the SEdC (ZGJYB , 4 August 1987, 1). At the same time, education institutions have been warned against becoming an "economic center" (jingji zhongxin ) by chasing after funds.[33]

It is this tension between looking for sources of power and staying within acceptable boundaries that characterizes much of the education bureaucracy's behavior. Anthony Downs talks about the crucial influence of the "power setting" (1967, 44). The case of education reveals the powerful role of the Party in delineating the boundaries of the acceptable. Education's relative position is greatly influenced by the Party agenda. The SEdC does not have autonomy in setting the direction of education policy but reflects instead broad goals outlined by the Party. In the late 1980s the education sector had greater autonomy, allowed for wider experimentation, relied more on expertise, and encouraged greater fiscal independence than previously. Yet these developments were only made possible by Party-approved policies. While the case studies demonstrate an interactive process of policy change, the education bureaucracy remains a vulnerable actor in a complex political landscape. Given the power of the framework surrounding the policy process, education therefore remains weak in ways that force it, both horizontally and vertically, to be responsive, flexible, and active in forging compromises.


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