Education Reform, Race, and Politics in Bahia, Brazil

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education reform, racism, exclusion, school management, popular participation

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This article discusses the main findings and conclusions from my field research evaluating education reform in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Data collection was done during two exploratory research trips to Salvador, the state capital, in 2001 and in 2005. The Bahian Education Reform, initiated by the state government in 1999 and funded to a great extent by the World Bank, has achieved some very significant goals, most importantly the expansion of high school education and the broadening of access to primary education in areas where access was far from universal. My research nevertheless points to some sever shortcomings, namely with regard to the situation of Afro-Brazilians. Structural racism provides one of the strongest explanations for this shortcoming. Structural racism in Bahia lowers teachers' and principals' expectations about the potential for academic achievement of poor Afro-Brazilians; structural racism widens the gap between students and principals, contributing to a mutual alienation of this two groups and jeopardizing the creation of strategic alliances and synergies inside schools; and it alienates schools from neighborhoods, impeding meaningful community and parental involvement in school management. Finally, the low recognition that public teachers receive from society as a whole, reflected by low salaries, and a general lack of institutional incentive structures that reward outstanding performance and sanction under-average performance have transformed Bahian public education into a desperado system, where the motivations of teachers and students are systematically grinded and their hopes frustrated.

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Revista Ensaio, v. 16, no. 58, p. 125-147