Oecd survey: where students are left behind

A significant number of OECD governments are failing to assist schools to counter the impact of socio-economic disadvantage and to ensure that “no student is left behind.” Policies, primarily focused on improving the quality of teaching and learning have not been sufficiently designed to achieve equity. Commitments to social justice and equity as pre-conditions for maintaining social cohesion, as made at the meeting of OECD Education Ministers in Dublin in 2004, have not been followed by action. That is a key message to be drawn from PISA 2006, the comprehensive and rigorous international assessment of student performance, conducted by the OECD. (Tuac news)

Few education systems have successfully provided equitable learning opportunities

According to PISA 2006, “home background, measured on an index summarising each student’s economic, social and cultural status, remains one of the most powerful factors influencing performance.” In 16 out of 30 OECD countries the performance of students in science was related to an above-average impact of socio-economic background. The countries, where socio-economic background of students explained the largest portion of performance variation were Luxembourg, Hungary and France. Moreover, the performance of students in New Zealand, the Czech Republic, the United States, the UK, Belgium and Germany was found to be largely determined by their socio-economic background. In these countries, policies targeted at those with a low socio-economic background would be helpful in raising standards. The same applies to policies delaying or reducing the separation of students early in secondary education. Spain and Poland were found to provide relevant cases in this respect. By contrast, in countries with early differentiation of students’ socio-economic disparities this was found to have a much stronger and more negative impact upon learning outcomes.

Only in a small number of countries such as Finland, Canada and Japan did an above average student performance coincide with a below average impact of the socio-economic background. These countries demonstrate that there need not be a trade-off between quality of education and equity. These examples show that appropriate education policies and schools to a large extent can mitigate the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on student performance.

Private education does not generate systematic and outstanding benefits

Accountability, choice and competition in education are issues ranking high on the political agenda of governments and international organizations. Policies aiming at the alleged improvement of student achievement, the reform of institutional structures of school systems in favour of choice and competition are increasingly being promoted in a number of countries. However, the current policy focus on expansion of parental choice and school competition is not supported by evidence from PISA 2006. At a first glance it seems that, as PISA 2006 says, “across the countries with a significant share of private enrolment, students in private schools outperformed students in public schools” in 21 out of 57 countries. However, the picture changes “when the socio-economic background was taken into account. On average, across OECD countries, it was found that “public schools (…) had an advantage of 12 score points over private schools.”

The findings of PISA 2006 do not support the view that private schools are superior to public schools and that they are a panacea to improve learning outcomes. On the contrary, the findings suggest that school competition brings with it increased social polarization and inequality in learning opportunities. Moreover, it must also be noted that school autonomy does not work in line with the expectations of policy makers. The findings don’t confirm that students in schools that exercise greater autonomy do on average get better results.

links: Tuac


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