Statistic of the Month: Equity and Resource Allocation on PISA 2012

By Jennifer Craw

In our previous Statistic of the Month we highlighted the link between students’ socio-economic status and their performance on PISA 2012, pointing out that top-performing education systems tend to have a higher level of resilient students—who perform well on PISA despite disadvantaged socio-economic status—while other countries, like the US, show a stronger link between low socio-economic status and low performance on PISA.  A further look at the PISA data shows that this may be due, in part, to the level of equity in resource allocation between socio-economically disadvantaged schools and advantaged schools within education systems.  In fact, the PISA 2012 data show that equity in resource allocation between advantaged and disadvantaged schools is linked to higher overall performance on PISA.  And again, the top-performing countries tend to do well in this area and the US does poorly.


Source: OECD PISA 2012 Volume IV Chapter 3

The above chart shows the difference between the amount of educational resources—including physical infrastructure, science laboratory equipment, instructional materials (e.g., textbooks), computers for instruction, Internet connectivity, computer software for instruction, and library materials—directed toward advantaged schools and disadvantaged schools for the top-performing education systems on PISA 2012 and the US.  In Singapore, for example, the difference between resources sent to advantaged schools and disadvantaged schools is almost zero.  In Korea slightly more resources are directed toward disadvantaged schools than advantaged schools.  And in Finland, which has an overall level of educational resources below that of the OECD average, more resources go to disadvantaged schools than to advantaged schools.  In the US, on the other hand, advantaged schools are likely to receive far greater resources than disadvantaged schools.  Given that some of these top-performing countries are putting more resources into educating their most at-risk populations than the US, it follows that those systems have much higher levels of resilient students than the US, where more resources are funneled toward advantaged students.

The amount teachers are paid is also linked to student performance on PISA 2012.    According to PISA 2012, “Among countries and economies whose per capita GDP is more than USD$20,000, including most OECD countries, systems that pay teachers more (i.e., higher teachers’ salaries relative to national income) tend to perform better in mathematics” (PISA 2012 Results: Volume IV, pg. 29).  This is demonstrated in the following chart.


                                              Source: OECD PISA 2012 Volume IV Chapter 1

The top-performing education systems are presented as blue dots with the US as a red dot.  Teachers’ salaries are presented as the weighted average for secondary school teachers.  As teachers’ salaries rise, so too does student performance on PISA, as demonstrated by the blue line.  Most of the top-performing countries, all of which out-perform the US, also pay their teachers more.

Despite the fact that overall the US spends much more per student than the top-performing countries on education, the allocation of that spending has a major effect on student outcomes.  Countries that allocate more resources to disadvantaged students and pay teachers more see much higher scores on PISA as a result.