The relationship between socio-economic status and performance is complex.  It has been tackled by education researchers over the years in an attempt to explain why some countries are more able than others to moderate the impact that socio-economic status can have on a student’s school performance. The most recent addition to this body of work is OECD’s Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, which was released this month. The authors of this report investigate the levels of equity (and inequity) in school systems across OECD countries and participating economies, before turning to an analysis of the policies and practices that various governments employ to try to give all students, irrespective of socio-economic status, a good shot at a high-quality education.

In this section of our newsletter, we provide a summary of the key findings of the OECD report.  In our Statistic of the Month section, you can find graphic displays taken from this report and another recent OECD report that neatly summarize some of the most important findings and show how a number of the countries surveyed for the report sort themselves out along the dimensions of interest.  This article should be read in conjunction with those graphics.

Unsurprisingly, the report finds that certain investments in educational equity pay off.  They argue for early government investment in education, and maintaining a strong investment in the system through upper secondary school, with specific, targeted investments in and policies for low-performing schools. The authors recommend elimination of system practices that hinder education, among them grade repetition, early tracking, school-choice schemes that do not actually offer “choice” to all students, and “dead-end” upper secondary programs as opposed to academically demanding vocational tracks in upper secondary school that ensure that all students have a high quality pathway to the job market.  The authors also propose several broadly outlined strategies for improving low-performing schools with a particular emphasis on strong school leadership, highly-qualified teachers and strong links to the community.

The report points to countries that have been unusually successful at minimizing the effects of socio-economic status on school performance. Finland, in particular, and to a somewhat lesser extent Canada, South Korea and Japan, have all been able to help a high proportion of their students from low socio-economic backgrounds achieve at high levels, as measured by the 2009 PISA scores in reading. The OECD average reading score is far lower than it is in any of the countries just listed, while the average percent of variance in reading achievement among students from various social backgrounds is nearly twice as high as it is in Finland. Other countries, like the United States and New Zealand, have higher average PISA scores than the OECD average, but also a higher percent of variance in those scores – showing that those systems are both lower achieving overall and more unequal within their countries.

Other Recent Reports of Note

  • The measurement of educational inequality: achievement and opportunity, The World Bank (publication date: November, 2011). The authors of this working paper examine educational inequality and measurement issues in international standardized assessments like PISA. They use these measurement issues to calculate inequality indices for 57 countries and provide results along with an analysis of whether education inequality correlates with factors like GDP, school spending and student tracking.
  • Student Standardised Testing: Current Practices in OECD Countries and a Literature Review, OECD (publication date: October 11, 2011). This report discusses the most relevant issues concerning student standardised testing in which there are no-stakes for students through a literature review and a review of the trends in standardised testing in OECD countries. It provides an overview of the standardised testing typology in the no-stakes context, including identifying the driving trends behind the gradual increase in standardised testing in OECD countries and the different purposes of standardised tests.
  • Teachers’ and School Heads’ Salaries and Allowances in Europe, 2009/10, Eurydice (publication date: October 4, 2011). This Eurydice data collection and comparative study on teachers’ and school heads’ salaries and allowances covers full-time, fully qualified teachers and school heads at pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education levels for the 2009/10 school year. The cross-country comparative analysis focuses on comparing the decision-making levels that are responsible for setting teachers’ and school heads’ statutory salaries. The minimum and maximum statutory salaries are presented relative to the GDP per capita in each country, with an indication of salary progression and its relation to professional experience. The latest increase/decrease in the purchasing power of personnel employed in education in relation to the impact of the economic crisis since 2008 is also analyzed. Finally, the different types of allowances that teachers may receive are presented as well as the decision-making levels responsible for their allocation and their levels.