IAP NEWS UPDATE October 22nd – November 4th 2011 Publication: OECD Education Working Papers Title: An Analysis of Skill Mismatch Using Direct Measures of Skills Author: Richard Desjardins & Kjell Rubenson Website: http://www.oecdilibrary.org/education/ananalysisofskillmismatchusingdirectmeasures ofskills_5kg3nh9h52g5en Survey: ALL
Note: The full paper can be accessed using the website link above.
The focus of this study is on the potential causes of skill mismatch, the extent of skill mismatch, the sociodemographic makeup of skill mismatch, and the consequences of skill mismatch in terms of earnings as well as employer sponsored adult education/training. A distinction is made between skill mismatch and education mismatch. The analysis is based on the 20032007 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALLS) – a dataset similar to the one that is forthcoming from the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) in 2013. These studies contain direct measures of key foundation skills as well as measures of the use of certain generic skills at work which allow for a direct measure of skill mismatch.
The analysis points to the complex ways in which mismatch is generated and the need for an accurate and up to date measure of mismatch, one that reflects the possibilities for skill gain and skill loss over the lifespan, and reflects differences in the quality of qualifications. Two key findings stand out. First, including supply and demand characteristics in an earnings function reveals that labour demand characteristics are more important than labour supply characteristics in explaining earnings differentials. In other words, skills matter for earnings but only if they are required by the job. This has direct implications for understanding better the causes of mismatch on earnings.
Second, the skill content of jobs seems to be an even stronger determinant of participation in employer supported adult education/training than educational attainment or literacy proficiency. The
influence of demand characteristics thus tends to outweigh the influence of supply characteristics when employers make the decision to support adult education/training. Addressing mismatch thus requires a careful consideration of both the demand and supply sides of the labour market, so as to understand better the variety of factors which may have a negative impact on the effectiveness of skill formation, skill maintenance, and also skill use.
Publication: The Huffington Post Title: The Global Search for Education: A Look at a Finnish School Author: C. M. Rubin Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cmrubin/theglobalsearchforedu_17_b_1066527.html If you thought you knew everything about the remarkable transformation of Finland's schools from mediocre to one of the top performing school systems in the world, think again. Native Finn Pasi Sahlberg (educator, researcher, advisor on global education reform, and Director General of CIMO in Helsinki, Finland), who has lived and closely studied this remarkable reformation, tells the full story in his newly released book, Finnish Lessons What can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Sahlberg shows how the Finnish ways of improving schools differ from the global educational reform movement and from the North American educational policies and reform strategies. It's a wakeup call for all countries around the world who aspire to achieve excellence. This week in The Global Search for Education, Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish school Principal Martti Hellström, the enchanting students of the Aurora School in the city of Espoo and I share some Finnish lessons with a unique look inside the 5th grade classroom of a typical Finnish primary school. "The Aurora School," Pasi explains to me, "serves its community by integrating all pupils in normal classes without segregation or selection of pupils based on their characteristics. The school emphasizes leadership and shared responsibility of teaching all children so that their different talents and abilities are respected. This school is noteworthy in that it utilizes in a representative way the local autonomy that the current legislation offers to schools." The answers to my questions below are based on Pasi's conversation with Aurora School Principal Martti Hellstrom: What are the backgrounds of these pupils? What is the diversity (racial and socioeconomic) within the class? Pupils come from the Lippajarvi neighborhood of the city of Espoo. It is a typical suburban district of the city. Some parents have a relatively high level of wealth. However, most children live in an average middle class family. Some live in lower income homes. In this school, about one tenth of the pupils have an immigrant background family. That is less than many other schools in Espoo. Some schools have over a quarter of the children coming from an immigrant background. How long is the school day? The school day starts between 8 and 9am in the morning and finishes between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. The class has 25 lessons a week. Each lesson is 45 minutes long. There are 3 hours and 45
minutes of instruction each day on average. In the Aurora school this class (5th grade) has one four lesson day, one sixlesson day and the other days are five lessons long. Does the school provide a meal service and is it free for any of the students? The school serves a healthy, tasty, warm lunch each day for all pupils. The school meal has been free of charge for all children in Finland since 1943. What percentage of the children read at their grade level or higher? In Finland, we don't categorize children according to their reading skills. In each class we have children with varying abilities and talents. So does this class in the Aurora School. Teaching is adjusted to serve the different abilities in the classroom. What percentage of the children can do math at their grade level or higher? In Finland, we monitor pupils' learning achievement at the national level only using samplebased tests. We don't have data available that would allow us to answer that question. In our city, we know that our pupils, on average, are a little bit above the national average based on these samplebased tests. The Aurora School has been in the sample and the school has performed at a good level in the city of Espoo. How much homework do the children get each night? The role of homework in Finnish schools has continuously become less important. Pupils do their learning assignments mostly during the school day so that they can spend time with their own activities at home. According to our surveys, Finnish pupils in basic education spend less than one hour per day doing homework. Do these children take a standardized test during the school year? Standardized tests are not used in Finland like they are used, say, in the United States. Instead, we follow pupils' progress with schoolmade summative and diagnostic assessments in order to find out which children need more help than others to be successful. How does the teacher assess the student's work each term? Pupils are given two report cards each school year. In grades 1 through 4, the reporting is based on a description of the pupil's strengths and all the areas which need more development. In Grades 5 and 6, progress is assessed using grades of 4 to 10. Assessment is based on teachermade tests or tasks, and socalled continuous performance of pupils. Is the curriculum centralized or teacher driven? Finland has a threetier curriculum system. The framework and broad principles are defined at the central government level. Based on this national framework curriculum, municipalities then design their local policies for curricula. Normally, the concrete curriculum work takes place at the level of schools according to the municipal guidelines. Today, the flexibility at the level of schools is a little less than it used to be in the 1990's. How much music and art (all the art forms) are there in the curriculum?
Fifth grade pupils have 25 lessons a week. Nine lessons of the 25 weekly lessons are arts, music, craft work and sports. Are the teachers happy with the quality of the school's facilities? At the moment, the Aurora School facilities are good based on the average national level. However, Aurora was built in 1957 and its annex in 1982. The school awaits a longpromised renovation. It should begin in 2014. What is the starting salary of a teacher? What is the upper end of the range? A newly appointed teacher receives about 2300 euro a month (or about $40,000 per year before taxes). The tax rate in that salary category is about 2530%. At the upper end of the range, the salary is 3400 euro a month (or about $59,000). This is their basic salary. They can actually earn more than this depending on their additional duties within the school. What qualifications do the teachers have? All teachers have a master's degree from a Finnish University. (Note: Only Finland's best and most committed teachers make it into the profession due to its popularity and the intense competition to become a teacher. Each year, many of the most talented and motivated students submit applications but only about 1 out of every 10 will be accepted into primary schools. The total annual Finnish applicants, in all the five categories of teacher education programs, number about 20,000.) What parental involvement is there in the school? Parents participate in many different ways. Each class has its own PTA. The basis of these PTA's in the Aurora School is the Home and School Association (Koti ja Koulu Yhdistys). The school board of the Aurora School decides on the most important things. Most of the board members are parents of the pupils in Aurora. Some of these parents also voluntarily assist teachers during the school day. This video was made by the pupils of the Aurora School. It's about "Siesta" i.e. the 75 minute recess each day of the week when students can do whatever they want to. Many do music or sports or go to rehearse theater or simply do their "homework."
Publication: TCPalm Title: Sad about world rankings in education? Take a closer look at the numbers Author: Scott Simpson Website: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/nov/01/scottsimpsonsadaboutworldrankingsintake a/
When it comes to education, we Americans are like Yankees fans. A few weeks ago the New York Yankees were knocked out of baseball's playoffs by the Detroit Tigers.
Keep in mind that the Yankees won their division and had the secondhighest winning percentage of the entire league. And yet when the Yankees lost, news agencies reported that a group of fans lit Derek Jeter's jersey on fire outside the stadium. It seems that great is not good enough if you're not the best.
In the last few weeks, statistics have been cited to prove that America is drastically behind other countries when it comes to education. The George W. Bush Institute released a Global Report for America's Schools ranking Indian River County in the 51st percentile in reading and 39th percentile in math. Sarah Longwell wrote a discouraging column regarding the failure of school unions by citing international data that ranks our schools 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. Looking at these numbers alone, it is no wonder that our nation is looking for ways to burn our educational jerseys.
As a math teacher, I find it humorous that the very ones criticizing our abilities in math can't seem to do the math themselves. There's a famous saying among math teachers that goes like this: "Statistics never lie but liars use statistics."
St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent Michael Lannon correctly said, "The whole process is bogus from my professional educational opinion."
Let's separate the bogus statistics and the real numbers. Then you can decide for yourself if America's schools really are failing on international tests.
Let's start with the math scores. Longwell cited scores by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which used the Program for International Student Assessment. Pulling the real scores from their websites, the United States did, indeed, rank 25th out of 34 developed countries. This puts us in the 26th percentile, meaning that the United States is better than only 26 percent of the other countries.
I won't reveal my favorite baseball team (it is not the Yankees), but if my team ranked 25th out of 34 teams and ended the season better than only 26 percent of the rest of the league, I would be disappointed. But the numbers do not compare.
The actual score for the United States was 487. South Korea, the top country, scored 546 points. What the press ignores is that each score is out of 1,000 possible points. The degree of separation between the best (South Korea) and close to the best (United States) is only 6 percent.
Think of is this way. The United States scored a 49 percent on the PISA math test. The winner (South Korea) scored a 55 percent. Are we really that far behind? In reading, the United States scored a 50 percent and South Korea (again the top country) scored a 54 percent. In science, the United States scored a 50 percent compared to Finland at 55 percent. On a 100point scale, the top countries are separated by six or less points.
The rankings included only "developed" countries, which in educational lingo would be described as "gifted." Imagine a math class with all gifted students where the perfect score in the class is a 100 percent and your son scores 6 percentage points behind with a 94 percent. Would you scold the child, teacher, and school? Would you call for drastic changes or simple improvements?
I am not saying that our schools are perfect. Too many of our graduates are lacking the basic knowledge needed to succeed in college or in the workforce. But compared with the rest of the world, we're only a few outs away from the World Series.
Publication: Forbes Title: Steve Jobs: America's Schools Are Dying Author: Bob Evans Website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2011/10/24/stevejobsamericasschoolsaredying/ He was a college dropout and at least a bit of a rabblerouser during his own school days, but Steve Jobs held and expressed passionate opinions on the urgent need to transform America’s declining public school system.
His ideas are of particular importance in the context of this country’s ongoing shortage of students entering the critical STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math. And the irony was certainly not lost on Jobs—a remarkably astute observer of social norms, cultural dynamics, and the behavior of young people—that a country with a ravenous appetite for technology must figure out some way to increase the production of it. So I want to share some of Jobs’ verbatim thoughts on the American publicschool system because one of Jobs’ greatest gifts was his ability to torpedo stuffy and stodgy industries and business models: for example, the PC industry, the music business, and the book business. And a quick look at some of his most pungent comments about U.S. schools reveals his unmistakable belief that our publicschool system is broken, that the customer has been forgotten, and that radical new approaches and thinking are called for. Here are a few highlights from an interview he gave way back in 1995 as part of a Smithsonian Institution project: ** “And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.” ** “I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for fortyfour hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen.” ** “We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people, the competition that will attract the best people.” ** “I used to think when I was in my twenties that technology was the solution to most of the world’s problems, but unfortunately it just ain’t so.” ** “Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it.” In the three weeks since the death of one of the most creative and disruptive geniuses of our time, we’ve all tried to latch on to bits of enduring wisdom from Steve Jobs, or to seize some sense of what sparked his imagination, what made him look at the world in the way he did, and why he saw so many things long before the rest of us did. He was a passionately individualistic rebel who specialized in overturning big, slow, and inwardly focused organizations: recall his classic “1984” TV ad introducing the Macintosh, in which he depicted the rest of the computer industry (and perhaps the IBM of that time in particular) as dangerously large, stifling, and as unpersonal as you could imagine. So it was that in an extended interview on April 20, 1995, as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Oral and Video Histories, Steve Jobs spoke extensively about his views of America’s public schools, the declining role of the “customer” in that exchange, and the need for bareknuckled competition to ensure that American children get the best possible educational experience this country can provide— regardless of the profoundly unsettling nature of the changes required to bring that about. The relevant portion of the interview falls under the section called The Role of Computers in Education and we’ll pick up as he and interviewer Daniel Morrow are talking about the type of inspiration students can glean from computers, and from people. (“SJ” is Steve Jobs, and “DM” is interviewer Daniel Morrow.)
SJ: You need a person. Especially with computers the way they are now. Computers are very reactive but they’re not proactive; they are not agents, if you will. They are very reactive. What children need is something more proactive. They need a guide. They don’t need an assistant. I think we have all the material in the world to solve this problem; it’s just being deployed in other places. I’ve been a very strong believer in that what we need to do in education is to go to the full voucher system. I know this isn’t what the interview was supposed to be about but it is what I care about a great deal. DM: This question was meant to be at the end and we’re just getting to it now. SJ: One of the things I feel is that, right now, if you ask who are the customers of education, the customers of education are the society at large, the employers who hire people, things like that. But ultimately I think the customers are the parents. Not even the students but the parents. The problem that we have in this country is that the customers went away. The customers stopped paying attention to their schools, for the most part. What happened was that mothers started working and they didn’t have time to spend at PTA meetings and watching their kids’ school. Schools became much more institutionalized and parents spent less and less and less time involved in their kids’ education. What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control, which is what happened in our country, is that the service level almost always goes down. I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care. Let’s go through some economics. The most expensive thing people buy in their lives is a house. The second most expensive thing is a car, usually, and an average car costs approximately twenty thousand dollars. And an average car lasts about eight years. Then you buy another one. Approximately two thousand dollars a year over an eight year period. Well, your child goes to school approximately eight years in K through 8. What does the State of California spent per pupil per year in a public school? About fortyfour hundred dollars. Over twice as much as a car. It turns out that when you go to buy a car you have a lot of information available to you to make a choice and you have a lot of choices. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan. They are advertising to you like crazy. I can’t get through a day without seeing five car ads. And they seem to be able to make these cars efficiently enough that they can afford to take some of my money and advertise to other people. So that everybody knows about all these cars and they keep getting better and better because there’s a lot of competition. DM: There’s a warranty. SJ: And there’s a warranty. That’s right. But in schools people don’t feel that they’re spending their own money. They feel like it’s free, right? No one does any comparison shopping. A matter of fact if you want to put your kid in a private school, you can’t take the fortyfour hundred dollars a year out of the public school and use it, you have to come up with five or six thousand of your own money. I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for fortyfour hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting. I’ve suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school. You could have twentyfive year old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. Alot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years. DM: But deservedly so.
SJ: But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now. The biggest complaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wallow together in either a private school or remnants of a public school system. To me that’s like saying “Well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a ten thousand dollar car.” I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the ten thousand dollar car area. You’ve got all the Japanese playing in it. You’ve got General Motors who spent five million dollars subsidizing Saturn to compete in that market. You’ve got Ford which has just introduced two new cars in that market. You’ve got Chrysler with the Neon. DM: So you’re spending thirtytwo thousand and getting a five hundred dollar car in some cases. SJ: The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need and a lot of competition which forces them to get better and better. I used to think when I was in my twenties that technology was the solution to most of the world’s problems, but unfortunately it just ain’t so…. It is so much more hopeful to think that technology can solve the problems that are more human and more organizational and more political in nature, and it ain’t so. We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people, the competition that will attract the best people. Unfortunately, there are side effects, like pushing out a lot of 46yearold teachers who lost their spirit fifteen years ago and shouldn’t be teaching anymore. I feel very strongly about this. I wish it was as simple as giving it over to the computer. (End of excerpts.) Well, that’s certainly some strong medicine. But we should all bear in mind that it was being prescribed by someone who demonstrated repeatedly that he could spot unhealthy institutions long before the rest of us. Publication: The New York Times Title: In a Standardized Era, a Creative School Is Forced to Be More So Author: Michael Winerip Website: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/31/education/nochildleftbehindcatchesupwithnew hampshireschool.html
Every spring, Linda Rief, who is in her 25th year of teaching English at Oyster River Middle School, has eighth graders do a semesterlong “genre” project. They pick a subject area like mysteries, read masters like Agatha Christie, study the writer’s craftsmanship (“Explain how the author foreshadows doom”), then draft their own.
The school’s science students spend two weeks building an underwater robotic vessel. Social studies classes reenact the Boston Massacre.
They have had time for these things at Oyster River. Students here do so well on state standardized tests — about 85 percent of them rate proficient — that there has been little need for test preparation. Ms. Rief said she did 45 minutes — a year.
“The attitude was, if we did good teaching and we were passionate and energetic, kids would learn and that would be enough,” said Ms. Rief, who is 67.
No more. Last year, the No Child Left Behind law, which calls for 100 percent proficiency by 2014, caught up with Oyster River. Under the law’s mandates for adequate yearly progress toward that goal, the school was one of 326 public schools in New Hampshire — 69 percent of the total — deemed to be failing.
This year, Oyster River got serious about test prep. In September the school announced a new motto, “Fill the Box.” Students have been told that their best chance for a high score on the state English test is to use all the blank space allotted for the essay. “You have to write as much as you can,” says Jay Richard, the principal. “People have studied these things.”
The idea that the largest amount of writing is the best writing has just about killed Ms. Rief. “Complete stupidity. We should be using our professional voices to speak up, but there is a fear in teachers and administrators I’ve never seen before,” said Ms. Rief, who in 2000 was named Middle School Teacher of the Year by the National Council of Teachers of English. “A lot of faith we’ve had in ourselves as professionals has been turned aside by the tests.”
The intent of No Child Left Behind was to provide quality education for poor children, mainly in urban areas, but it has taken over everything. By next spring, 90 percent of New Hampshire schools are expected to be labeled as failing.
That may sound 100 percent ludicrous, but it has transformed the academic culture, even in prosperous towns that have long been immune, like Durham, where the University of New Hampshire is located.
The federal secretary of education, Arne Duncan, is a big fan of using state tests to evaluate practically everything — children, schools, teachers, principals — but he could see that matters had gone too far. This fall, he and President Obama invited states to apply for waivers from the most onerous provisions of the law if they adhered to the administration’s education agenda.
Under the waivers, the 100 percent proficiency standard is to be eliminated, and most oversight would focus on the lowestperforming 15 percent of schools. In the law’s present form, if one subgroup — like specialeducation students — fails to make adequate progress, the whole school fails. Oyster River is a failing school because about a dozen of its 110 specialeducation children did not score high enough. The waiver would give subgroup scores less weight.
New Hampshire officials said they did not know whether they would apply for a waiver, but even if they do, testing will continue to play a large role. Schools will be ranked by their scores (which have a way of turning up in newspapers), and teachers will be evaluated by those scores.
Mr. Richard was a specialeducation teacher himself and has reorganized Oyster River’s program in hopes of raising scores. The school used to mainstream the children all day, with a specialeducation teacher working alongside the classroom teacher. Now the children will be pulled from class at times for more individualized instruction.
Will this be better or just different?
“I believe we can do better,” Mr. Richard said. “We have to. This is the law.”
Ms. Rief described Mr. Richard as “the most positive administrator I’ve ever worked with.”
Even the new focus on test prep here pales compared with what happens in places like New York City and Florida, but the change has been felt in a school system where teachers have long been trusted and given autonomy.
“Suddenly at staff meetings we’re talking about brain games,” Ms. Rief said. “We’re talking about healthy brain food. The week before, we’re not giving homework so everyone gets more sleep and rests their brains.”
There are posters to remind students of the 12 essential test prep words and posters to raise their Score: Strategies, Complete, Organize, Read, Energize. The test is the New England Common Assessment Program, and some fifthgrade boys are now calling themselves the Necap Ninjas.
While Mr. Richard has urged Ms. Rief to do more test preparation, he has not forced her. “I bug her about this,” he said. “But I trust Linda to do what’s best.”
Ms. Rief said she was sticking to the annual 45 minutes.
Mr. Richard says no one in town has asked him why his school is failing. “Of course not,” he said. “People get it.”
They do want to know why, if Oyster River is failing, its eighth graders do so well when they get to high school. This year, Oyster River students averaged 1,670 on the three SAT tests, 111 points above the state average and 170 above the national average.
A failing school must form a committee to develop an improvement plan. Over the summer, Mr. Richard met with 10 of his teachers several times. Among the topics discussed were the little things that add up to a better score. “We realized our students weren’t looking at the titles on the reading passages,” he said. “The title tells you what the story is about; it’s really important.”
They studied past tests. “Several questions were related to the use of textbooks, and we’re a textbookfree school,” he said, explaining that his teachers’ original lessons are superior to the packaged curriculums. “No wonder they had so much trouble.”
While the school improvement committee was meeting, Ms. Rief and two other teachers attended workshops given by Navy engineers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. They learned how to build a robotic underwater vessel and will spend two weeks teaching students to build their own.
Ms. Rief worries that a new generation of teachers has been raised on standardized testing and thinks that is the norm. Ms. Rief fears that public schools where teachers are trusted to make learning fun are on the way out. Ms. Rief understands that packaged curriculums and standardized assessments offer schools an economy of scale that she and her kind cannot compete with.
CountrySpecific Education Articles Publication: Canada: Our Kids Title: Soft Private School Standards? Not According to PISA Tests Author: Paul Bennett Website: http://www.ourkids.net/blog/softprivateschoolstandardsnotaccordingtopisatests16499/
A recent Toronto Star series, produced by investigative reporters Robert Cribb and Jennifer Yang, created a sensation by conveying the strong impression that some privatelyowned Toronto high schools operate as virtual “credit mills” and inflate marks.
The second expose was a gripping undercover story, once again highlighting the problem of some schools operating beyond the irreproachable scrutiny of Ontario’s Ministry of Education inspectorate. Since 2009, the Toronto Star also reported that the Ontario Ministry of Education had received dozens of complaints about “private schools,” including many about Scarborough’s notorious Toronto Collegiate Institute (TCI).
Slackingoff can earn students high marks at the TCI summer school, but so what? Most struggling high school students have known for years that the easiest route to regaining a mathematics or
science high school credit is by attending summer school anywhere. The Toronto Collegiate Institute is, by most accounts, only the most blatant example of the practice, which happens in both public and private schools. For the most part, simply “putting in the hours” gives you a good chance to earn the credit and a touchedup mark.
News stories like the Toronto Star series attempt to blacken the reputation of not only “flybynight” private schools, but also to sully the reputation of Canadian private schools, including some of Canada’s outstanding independent schools. Indeed, someone with only a passing acquaintance with the Canadian private school world, or an ideological axe to grind, might easily be taken in by such claptrap. (Read Barb Bierman’s column in response to the Star‘s credit mills series.)
Students who attend private schools tend to perform “significantly better” on international achievement tests, so stories about the socalled soft standards in some schools should be taken with a grain of salt. A new August 2011 report, commissioned by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), confirms this while painting a more complicated picture, factoring in a socioeconomic analysis of the results. Given the OECD’s mandate, the detailed analysis focused as much on the perceived educational value of private schools as on reporting the actual student performance results.
In the August 2011 study reported in PISA in Focus, private school students at 14 years of age were compared with the much larger public school cohort using results from the 2009 Program of International Standards and Assessment (PISA). Based upon straight results, private school students in 36 OECD countries, including Canada, scored 30 points higher in PISA reading scores, essentially equivalent to threequarters of a year’s worth of formal schooling. The private school performance edge, according to the OECD researchers, was attributable to three key factors: the competitive school environment, greater teacher autonomy in deciding curriculum and allocating resources, and the ability to attract higher performing sociallyadvantaged students.
The OECD study bore deeper into the results for reading performance. Comparing socially advantaged students from public schools with their private school counterparts, the OECD study claimed, effectively narrowed the advantage or removed it entirely in 13 of the 16 countries showing significant differences in raw results. Some threequarters of the 30point advantage disappeared when OECD compared the two socioeconomically advantaged groups of students. The study of PISA reading results compared public and private schools, across the range of countries, in relation to four key criteria: higher (positive) socioculturaleconomic status; disciplinary climate; material resources for instruction; and a shortage in supply of teachers.
The PISA in Focus report provided a valuable picture of the state of private education across the 36 OECD countries. The percentage of students attending private schools was reported, showing a great variation among the countries. Those with the highest percentages were MacaoChina (95 per cent), Hong KongChina (92 per cent) and DubaiUAE (69 per cent) and the lowest were the former Eastern Bloc countries. The United States (7 per cent) and Canada (6 per cent) were well below the OECD average of 15 per cent private school enrolment. It also demonstrated that all private schools are not alike, making a clear distinction between private or independent schools (like those in Dubai and Canada) and private governmentdependent schools (such as most in Macao, Hong Kong, Ireland and Chile).
The OECD study, like many applying socioeconomic status factors, is inclined to explain away the sharp variations in actual results. The report’s contention that public schools with comparable student populations offer the same advantages is problematic because it’s difficult for parents to determine which public schools are better than others. While private schools and socially advantaged public schools do benefit the students attending them, the OECD study claims that private schools, perhaps because of their smaller numbers, do not “raise the level of the school system as a whole.”
The sweeping conclusions reached by the OECD report authors will certainly be challenged by great numbers of students, parents and staff. Why? Because their appraisal will be based upon more than socioeconomic status benchmarked comparative test results, and they are likely far more familiar with the true advantages– for better or worse — of a private school education.