Books at Home Matter

A study of international maths and science test results has found that the highest-scoring countries are those with the least inequality in test scores. It also found that countries perform even better when test scores are highly correlated with the number of books in the family home.

The paper uses test scores on fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics and science from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests in the 1999 and 2007 to examine the magnitude and correlates of country differences in levels and dispersion in test scores. It relates test scores of students to measures of their background characteristics within each country and examines the link between the estimated association of characteristics with the country level and dispersion of test scores.

It found wide cross-country variation in the level and dispersion of test scores, but that countries with higher average scores also have lower inequality in test scores. The same pattern exists in both mathematics and science in fourth and eighth grades.

The paper also analyses the association of gender, immigrant status, and family background factors with test scores in eighth-grade mathematics for the whole sample of students. It found no difference in the results by gender for 2007, advantages from being born in the country and a large positive effect of larger numbers of books in the home and higher parent education.

The largest change between 1999 and 2007 was for females. In 1999, females did significantly worse on the eighth-grade maths test than males; but consistent with other studies that show females catching up with males in mathematical tests, there was no statistically significant gender difference in the 2007 data.

The biggest gain for females occurred in the lower parts of the test-score distribution and it declined less at the upper end of the test-score distribution. This pattern shows that the dispersion of test scores among females in the sample narrowed while the dispersion among males did not, contributing to the drop in the male advantage on the mathematical test scores.

The paper also found large cross-country differences in the relation between the background factors and test scores. In some countries, background contributes greatly to the variation in scores, whereas in others it has modest effects.

For example, it found large cross-country differences in the relation between family background measured by books in the household and students’ performance. In some countries, students with more books at home did a lot better in mathematics tests than students with fewer books in their home. In other countries, the number of books in the home had relatively weak effects on student test scores.

The paper analyses whether countries with smaller or larger background effects have higher/lower average test scores or greater/lesser within-country inequality in scores. It found that countries in which the number of books in the home is strongly related to individual student test scores tend to have higher average test results than countries in which the relationship between is weaker. There is also less dispersion between test scores in countries where books in the home is strongly related to individual student test scores, that is, less inequality in test results.

In contrast, countries where parents with higher education give greater advantages to their children in test scores do only a slightly better than countries where parental background is weakly related to test-score performance and there is little difference in terms of score dispersion.

These results suggest that differences in books at home have a larger impact on inequality in education compared to parents’ education. Since books in the household likely reflect various aspects of non-school educational resources, the results direct attention at policies that seek to increase resources for disadvantaged families that complement formal schooling.

Trevor Cobbold

Richard Freeman; Stephen Machin and Martina Viarengo, Variation in Educational Outcomes and Policies Across Countries and of Schools Within Countries, Working Paper No. 16293, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., August.

Previous Next

Learning from Finland

The latest results from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveal that Finland has once again outperformed Australia and other countries which have resorted to market-based approaches to education. Finland achieved higher average results and much lower differences in results between rich and poor than Australia, England and the United States.

Continue reading “Learning from Finland”

We Have to Put an End to this Funding Farce

It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Australia’s education system is in the hands of the Gonski committee, currently reviewing school funding. It is clear that a fundamental change in government funding priorities is required but it remains to be seen whether the Gonski committee, with its unbalanced representation, is up to the task.

The greatest challenge facing Australia’s education system is to reduce the large achievement gaps between rich and poor. Continue reading “We Have to Put an End to this Funding Farce”

Australia’s School Expenditure is Below OECD Average

A new OECD report on education shows that Australia spends less on school education than most other industrialised countries. Australia ranks 16th in primary school spending out of 22 industrialised countries and 13th out of 23 countries in secondary school expenditure according to the OECD’s latest annual review of international education, Education at a Glance, published last week. Continue reading “Australia’s School Expenditure is Below OECD Average”

Unlocking the Gates of School Segregation

The children’s charity, Bernado’s says that impenetrable “clusters of privilege” are forming around the best state schools in England. In a report released last week, Bernado’s says that privileged children are monopolising the top state schools in England and poorer families are losing out in a complex and unfair system.

Continue reading “Unlocking the Gates of School Segregation”

Abbott’s Education Rebate Will Give a Backdoor Funding Increase to Private Schools

A Liberal/National Party government will provide another boost to private schools with a tax rebate on school fees. It will provide a backdoor funding increase and shift more students to private schools. It will further damage public education in Australia and increase social segregation between the private and government school sectors. Continue reading “Abbott’s Education Rebate Will Give a Backdoor Funding Increase to Private Schools”

Government Schools Lose from Government Funding of Private Schools

A new study says that government schools are the clear “losers” from government funding of private schools over the past four decades. It shows that government funding of private schools in Australia has increased socio-economic segregation between government and private schools and allowed private schools to improve school quality rather than reduce their fees. Continue reading “Government Schools Lose from Government Funding of Private Schools”

NSW Parliament Report Rejects Private School Claims on Funding for Students With Disabilities

A NSW parliamentary committee report has rejected claims by private school organisations that students with disabilities in private schools receive less special funding than students with disabilities in government schools. The report recommends an increase in funding for students with disabilities in NSW government schools but not for private schools.

This is a major blow to private school organisations. They have campaigned long and hard on the myth that students with disabilities in private schools are under-funded compared to those in government schools. Continue reading “NSW Parliament Report Rejects Private School Claims on Funding for Students With Disabilities”