Understanding equity in education: New article

Press Release by MCERA on 14 July 2021

The World Bank,  the OECD and the United Nations recently recognised educational inequity as a growing global challenge. But what does educational equity look like and how is it achieved?

“All children have a right to high quality education. This basic principle is stated in international agreements and national education laws. UN’s Sustainable Development Goals expect that the member states “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In many countries, including in Australia, this goal has become harder to reach.

“Refocusing education policies and leadership on equity, as has happened in Australia and in many other OECD countries, will have little real impact on education systems performance unless policymakers have much better common understanding of what equity in education means and why it is an important part of leading successful education systems,” Professor Sahlberg said.

Sahlberg and Cobbold propose that equity in education comprise both an individual and a social group aspect. 

All children should receive at least a minimum standard of education that enables them to make their own way in adult society while children from different social groups should achieve similar education outcomes. “Our aim is to give an operational definition of equity in education. This is necessary to better guide the development of education policymaking, especially as it relates to equity and its implementation by school leaders and achieving consistent approaches to improving equity in education.”

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Defining Equity in Education

A paper by Pasi Sahlberg and Trevor Cobbold is published in the academic journal School Leadership and Management. The paper reviews approaches to defining equity in education and proposes a unique dual objective comprising an adequate education for all students and similar outcomes for students from different social groups.

Abstract

Equity has become a central principle in educational policy and leadership around the world. However, there is a wide range of interpretations of equity and what it means in education. In this article we explore different definitions of educational equity from policy and leadership perspectives. Our aim is to give an operational definition of equity in education to overcome vague interpretations and better guide the development of educational leadership for more consistent approaches to improving equity in education. We argue that equity in education should refer to equity of educational outcomes and incorporate both an individual and a social group aspect. We then claim that equality of outcomes is more relevant to comparisons between social groups than individuals, and we call that social equity. In current literature one or the other aspect has been adopted as an equity objective, but it appears combining the two elements is much less common. This dual objective is unique in the discussion around what equity in education means and how it could guide educational policymaking and leadership.

Public Schools do More than Private Schools with Fewer Resources

The following is a summary of an Education Research Paper published by Save Our Schools. The full paper can be downloaded below.

Public schools have to do much more than private schools with far fewer resources. New figures show that public schools continue to bear the large burden of education disadvantage. Enrolments of disadvantaged students in public schools are over double that in private schools but public schools have far less income. The burden of disadvantage of public schools is three times that of private schools when their lower income is considered.

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Education Resource Gaps in Australia Remain Amongst the Largest in the World

The following is a summary of a new Education Research Brief published by Save Our Schools. It can be downloaded below.

Disadvantaged students in Australia are being denied equal opportunities to learn because they face far more shortages of teachers and material resources than advantaged students. The gaps in access to education resources between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in Australia, between rural and city schools and between public and private schools are huge. Not only are they amongst the largest in the OECD but they are also amongst the largest in the world. This is totally unacceptable for a country that regards itself as egalitarian.

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New Review of Evidence That Increased Education Spending Leads to Improved Outcomes

A new paper published by the US Century Foundation reviews studies of two school finance reforms in the US that proved effective at improving student outcomes, especially in low-income and previously lower-spending schools. The two reforms reviewed are new school funding formulae introduced in Massachusetts in 1993 and in California in 2013. Both reforms were based on the principle that school districts serving higher need children require not the same, but more resources per student.

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New Study Shows that the Social Composition of Schools Strongly Influences School Results

There is extensive research evidence of the impact of family background on student results. Many studies from the United States, the United Kingdom, the OECD and Australia also show a school socio-economic composition (SEC) effect whereby students attending schools with a high concentration of students from poor families tend to have lower results than students from similar backgrounds attending schools with higher proportions of students from well-off backgrounds.

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US Court Rules a Fundamental Right to Education

In a ground-breaking decision last week, the US Court of Appeals ruled that the US Constitution “provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education” for all students and that the “Supreme Court has recognized that basic literacy is foundational to our political process and society”. The decision makes it clear that public education has a critical role in providing the right to a basic education.

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Private Schools Continue to Have a Massive Resource Advantage Over Public Schools

Data from the OECD’s Programme for International Assessments (PISA) in 2018 confirm everyday impressions of the vast gap in the resources of public and private schools in Australia. They show that private schools have far more, and better quality, teacher and physical resources than public schools. Despite the fact that public schools enrol over 80% of the most disadvantaged students, they are constrained by a lack of education resources.

While class sizes and student-teacher ratios are similar in public and private secondary schools, public schools have far fewer highly qualified teachers, more teacher shortages, more inadequately qualified teachers, more teacher absenteeism and more shortages of assisting staff than private schools. Much higher proportions of students in public schools have their learning hindered by a lack of educational materials, poor quality educational materials, lack of physical infrastructure and poor quality infrastructure than in private schools. There are also significant differences between the resources available to lower fee and higher fee private schools.

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Low SES Schools Have Far Less Resources than High SES Schools

The following is a summary of a new Education Research Paper published by Save Our Schools. The paper can be downloaded below.

New data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 show that Australia allocates more and better quality teacher and physical resources to socio-economically advantaged secondary schools than to disadvantaged schools. The gaps are amongst the largest out of 36 countries in the OECD. The highest performing countries in the OECD generally allocate resources more equitably between low and high SES secondary schools.

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Segregated School Systems Increase Social Inequality in Education

There is extensive research evidence that the social composition of schools is a significant factor in educational inequality. Students from different socio-economic status (SES) families who attend schools with a high concentration of students from high SES families tend to achieve higher test results and higher graduation rates. There are negative consequences for high and low SES students from attending low SES schools.

A new study published in the academic journal Studies in Educational Evaluation has found similar effects on educational inequality from social segregation in school systems. It found that social segregation within European education systems amplifies social disparities in educational achievement. Achievement gaps between low and high SES students tend to be higher in more highly segregated school systems.

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