More Funding for Low Achieving Students Improves School Outcomes

A new academic study shows that additional funding for low achieving students significantly increases schooling outcomes. It found that a program in the Netherlands that gives more funding to high schools to provide learning support for students who have fallen behind substantially increases the probability that they will pass the exam at the end of secondary school.

The study estimated upper and lower bounds to the effect of additional funding on student outcomes. It found that the increased funding increased the probability of a student passing the exam in the basic vocational education track in Netherlands schools by at least 2.1 percentage points and at most 49.5 percentage points. It increased the probability of passing the exam in the next highest vocational track by at least 5.2 percentage points and at most 15.5 percentage points.

Secondary schooling in the Netherlands consists of three main tracks determined by performance in a nationwide exam at the end of primary school: pre-vocational secondary education, senior general secondary education and pre-university education. Pre-vocational secondary education is the largest track with about 55 per cent of students and is comprised of four sub-tracks.

A policy measure called Learning Support provides additional funding for each student with learning difficulties. Over 90 per cent of these students are enrolled in the two lowest of four pre-vocational education tracks.

The additional funding for students in the Learning Support program is 36 per cent higher than the average funding for a regular student in secondary education. Schools are free to decide how to spend the additional money. It can range from tutoring and homework assistance to providing exercises to improve a student’s studying skills. Many schools choose to form small, separate classes with students receiving Learning Support so that they can receive more individual attention.

The findings show that giving schools more resources without putting specific restrictions on how to spend it has a positive impact on pupil outcomes. It notes that this is an important finding since governments can often not dictate schools how to spend their resources, while they can change the amount of resources given to schools.

The study is published in the Economic Journal. It contributes to three highly debated issues in the economics of education: 1) whether increasing school resources has a positive impact on student achievement, 2) whether it is possible to increase schooling outcomes of students at the lower end of distribution, and 3) whether a high school intervention that affects students in their late childhood can be effective. In each case, there is a positive impact.

In particular, the study adds to a large number of studies that show increased funding for low achieving or disadvantaged students significantly increases their school outcomes. It provides additional support for the full implementation of the Gonski funding plan to provide more funding for disadvantaged students and schools.

Trevor Cobbold

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