Presentation of two main international studies on the equity of education systems.

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Lessons from International Studies on Equity in Education

Ten countries have participated in the OECD thematic study on equity in education - Belgium (Flemish region), Finland, France, Hungary, Norway, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The OECD project of the Directorate of Education called "Equity in Education Thematic Review" aims to draw policy lessons on how to improve equity in education by looking at specific equity challenges countries are facing. These include equity in compulsory education and variability in results across students and schools, early school leaving, different educational pathways and how they might be having an impact on equity, and the integration of migrants and minorities in the education system.

Fifteen countries of the European Union plus Norway and Switzerland participated in the first phase of the European Socrates Studies which generated 29 indicators aiming to measure in a truly comparative approach the equity of the education systems.

Two almost simultaneous international studies on equity in education took place between 2000 and 2007, one at OECD and the second one within the European Union.

The OECD study


OECD developed its own thematic study (from 2003 to 2007) on equity in education without cooperating with the European Union project on Equity of Education systems. The OECD thematic study is not very much comparative. In the OECD project the most attractive part are the country notes prepared by a team of outside experts visiting a volunteering country, spending two weeks observing schools, interviewing policy makers, and talking with researchers. Only five of the OECD countries participating in the OECD thematic studies on equity in education (Finland, Hungary, Norway, Spain and Sweden) opted for a country visit which is a type of qualitative study. Among these five countries there are three Scandinavian countries! [2] The objective of these visits is to assess policy by exploring the perspectives of different stakeholders and observing practice in specific institutional contexts. OECD review teams of experts conduce in-depth examinations of national policies and practices and prepare a country note containing evaluation and policy recommendations.

Theoretical paper

This OECD thematic study on equity in education draws from a paper commissioned for this study to Ben Levin, Ph D, The University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada : "Approaches to Equity in Policy for Lifelong Learning", August 2003 (attached), which provides an in-depth conceptual discussion of equity and policy in education and reviews the outcome of a range of previous OECD work in the field.

The paper is in two main parts. The first provides a conceptual discussion of equity and policy in education, attempting to develop a framework for thinking about the issues and the options that countries have for addressing them. The second part of the paper examines the ways in which the issues have been defined in this work and the kinds of strategies countries are using to address equity concerns. A brief concluding section develops some suggestions for further analysis.

Country Notes

Five of the countries participating in the project (Finland, Hungary, Norway, Spain and Sweden) opted voluntary for a country visit. [3] The visit is done by a team of outside experts. The team spent usually two weeks observing schools, interviewing policy makers, and talking with researchers. The objective of these visits was to assess policy by exploring the perspectives of different stakeholders and observing practice in specific institutional contexts. OECD review teams of experts conducted in-depth examinations of national policies and practices and prepared a country note containing evaluation and policy recommendations. Attached is the Finland country note. This note is included in this article because many people consider that there are lessons to drawn from Finland, considering the spectacular Finnish scores in some international comparative studies like PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 and some other indicators. The rapporteur of the team who visited Finland in 2005 and who wrote the Finland country note is Prof. Norton Grubb. [4]

The Country Analytical Reports have been prepared by National Authorities ,generally the Ministry of Education,or by Institutes connected to National authorities. They represent an official view of the topic. These analytical reports on equity in education describe each country’s context, provide a profile of equity in education, examine causes and explanations, and explore the effectiveness of existing policies and potential policy solutions to problems. They provide provide a rich information, very useful indeed in some cases, but not always particular relevant for grasping equity issues, because they miss a comparative perspective.

Final comparative report

The comparative dimension is developed in the so called final report. The report "No More Failures: Ten Steps to Equity in Education", is not yet available. OECD has published only an executive summary (attached) , draws on analytical reports prepared by authorities in each country, country notes by OECD review teams and other relevant research. It brings together the different policies and strategies adopted across a number of OECD countries to target equity issues, seeks to raise awareness of the problem of inequity and provide a coherent set of policy levers for action. At the same time it is selective, in that it explores a number of particular issues emerging from reviews of the countries concerned in this exercise.

Because much existing OECD work on education bears on equity issues, this report makes use of the results of previous thematic reviews such as those on early childhood education, transition from school to work and adult learning, as well as the results of the various PISA studies. Several figures and exhibits have been already published (PISA data; Education ata Glance indicators) and are well know at least among people following OECD studies.

Final Conference

Following the standard OECD model of work, a final conference has been held to summarizing results, discussing political recommendations and closing the project. This final conference was held in Trondheim, Norway, 4-5 June 2007 on the topic "Fair and Inclusive Education" . This conference brought together policy makers, scholars and senior educational administrators from 22 OECD and non member countries who deal with equity in education issues to share recent research, discuss emerging policy issues, and consider how schools and education systems can respond to these challenges.

The conference discussed the outcomes of the OECD thematic review on equity in education, including the comparative report "No more failures: ten steps to equity in education" and examined a proposed set of policy levers focused on fair and inclusive design, practices and resources in education. Discussions focused on key issues for equity in education, such as early childhood interventions, school choice or secondary education structures, measures to reduce dropout rates, financial or strategic policies countries have adopted or may envisage putting in place to enhance equity in their education systems. Conference participants also debated how to raise policy awareness of equity in education issues and how policies for equity in education can be best supported.

Programme of the Conference, Issues Paper and ten presentations discussed in various session of the conference are available clicking here.

The European Union Study

The European Union and the OECD thematic study on equity in education are unlike in nature, form, aims and methodology. Objectives of the project

The project is an attempt demonstrating that it is feasible to build a set of indicators about the equity of education and to produce this set. The background of this work is a substantial theoretical support based upon several theories of justice – e.g. meritocracy; egalitarianism; libertarianism, communitarianism – and considering their impact on distribution and functioning of education. Some of these theories offer more opportunities for building indicators and collect data; some others are less favourable. The first step has been a selection of theories compatible with the existing statistical data collection system.

Three main approaches have been so far taken in account:

- Walzer’s theory of justice which advocating an independence of educational achievement from wealth or social position of the parents; weak external reward of education; equal mastery of the basic curriculum;
- Sen equality of capabilities advocating that no student should be left without the skills which are necessary to reach the capability to achieve some fonctioning like having “self respect” and “being able to take part in the life of the community”;
- Rawls theory of justice proposing a fair equality of opportunity and arguing in favor of the principle of difference, which requires that education "should be designed so that the expectations associated to the worst social positions should be as good as possible" with a lexical priority to the principle opportunity.

Moreover the project doesn’t aim to assess the equity of the distribution of education, but the contribution of educational systems to this equity. In this sense the team tried to document the sources of the inequalities of education in a given country considering three kinds of inequalities:

- Proportion of people below a minimum threshold of achievement or attainment;
- Inter-individual inequalities which can threaten the social cooperation on an equal footing;
- Inequalities between social, ethnic, gender groups, as a proxy to equality of opportunity.

Saying differently, project’s aim was to provide indicators focussed on the external consequences of education on the situation of the least favoured. Two dimensions have been particularly considered:

- The contribution of education to the growth of the GNP or to the social mobility
- The contribution of the most educated to the expectations and well being of the poorest through social transfers, and other welfare measures.

Aims of the project

The project was intended to measure and compare the equity of the education systems in the European Union Member States. Thanks to it, decision-makers and users will be informed of the equity of the existing systems. This informative tool may help decision-makers to redefine the educational politics.

Method of work

The European Union study has been a research study done by a team coming from six Universities which agreed to cooperate in this project. [5]

The European Group of Research on Equity of the Education Systems (GERESE) has been constituted in 2001 for developing a set of indicators on the equity of education systems and for measuring the equity of education in Europe. The group included six teams, which agreed to join their resources for implementing a project aiming to generate and produce a set of indicators measuring the equity of a set of education systems within European Union. The six teams were the following:

- University of Liège (Belgium), Department of Theoretical and Experimental Education (SPE)
- University of Bourgogne (France), Research Institute on Educational Research (IREDU)
- University of Rome « La Sapienza », Faculty of Sociology, Department on Innovation and Society (DieS)
- University of Cardiff (Wales), School of Social Science
- Universitad a distancia, Madrid ( Spain) , Departamento de Historia de la Educación y Educación Comparada
- Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium), Institute of Economy and Social Research (IRES)

The coordinating team was the Liège team. The project has been founded by a grant of the European Union under the Socrates program 6.12.

A set of indicators of equity of education systems

The following 29 indicators have been identified as relevant for measuring the relative equity of education systems and has been calculated (see "Equity of the European Educational Systems. A Set of Indicators", attached to this article).

A. Context of inequalities in education

1. Individual consequences of education Economic advantages of education Social advantages of education

2. Economic and social inequalities Inequalities in income and poverty Economic security inequalities

3. Cultural resources Level of adults education Cultural resources of 15 year-old students Cultural practices of 15 year-old students

4. Aspirations and perceptions Professional aspirations of 15 year-old students Students’ criteria of fairness Students’ general opinions about fairness

B. Inequalities in the education process

1. Quantity of education received Inequalities in schooling expectancy Inequalities in education spending

2. Quality of education received Perception of support from teachers according to 15 year-old students Perception of the disciplinary climate according to 15 year-old students 3. Segregation 4. Students’ perception of being treated fairly

C. Inequalities in education

1. Skills Skill inequalities at the end of compulsory school Weakness and excellence at school

2. Personal development Social knowledge

3. School carers Inequalities of school carers

D. Social and political effects of inequalities in education

1. Education and social mobility Occupational attainment by educational level Influence of social origin on occupational status

2. Benefits of education for the disadvantaged Contribution by the most educated to the most disadvantaged

3. Collective effects of inequalities Students’ judgements on the equity of the educational system Students’ expectations towards the educational system: 3. Students’ feelings towards justice in the educational system 4. Tolerance / intolerance 5. Sociopolitical participation 6. Trust in institutions


"Equity of the European Educational Systems. A Set of Indicators"(attached) is the result of collaboration between the six University teams.

This publication reports on a work over a period of two years on the issue of the equity of educational systems. It is structured into three main sections:

A first part, entitled “Devising indicators of equity of educational systems: why and how ?”, defines the concepts of equality and equity, and presents the framework of indicators and its guiding principles. The second part, “A set of indicators on the equity of the educational system”, presents the twenty-nine indicators built in the context of this project, and organized according to the framework. The third part, “The equity of European educational systems. An interpretation of the 29 indicators”, presents an analytical interpretation of the equity indicators.

The project continues and has been extended to the 27 Members Countries of the European Union. Other publications followed. The GERESE is now developing a survey on the sense of justice of 14 year-old students in a sampling of five countries (Czech Republic, Belgium, England, France, Italy). [6]

[1] Information and presentation mostly taken from OECD web site

[2] The final conference summing up the results of the study (see below Final conference) logically has been held in one of the three Nordic Countries (Norway), which by the way are among the countries having the most equitable education systems.

[3] Among these five countries, three are Nordic Countries having as it is well known the most equitable European education systems. On can imagine that the three Nordic countries used OECD for advertising their education policies. Logically, the final conference of this thematic studies (see below) was held in one of the Nordic OECD Countries (Norway).

[4] W. NORTON GRUBB is a professor and the David Gardner Chair in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also facultycoordinator of the Principal Leadership Institute, a program to prepare school-level leaders for urban schools in the Bay Area. In his article, Grubb says:

Finland — a small country by U.S. standards, with just five million people — found itself squarely in the international spotlight because of its 15-year-olds’ PISA results in 2000. On a combined literacy scale, Finland scored the highest of all countries tested, by a substantial margin. The variation in reading scores was smaller than that of all but a few other countries, and those countries had much lower averages. On the math scale, only Korea did better, and no other country had a smaller variation than Finland; in science, Finland was third only to Japan and Korea and again had the smallest variation of any country. Furthermore, the effects of socioeconomic status on reading scores were smaller than in any other countries except Iceland, Japan, and Korea. These results were generally repeated in the 2003 PISA, so the initial findings were not flukes. Other indicators also emphasize the relative equality of Finland’s education system; for example, its dropout rate from upper-secondary school is only 6% (compared to 25% to 30% in the U.S.). Something is taking place to minimize the inequality of test scores and of educational progress, and the question is whether there might be lessons from Finland for practices in the U.S. Based on a two-week visit as part of an OECD team,I conclude that a series of interlocking and consistent policies are responsible for this relatively equitable performance, at least in comprehensive education between grades 1 and 9.

[5] The six Universities were associated in a research group, the GERESE (European Group of Research on Equity of the Education Systems)

[6] Presentation of the survey by the prof. Stephen Gorard, project director: "For many students, their experience of school is fundamental to their conception of wider society, their place as citizens, and their sense of justice. This project looks at schools as organised societies and the part they play in creating a sense of justice among students, with a focus on disadvantaged student, including: those with learning difficulties, behavioural problems, those apparently less suited to an academic ‘trajectory, recent immigrants, those learning through a second language, or from socio-economically deprived backgrounds. A comparative approach is key here, because it allows to consider the natural variation in school organisation as a potential determinant of any differences in the developing sense of justice among disadvantaged students. This will provide important indications for policy-makers and practitioners about the role of school organisation in creating equity.

The chief source of data will be an international survey of the views of 14-year-old students in five EU countries. The instrument used will be developed from that used in a relevant pilot survey (SO2-61OBGE), using the lessons thereby learned about, particularly in the clarification of the target disadvantaged groups. The research concern will be to cross-analyse the characteristics of the schools that students attend, their own family and social background, their indicators of disadvantage, and their developing sense of justice. The research target is to include a representative sample of two complete teaching groups, or around 30 students, in 150 secondary schools per country, giving a total of 27,000 students. The survey will also generate in-depth data, such as observations and field notes taken during administration of the survey, used as illustrations and potential explanations of the findings.

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