Hekia Parata today wheeled out her favourite trope “decile is not destiny” in a bid to convince us that poverty has little to no impact on a student’s educational and life success. She quoted (or misquotes or misrepresents, take your pick) OECD research, saying poverty only has an 18% impact on students. Source
Whether the Minister truly believes her own rhetoric, one can only guess, but it is safe to say that for most students the socio-economic background in which they grow up has a life-long impact on their chances of success.
And whilst we disagree on many things, I believe Ms Parata and I agree on this: the current situation isn’t good enough and needs to change. So here’s some further research for her to consider:
- Because of the socio-economic gap, there is an “enormous disparity in children’s home backgrounds and the social and cultural capital they bring to the educational table” (Benn & Millar, 2006 p. 23).
- The “gap” is not restricted to one society (e.g. USA or NZ) or to one type of society (e.g. English-speaking); it occurs in every developed society. Students with good family resources out-perform those without (Biddulph, et al, 2003).
- Most significantly, the OECD having studied 25 school systems (not including New Zealand) to determine the determinants of school achievement, found that, “the first and most solidly based finding is that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school” (OECD, 2005, p. 2).
- “The evidence from empirical research is that education and social disadvantage are closely connected and that people from less advantaged family backgrounds acquire significantly less education than their more advantaged counterparts. This translates into significantly reduced life chances as individuals’ economic and social outcomes as adults are significantly hampered by lower education levels owing to social disadvantage.” (Machin, OECD Social, Employment and migration Working Papers No. 32 – Social Disadvantage and Education Experiences, p. 26 – Source).
- Even the US Office of Education, despite its support for “accountability based programmes”, having reviewed the international evidence, admitted that it was clear that “most participating countries do not differ significantly from the United States in terms of the strength of relationship between socioeconomic status and literacy in any subject” (Lemke, et al, 2002, p. 35).
- When children attend schools which are widely different in social class composition, the gaps between the aggregate achievement of schools mirrors closely the gaps between the social classes which predominate in them. Based on his research in New Zealand (and consistent with many overseas studies) Richard Harker has claimed that “anywhere between 70-80% of the between schools variance is due to the student ‘mix’ which means that only between 20% and 30% is attributable to the schools themselves” (Harker, 1995, p.74).
And a final sage word from David Berliner:
“People with strong faith in public schools are to be cherished and the same is true of each example of schools that have overcome enormous odds. The methods of those schools need to be studied, promoted and replicated so that more educators will be influenced by their success.
But these successes should not be used as a cudgel to attack other educators and schools. And they should certainly never be used to excuse societal neglect of the very causes of the obstacles that extraordinary educators must overcome.
It is poor policy indeed that erects huge barriers to the success of millions of students, cherrypicks and praises a few schools that appear to clear these barriers, and then blames the other schools for their failure to do so.”
If we truly want to improve the chances for those with lower socio-economic backgrounds, we must stop the soundbites, blaming and ideology and turn our minds to the wealth of quality research, which must then be read without agenda and applied honestly. Our students deserve nothing less.
Sources and Further Reading
The Gap – EXCUSES, EXCUSES: SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT, by Massey University Emeritus Professor Ivan Snook
Berliner, David C. (2009). Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential.
Chenoweth,Karin. (2007). It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Ministry of Education (2009). National Standards and Reporting to Parents. Wellington: NZ Government.
Lemke,M et al (2002). Outcomes of Learning:Results from the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in Reading, Mathematics and Science Literacy. Washington: US Office of Education
OECD (2005). Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. Overview. Paris: OECD. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/39/47/34990905.pd
Rothstein, Richard (2004). Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. Economic Policy Institute, Teachers’College, Columbia University.
Tunmer, W. and J. Prochnow (in press). Cultural Relativism and Literacy Education: Explicit Teaching based on Specific Learning Needs is not Deficit Theory.
Wilkinson,R. and K.Pickett (2009). The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better. Allen Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, London.
SOCIAL CLASS AND EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT: BEYOND IDEOLOGY. Ivan Snook Massey University, October 2009