The great schools revolution, Ctd

Continuing the discussion of the great schools revolution.

The debate about schooling has changed significantly, particularly as educational shibboleths of the teacher’s unions have been slayed.

Above all, though, there has been a change in the quality of the debate. In particular, what might be called “the three great excuses” for bad schools have receded in importance. Teachers’ unions have long maintained that failures in Western education could be blamed on skimpy government spending, social class and cultures that did not value education. All these make a difference, but they do not determine outcomes by themselves.

The idea that good schooling is about spending money is the one that has been beaten back hardest. Many of the 20 leading economic performers in the OECD doubled or tripled their education spending in real terms between 1970 and 1994, yet outcomes in many countries stagnated—or went backwards. Educational performance varies widely even among countries that spend similar amounts per pupil. Such spending is highest in the United States—yet America lags behind other developed countries on overall outcomes in secondary education. Andreas Schleicher, head of analysis at PISA, thinks that only about 10% of the variation in pupil performance has anything to do with money.

Many still insist, though, that social class makes a difference. Martin Johnson, an education trade unionist, points to Britain’s “inequality between classes, which is among the largest in the wealthiest nations” as the main reason why its pupils underperform. A review of reforms over the past decade by researchers at Oxford University supports him. “Despite rising attainment levels,” it concludes, “there has been little narrowing of longstanding and sizeable attainment gaps. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds remain at higher risks of poor outcomes.” American studies confirm the point; Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington claims that “non-school factors”, such as family income, account for as much as 60% of a child’s performance in school.

Yet the link is much more variable than education egalitarians suggest. Australia, for instance, has wide discrepancies of income, but came a creditable ninth in the most recent PISA study. China, rapidly developing into one of the world’s least equal societies, finished first.

Lots of myth busting there. Lots of empirical evidence, pity it won;t shut up the unions and their emotional calls beyond reason for even more money to be spent on them.


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  • TheBug

    From the US:

    “As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we’ll have teachers to represent.”

    “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

  • Phronesis

    “..a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent”

  • Cobolt

    I keep hearing about how low socio-economic kids don’t do as well in school as though thier parents income somehow limits their ability to learn.
    The real fact is low incomes and poor school results are both the result of the same cause. Apathy of the parents. It is the parents who don’t have the “get-of -our-ass-and-do-something-about-it” attitude. Their apathetic attitude shows up in a lack of interest in how their kids are doing and it gets passed down to the kids. “There’s no sense in trying because the man is always gonna keep us down anyway.”

    • thor42

      Exactly right!
      Even more reason to give huge credit to a place like Don Buck Primary School, who use phonics-based reading education. They have a large number of ESL (English as second language) students. Given that, you would expect (if they were in an average primary school) that they’d have big reading problems. Not so – every child there can read.
      There is NO EXCUSE for having 20% of children in this country not being able to read.