An unfair test and a poor verdict

A 2018 report titled ‘An unfair start: inequality in children’s education in rich countries’ has been released by UNICEF and it ranks us 33 out of 38 rich countries in the world in terms of educational equality. We failed the educational equality test.  Quote.

The report looks at the gaps between the highest and lowest-performing pupils in OECD countries, by measuring the difference between those in the bottom 10 percent and top 10 percent.” End of quote.

I am not a statistician, but taking the top and bottom ten percent of student achievement and measuring the difference between them cannot possibly be a good measure of the value of anything at all, and certainly not of educational outcomes.

It tells us, as anyone would expect, that there is a big gap between good and poor educational student outcomes.

The difference can be explained by any number of things from the geographical population spread in New Zealand to language and economic variables.

A child at a remote school with limited staff will not achieve as well as a child in the city with specialist subject teachers.  A child with English as a second language will be disadvantaged, as will a child without computer or internet access.

So why did UNICEF use this measurement? Why didn’t they just compare median or average results?

The answer is because they wanted us to fail the test, and trust me, we also want to fail this one. What we don’t want to do is accept their reasons and remedies for this ‘failure’.

A pass means that every single student in this country achieves exactly the same outcome.  Given the variables in student abilities and external circumstances, achieving the result they are after could be described as ‘dumbing down to the lowest common denominator’.

From Unicef’s website. Quote.

In the world’s richest countries, some children do worse at school than others because of circumstances beyond their control, such as where they were born, the language they speak or their parents’ occupations.

These children enter the education system at a disadvantage and can drop further behind if educational policies and practices reinforce, rather than reduce, the gap between them and their peers.

These types of inequality are unjust. Not all children have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential, to pursue their interests and to develop their talents and skills. This has social and economic costs.” End of quote.

There you have it: socialism at its worst.  Inequality is unacceptable, it is evil and unjust and it must be corrected.  Achievement takes second place to ensuring every child has exactly the same result.

But this report goes further and explains the reason for our difference in educational outcomes, and the reason is racism and unconscious bias. Quote.

UNICEF commissioned New Zealand-specific research to sit alongside the report, in order to get a better sense of why the country was doing so poorly, and who was worst-affected.

The Workshop policy researcher Jess Berenston-Shaw found Māori and Pasifika children were over-represented when it came to lower educational achievement.

The effects of living in lower-socio-economic households and communities, as well as racism and unconscious bias in school were factors that added to inequality.

Māori and Pasifika students were more likely to be excluded, or expelled, which also exacerbated inequality.” End of quote.

There are no surprises in this outcome but blaming racism and unconscious bias for poor outcomes is just putting the cart before the horse.

Given the large families and economic and health challenges that Maori face, and that they are over-represented at more than 50% of the prison population, is it any surprise that their children will not achieve as well as kids from stable, healthy two-parent homes?

This report belongs in the round filing receptacle on the floor.


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