10 April 2013
The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and development in 2000 disappointed Norwegian school authorities who soon started planning for making schools better.
One of the early initiatives, the Knowledge Promotion Reform (KPR) of 2006 had as its main goal, a general improvement in pupils’ skill levels. However, there was also a subsidiary purpose: reducing the socioeconomic inequalities in school results that had been revealed by the PISA survey as being embarrassingly large in view of the egalitarian ideals in the Norwegian unitary, public educational system. Subsequent evaluation of the reform, unfortunately, showed no progress as to this latter goal. On the contrary, the socioeconomic gradients in school grades among the 16-year-old graduates from the compulsory lower secondary school turned out to be somewhat larger after the reform (2008–2011) than they had been during 2003–2006.
By using register data on all 16-year-old lower-secondary school graduates during the pre-reform years 2003-2006 and the post-reform years 2008-2011 (N=455,000), this paper tries to decide which of the two explanations for increased social stratification is most likely.
In the data, 37,000 full sibling pairs have been located in which the older sibling graduated before and the younger after the reform. The sibling sample was restricted to those who went to the same school and had steadily cohabitating parents. Accordingly, the older and younger siblings have had very similar family-related background.
The key question is: did socioeconomic inequalities in school grades widen also in the sibling sample? The answer is crucial for judging the relevance of the two opposing explanations. If no increase in the socioeconomic gradient can be observed in the sibling sample, the second explanation which “acquits” the KPR is plausible. On the other hand, if the socioeconomic inequalities increased among the post-reform siblings just as in the overall pupil population, the first explanation which “blames” the reform is the more credible.
This presentation will explain approach to the study and reveal the results.
Dr Jon Ivar Elstad is senior researcher at the Norwegian Social Welfare Institute (NOVA) in Oslo. His research program examines inequalities in health, education and welfare services. He is a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Education and Social Work where he is researching the impact of a major school reform in Norway on social inequalities of class, gender and immigration status.
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