09 SES 02 A, Findings from International Comparative Achievement Studies: Frame-of-Reference and School Composition Effects
Parallel Paper Session
Governments and business leaders assert that in a knowledge economy, education is essential in ensuring a country’s competitiveness and advancement. The OECD Growth Project (2001) argued the importance of human capital in the growth of knowledge economies, particularly in raising the quality of educational systems and raising levels of completion of basic and vocational education in order to maintain a flow of skilled people into the workforce. Lack of education impacts on an individual's opportunity to participate in such knowledge economies, and may directly impact on their development.
OECD countries participate in PISA to examine how well students are prepared to use knowledge and skills in particular areas to meet real-life challenges. Strong performers on such tests are more likely to find a place in a knowledge society.
Australia’s school system is comprised of three sectors: government, Catholic and independent schools. This is the first time that the Australian data have been published disaggregated by school sector. On the face of it, the PISA data paint a gloomy picture for government schools and a bright one for non-government schools in Australia, and these data are no different from those of many other published achievement studies. The gap in scores between students in government schools and those in independent schools in reading is 56 score points – almost 2 years of schooling. However the achievement gap between low socioeconomic students in government schools and high socioeconomic students in independent schools is 113 score points – almost 3 ½ years of schooling.
As results such as these are published, more middle and high income parents move their children into Catholic or independent schools, in the belief that they provide a better education. The proportion of students in Australia enrolled in non-government schools has increased over the last few decades, and in 2009 Australia had a higher proportion of students attending non-Government schools than any other similar OECD country other than the Netherlands, however the nature of the private school systems in these two countries is completely different. Recent research has pointed to this trend resulting in ethnic concentration and ‘white flight’ from schools in low socioeconomic areas, with public schools becoming increasingly viewed as being "ghettoes" by many Anglo-Australian families (Ho, 2011).
However OECD analysis (OECD, 2010) has shown that when schools are grouped into government and non-government, achievement differences are non-significant once student and school-level socioeconomic background is accounted for, and national analysis has shown that there are no significant differences between government, Catholic and independent schools, once socioeconomic background at both levels is controlled for (Thomson, De Bortoli, Nicholas, Hillman & Buckley, 2010).
The social and economic costs of this gulf in achievement are large and will increase as students leave school. The secondary analysis presented in this paper examines issues around the distribution of low, average and high socioeconomic students in each school sector, attitudes and beliefs of each group, differences in school factors between groups, and the influences of socioeconomic background at the school and student level within each subgroup.
Ho, C. (2011). ‘My School’ and others: Segregation and white flight. Available http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2011/05/ho.html. Accessed 1.2.12 OECD Growth Project.(2001). Paris: OECD. OECD (2010). PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming social background. Paris: OECD. Thomson, S., De Bortoli, L., Nicholas, M., Hillman. K., Buckley, S. (2010). Challenges for Australian education: Results from PISA 2009. Camberwell: ACER.
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