23 SES 10 A, Policies of School Choice 1
Until recently neither social inter-generational mobility nor concerns about flattening income distribution were not on the educational policy agenda. However, all our case countries have grown increasingly unequal during last decades, while social intergenerational mobility has decreased. One explanation is that modern economies – technological innovation and globalisation – benefit the skills and educated, increasing income gaps while hindering intergenerational income elasticity. But there is also an alternative hypothesis that modern education policy (namely school choice agenda) creates more inequality of opportunity by fostering family background effects and affecting also efficiency via early tracking.
Most policy research remains still focused either on equal opportunity problem or educational outcomes (efficiency problem). There is not much to say about the trade-offs of these two. Because part of inequality can be ‘efficient’ by creating incentives both for parents and students and make them contribute more. However, more recent studies (e.g. Molina et al 2013, Schütz et al. 2008, Woessmann 2008a, 2008b) support the idea that inequality in general is inefficient. This indicates that choice can bring along segregation and division between reputational and not so reputational schools. Moreover, it is shown that rich people’s behavioural patterns affect those of the near-rich (Frank 2003). That is why school choice is increasingly middle-class phenomenon, where less affluent want their children to go to the best schools.
School choice is increasingly debated in countries which have a long tradition of comprehensive schooling, like Nordic and post-communist countries. Sweden already exhibits the outcomes of the choice agenda applied in 1980es, while in Estonia and moreover in Finland choice is kind of latent policy. Also the path-dependent legacies within the systems differ and in Estonia transformational ‘competition enhanced’ personal value systems are more tolerant to choice than in Finland.
There are two meanings of educational equity: equal outcomes or equal opportunities. We are looking for the policies that reinforce educational opportunities. To be more precise we define educational equity as the system’s ability to create educational outcomes independently from background characteristics of the parents. Of course we are aware that this aim is never completely accomplished. Two-income high-SES families will contribute more time, talent and financial capital to the education of their children than single-parent low-SES families. However, educational policies can increase or decrease the magnitudes of family-background effect.
That’s why we are asking whether school choice policy that brings mostly along educational efficiency makes performance and equality of opportunity objectives at odds. For answering we measure the sizes of background effects within different school systems (Finland, Sweden, Estonia) to control whether choice brings along less equity. Second, we show how choice affects the equity-efficiency mix at the school level. Does choice then applied to all schools brings along more levelled playing field than segregating choice and non-choice schools within the system?
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