Statistic of the Month: Measuring Educational Equity

One measure of educational equity is the extent to which disadvantaged students are likely to attend disadvantaged schools as opposed to mixed schools (those with students from a variety of social-economic backgrounds) or advantaged schools (those with students from well-educated and relatively wealthy backgrounds). Schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students tend to put students at a higher risk for academic failure. Just under half of disadvantaged students, on average across the OECD countries and economies, are educated in disadvantaged schools. Many top-performers have improved on this figure, and some, including Canada and Finland, have improved upon it considerably. In Shanghai and Hong Kong, however, more than 60 percent of disadvantaged students are educated in disadvantaged schools.

The proportion of disadvantaged students educated in disadvantaged schools is not, however, the entire picture. In an OECD report published last year, Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in School, the authors found that among the top-performing nations, there was a relatively high incidence of “resilient” students among their total student population. Resilient students are defined as students who are able to perform at high levels on PISA despite coming from a disadvantaged background. They are contrasted with “disadvantaged low achievers,” similarly disadvantaged students who perform at low levels on PISA. Resilient students are able to transcend their socio-economic background and embody several qualities consistent across OECD countries: they make good use of their time in school and after school; attend class prepared and willing to participate; possess high self-esteem; have a fairly high degree of parental involvement in their lives; watch less television than their peers; and participate in extracurricular activities.

Among the jurisdictions with the highest proportion of resilient students is Hong Kong. Although a relatively high proportion of Hong Kong’s disadvantaged students attend disadvantaged schools, nearly a quarter of all of Hong Kong’s students are classified as resilient, and thus contribute to Hong Kong’s high average PISA scores. Indeed, across the top performing countries, resilient students outnumber disadvantaged low achievers by a wide margin, well ahead of the OECD average. In the United States, however, disadvantaged low achievers outnumber resilient students and account for more than 10 percent of the total student population.

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