Equity in Education: From Theory to Practice OECD/Norway Conference June 4, 2007

Equity in Education: From
Theory to Practice
OECD/Norway Conference
June 4, 2007
Ben Levin
OISE – University of Toronto
Starting Point
In theory there is no difference between
theory and practice…
But in practice there is.
What we know
What to do
This event
What We Know
• Let’s start with what YOU know…
What We Know
Greater equity is a challenge in all countries
But to varying degrees
Sometimes for different groups
For a variety of reasons
Awareness and effort also quite variable
– But growing
Education is Part of Society
• Education equity issues are social issues
• Closely related to socioeconomic status
• Affected by the economy, health, housing,
social programs
How Much Can Schools Do?
• Real limits on what schools can do
– Hard to show large-scale improvement just in
• But we do not know what those limits are
– Some countries have much better results
– Some initiatives do improve results
– We CAN do better
No society can realistically expect schools
alone to abolish inequality. If students
come to school in unequal circumstances,
they will largely, though not entirely, leave
schools with unequal skills and abilities, in
both cognitive and non-cognitive domains.
This is not a reason for educators to throw
up their hands.
R Rothstein, Class and Schools, 2004, 129
Nobody has yet attempted to redress inequity
by investing two or three or five times as
much per student in high need schools and
Policy Challenges Around Equity
• How much to do
• What to do
• Where to do it
How Much to Do?
• Few countries have comprehensive
– In school or more broadly
• Most countries make modest efforts
– 3-5% more $, for example
– Often add-on programs
What To Do
• How much focus on schooling vs other
areas (health, employment)?
• If the latter, which areas?
• How to connect early childhood, schools,
adult education and broader social policy?
School Policy Choices
• Shift focus from special programs to
mainstream teaching and learning
Reducing tracking and streaming
Reduce retention in grade
Changing expectations and targets
Building skills of educators
What Matters Most
• How important is parent and community
• How important is money?
• How important is public support?
• How important is skill?
• How important is effort?
• How important is attitude?
The Answer
• An effective strategy has to pay attention to
all these elements, in an integrated and
coherent way.
Where To Do It
• Focus on schools or broader social services
such as youth agencies?
• Importance of out-of-school (after school,
summer) efforts?
• How much central direction vs local
• Role of civil society?
Context Matters
• Leadership
– Political and institutional
• Public attitudes to inequity
• System capacity
– Will and skill
– Tend to underestimate this challenge
More can be done
There is no universal solution.
Each jurisdiction needs its own approach.
A strategy is needed in each case, not just a
series of initiatives
There can and should be mutual learning.
What To Do Next
• Learn more
– Experiments with different approaches with
careful evaluation
– Share our learning
• More public dialogue
– Use what we know to generate debate
– More attention to public knowledge
– Must go beyond the education sector
Long and Short Term
• Need a strategy
• Some things can be done easily and quickly
• Other things need the right circumstances
– E.g. political leadership
• But have to:
– Lay groundwork
– Be ready to use opportunities
This Event
• Share ideas, knowledge, experience
• Build networks for ongoing work
• Surface areas of ignorance or disagreement
for further learning
• Think through real possibilities in each