Thursday, May 19, 2011

School Quality

In 1966, the Coleman Report on Equality of Educational Opportunity was produced under the LBJ administration in the USA. The findings in that report were of great interest, because the main finding was that the effect of school quality on student performance was less than the effect of family background, by a large margin.

The initial reaction from the Johnson administration was disappointment; President Johnson had wanted to establish a fairer society by reducing unfair social advantage through a level educational playing field. Since school quality effects were minimal, it was thought that perhaps making better schools was not necessarily a good thing; rather, they would just magnify the advantage of family background.

However, this was not the whole story. As researchers sometimes observe, some Americans tend to think that because of the amount of published research they produce, their story is the whole story. But in 1982-3, Heyneman and Loxley showed that across nations, something else was in play.

In fact, Heyneman and Loxley found that the 'Coleman Effect' occurred mostly in economically developed countries, while larger school effects and smaller family effects occurred in less wealthy nations. At the same time, achievement in mathematics and science was strongly related to national economic development; about 1/3 of the difference in math/science achievement could be attributed to this. These effects became known as the 'HL Effect', a reversed Coleman Effect which implied that schools were more important than social background in some cases.

Meanwhile, Ceci (1991) found that for every year of schooling, after accounting for all other factors, students gained 0.3 to 0.6 of a point in effective IQ. That is, by standardised measurements of cognitive effectiveness, being in school made students do better in cognitive tasks. (Yes, of the kind that schools are designed to produce and measure, so this shouldn't surprise anyone.)

Such findings can be linked directly to the history of education in Atlantis. Initially, when few people went to school, those few had a huge advantage in achievement as society's manpower markets required people with certain kinds of cognitive skills. However, when many cheap schools were built and mass education took hold, the overall achievement level rose throughout society, and those who came from 'early-adopter' families found their competitive edge eroded.

This competitive edge eroded even more when more and more students, from all backgrounds, began to spend more and more time in school. This unprecedented amount of schooling acted as a massive socio-economic leveller and raised a large middle class in the Atlantean population.

In modern Atlantis, one would expect to see the Coleman Effect in play again, since Atlantis is now very highly developed. And indeed, that is exactly what one might see. The effect of general school quality, although good, now produces a fairly standard, fairly good-quality product — some studies rate the average Atlantean as one of the best math/science students in the world.

Because Atlantean schools in the 1980s and 1990s produced little differentiable product, and all of reasonably good quality, the effect of socioeconomic background again began to be felt. Richer families could support even more extended and diffuse education opportunities beyond the state provisions. The state countered by attempting to finance its own talent supply, in a classic free-market spiral.

The current state of play is interesting. There is still that huge middle-class plateau, but rising above it are the twin peaks of extreme family background and extreme state sponsorship. Of course, being able to pile Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa, as the Giants did, would allow an Atlantean to reach Mount Olympus and wield the thunderbolt against the Gods. And few realise that there is much that remains below the plateau, bound in Tarteros.

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Blogger xylph said...

Gotta love "extreme state sponsorship", as a beneficiary of one =)

Thursday, May 19, 2011 8:14:00 pm  

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