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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. Anonymous. Outline. What we know Challenges What to do

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equity in education from theory to practice

Equity in Education: From Theory to Practice

OECD/Norway Conference

June 4, 2007

Ben Levin

OISE – University of Toronto

starting point
Starting Point

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice…

But in practice there is.


  • What we know
  • Challenges
  • What to do
  • This event
what we know
What We Know
  • Let’s start with what YOU know…
what we know1
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 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
How Much Can Schools Do?
  • Real limits on what schools can do
    • Hard to show large-scale improvement just in schools
  • 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 communities.

policy challenges around equity
Policy Challenges Around Equity
  • How much to do
  • What to do
  • Where to do it
how much to do
How Much to Do?
  • Few countries have comprehensive strategies
    • In school or more broadly
  • Most countries make modest efforts
    • 3-5% more $, for example
    • Often add-on programs
what to do
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
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
What Matters Most
  • How important is parent and community engagement?
  • How important is money?
  • How important is public support?
  • How important is skill?
  • How important is effort?
  • How important is attitude?
the answer
The Answer
  • An effective strategy has to pay attention to all these elements, in an integrated and coherent way.
where to do it
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 initiative?
  • Role of civil society?
context matters
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
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
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
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 country