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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Errant nonsense.... probably

One of the frustrating things about working in state funded education is not always being able to say what one thinks.  It is not that there is a shortage of people in the sector who will...  It's just that education is a complex arena and the people who pay for our assumptions, mistakes, prejudices and general ignorance are our children.

And that is not particularly fair...

But I couldn't let this one go without a mini-rant...  Today on the BBC website there was a piece under the title,

"OECD 'debunks myth' that poor will fail at school"

which presented the following argument:

1. The poorest 10% of children in Shanghai perform as well in the PISA tests as the richest 20% of children in Europe and America

2. Therefore poverty does not impact educational performance

The article makes this assertion alongside a quote from Andrea Schleicher (who is the global head of the PISA tests) that this data:

"debunks the myth that poverty is destiny"

I wish there were a font with which I could politely express hair-standing-on-end-incredulity at the crassness of this... But there isn't.

Equally I don't know how the story got onto the BBC site, or who gave them the press release with this half-digested argument...

Just because the most disadvantaged children in Shanghai do as well as the most fortunate in the West does not say anything about the impact of poverty on education or debunk any myths.  It simply says that disadvantaged kids in Shanghai do better at the PISA test than their disadvantaged counterparts in the West.  It doesn't say why they do better in the test.  It doesn't say whether their performance is because of or despite their education system.  It doesn't say whether PISA is any reliable indicator of the quality of an education system.

There is a straw man being created here...

What is being aimed at, I think, is the assumption that those in less fortunate family circumstances are 'more likely' to fail.  To debunk this you would need data from an education system where the poor did as well or better than (depending on how you chose to define progress or achievement) their more fortunate counterparts in the same system.

Poor children in Shanghai did better than poor children in the West.  But I'll bet that rich children in Shanghai did better than poor children in Shanghai... as they do, on average, in the west and everywhere else.  The art is in knowing this to be true and still aspiring to greatness on behalf of the less fortunate rather than simply settling for good enough.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in raising expectations of children.  But if we aspire to raise the quality of education debate then:

Say what you mean and mean what you say!

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