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Education reform and inequality: fifteen years of new lower secondary schools in Poland

Inequalities in education are so deeply embedded in social stratification that even far-reaching school reforms are not able to weaken the influence of social origin on school achievements. The aim of this article is to verify whether the education reform, which in Poland established a new type of 3-year lower secondary school (gimnazjum), simultaneously equalised the chances of students from different social backgrounds at the transition from lower to upper secondary school. All hypotheses were tested using PISA data from the years 20002012, which covered the period before and after school reform in Poland. In case of the first hypothesis, which concerned changes in the impact of social origin on student’s performance in the last year of the new schools, i.e. a year before transition to upper secondary school, PISA data clearly demonstrated that after the reform, there was no significant decrease in correlations between socio-economic status of students and their results in three PISA domains: mathematics, reading and science. In case of the second hypothesis, which was directly focused on social selections to upper secondary schools, PISA data did not confirm that anything changed in this respect after the reform. The third hypotheses addresses the problem of the growing differences among schools in terms of their performance. During the fifteen years since the reform, new schools started to diversify more and more, especially in large cities. PISA demonstrates, however, that this diversification did not perpetuate social inequalities, but rather resulted from competition among schools in the quality of instruction. The latter result was supported by PISA data from eight European countries where students, as in Poland, attend schools which are not divided into tracks. Between 2003 and 2012, growing differences among schools was observed in most of these countries, but in none of them was it accompanied by growing inequalities in education.


Zbigniew Sawiński,
 
Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences

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The paper aims to verify two hypotheses. The first states that the differentiation of initial 1st grade pupil skills is negatively correlated with age at entry to school. This was tested according to findings from the ERI study Six and seven year olds at the start of school. The variation of reading and writing scores of 1164 pupils aged 5.9–7.9 years who were beginning 1st grade decreased in subsequent age quartiles. The second hypothesis – that classroom differentiation of pupils’ initial skills in 1st grade is positively correlated with the birthdate effect in 3rd grade – was tested on data of 4838 pupils from 254 classrooms drawn from the 2011 PIRLS and TIMSS studies in Poland. Skills were evaluated on the basis of parental reports. Hierarchical linear analysis (gender, SES and school location controlled) showed that the greater the differentiation of language skills in 1st grade, the greater the birthdate effect in mathematics in 3rd grade. This result suggests that school entry age is of lesser importance than the methods used to reduce differences in children’s school readiness at the onset of education.

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