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School performance differences and policy variations in Finland

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School performance differences and policy
variations in Finland, Norway and Sweden
Kajsa Yang Hansen, Jan-Eric Gustafsson & Monica RosГ©n
University of Gothenburg
Policy interest in differences in performance?
• Focus on country differences in level of performance is
common in international studies
• Differences in level of performance between students,
classrooms, schools, municipalities, regions and
countries provides information about equity, but are less
• Such differences may also provide interesting
information about how different school systems work
Policy changes: Finland
• Decentralization since 1993:
local authorities given more autonomy
a lump sum was allocated that local government could decide
upon without central regulation
decentralization to schools of decisions on curricula, teaching
methods and other pedagogical practices and profiles
free school choice (1998) within the municipality. Schools allowed
to recruit students from outside the local catchment area only
when there are places left after enrollment of the local students.
Policy changes: Norway
• Decentralization of the school system during the 1980s and
local authorities and school leaders’ were given greater
responsibility for allocating funds, providing education and
assuring its quality.
increased autonomy of schools, including budgeting, recruitment,
education management and competence development.
From 2003 easier to start independent schools and to receive
financial support from the state. Enrollment to primary and lower
secondary schools still largely follows the proximity principle.
However, in the large cities of Norway, systems of school-choice
have now been introduced,
Policy changes: Sweden
• Decentralization and deregulation of the Swedish educational
system 1989 – 1995:
Municipalities organize schooling and employ the school
Schooling offered by independent (private) providers and
Free choice of schools, financed with a voucher system
Funding allocated as a lump sum, without central directives
Curricula which specified goals, but neither content, nor methods
A criterion-referenced grading system
• Partial recentralisation 2007 –
More control and accountability (School inspections, grades from
Grade 6; more national tests)
New curricula, specifying central content
Differences between schools and
municipalities in grades in Sweden
Determinants of school variation
• Tracking into academic and non-academic schools
– Causes a large amount of school variability (up to 50 %)
– During the 1960s and 1970s the Nordic countries
introduced comprehensive schooling for at least 9 years.
• Selection and self-selection
– In systems without school choice there is an indirect
selection mechanism caused by segregation of living
– Systems which allow school choice may cause selection
on the basis of student performance, student SES,
immigrant background, and other student characteristics
– There is debate about whether segregation of living or
school choice is the main contributor to school segregation
• Differences in instructional quality
• Differences in grading practices
Determinants of classroom differences
• Quality of instruction, teacher-student relations
• Ability grouping and other forms of placement of students
Separating school and classroom variance
• School and classroom differences are often confounded but
need to be separated
• This can be done with three-level analysis, if there is more
than one classroom within each school.
Research questions
• What differences are there in the amount of school and
classroom performance differences in Grade 4 and Grade 8 in
Finland, Norway and Sweden?
• What differences are there in the amount of school and
classroom performance differences in urban and rural schools
in Finland, Norway and Sweden?
• To what extent are school and classroom performance
differences related to students’ SES in Finland, Norway and
Data: TIMSS & PIRLS 2011
• Finland, Norway and Sweden (Iceland did not participate; only
one class per school in Denmark)
• Grade 4: 12,305 students, 412 schools and 705 classes
• Grade 8: 14,057 students, 432 schools and 694 classes
• Grade 4: Mathematics, Science and Reading
• Grade 8: Mathematics and Science
• Urban/rural location of school
• Number of books at home (SES, cultural capital)
Finland: No school differences, large classroom differences
Norway: Intermediate school differences, small classroom differences
Sweden: Large school differences, small/intermediate classroom differences
Finland: School level, no SES explanation; class level, some SES explanation
Norway: School level, intermediate/high SES explanation; class level, no SES expl.
Sweden: School level, high SES explanation; class level, some SES explanation
Finland: No differences
Norway: Larger school differences in urban areas in Grade 8
Sweden: Larger school differences in urban areas
Finland: Classroom differences partially explained by SES, more so in urban schools
Norway: School differences partially explained by SES, particularly in urban schools
Sweden: School differences among urban schools to a large extent accounted for by SES .
Discussion: School differences
• Patterns of school-level differences in performance:
– In Finland, there are no school differences
– In Sweden, school differences are quite substantial, and larger in
Grade 4 than in Grade 8. Larger school differences among urban
than rural schools.
– Norway too has substantial school differences, which are quite
equal across urban and rural schools.
• The Swedish school differences are likely to be due to segregation of
living, and particularly so in metropolitan areas, and to school choice.
But why are school differences larger in Grade 4 than in Grade 8,
particularly given that there is more school choice in upper grades
than in lower grades?
– School choice may counteract effects of segregation of living
– Larger and more heterogeneous catchment areas in Grade 8 than
in Grade 4.
Discussion: school differences, cont.
• In Norway, school differences remained constant between
Grade 4 and Grade 8, but SES accounted for a larger part of
the school differences for Grade 8 than for Grade 4. This
suggests a lower impact of segregation of living in Norway
than in Sweden. In Norway, too, more opportunities of school
choice are made available for Grade 8, which may cause the
SES impact on school differences to increase.
Discussion, classroom differences
• In Finland there is a very substantial amount of classroom
variation, amounting to 12–13% for Grade 4 and at least twice
as much for Grade 8. The estimates are similar across rural
and urban schools.
• A part of the between-class variance is due to SES,
suggesting that some classroom variance may be due to
sorting of students into different classrooms on the basis of
level of performance.
• Can the high degree of autonomy of the Finnish teachers
account for some of the remaining classroom differences?
• There are systematic but complex patterns of school and
classroom differences among the three countries
• Both segregation of living and school choice are important, but
the mechanisms seem to differ between countries. This may
reflect both demographic differences and differences in
educational policies.
• The large classroom differences in Finland was an
unexpectred finding that requires further investigations.
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