Educational Reform and all that…

Educational reform and Junior Cert reform in particular has been getting a bit of coverage lately.  One observation which struck me was by Tom Collins, formerly Professor of Education at NUI Maynooth.  He mentioned anecdotal evidence claiming that primary school teachers could predict eventual secondary school educational outcomes from as early as six years of age.  Some recent work I did is consistent with this observation ( .  Using Growing Up in Ireland data, I  looked at the scores of nine year olds in the Drumcondra maths and reading tests.  Children were partitioned into four groups on the basis of their mothers’ education.  Rather than looking at gaps in average outcomes for each group, I looked at gaps for selected percentiles.  This is in the spirit of John Romer’s analysis of inequality of opportunity, whereby between-group gaps calculated at the same percentile are regarded as having to some degree controlled for “effort” and the gaps can be regarded as reflecting ex post inequality of opportunity.  At the limit the gaps are about one standard deviation and are pretty constant across percentiles.  I also perform quantile decompositions for pairwise gaps and find that in general about one third to  one half of the gap is accounted for by observable characteristics (including school, class-size and teacher characteristics) with most of this “explained” gap arising from income and the number of books in the house.  Unobserved factors and “returns” to observed factors thus account for more than half the gaps.

The paper provides evidence that gaps in educational outcomes, on the basis of parental education, kick in at remarkably early ages.  It is also consistent with the idea that returns to education apply across as well as within generations.  There is a good recent review of this area by my colleague Paul Devereux here

12 replies on “Educational Reform and all that…”

@David Madden

Context and ‘social class’ – “ethically offensive” as you put it:

The Desert of the Real! Ireland is a deprivation nation.

All manner of numbers and stats regarding growth and employment numbers are thrown around which feeds into the illusion of the ‘Celtic Phoenix’. But there is a grim reality – which doesn’t feature much in the popular debate: we are a society riddled with high levels of poverty and deprivation. And recent EU Commission data shows we have much higher levels than most other comparable EU countries.

… This is pretty staggering. While it is not surprising to see Greece with the highest level of material deprivation, Ireland is right up there at the top – marginally behind Italy but ahead of poorer countries like Portugal and Spain. Material deprivation in Ireland is 58 percent higher than the EU-15 average.

•There are over 1.1 million people in Ireland living in material deprivation – a quarter of the population.

… There are 450,000 people in Ireland living in ‘severe’ material deprivation – or one-in-ten people.

… •There are over 380,000 children living in material deprivation – nearly one-in-three children. This figure has more than doubled since the onset of the recession.
•There are 150,000 children living in severe material deprivation – one-in-eight children in the state.

Let’s cut to the chase: one million people living in deprivation, nearly one-in-three children suffering deprivation, is an economic, social and moral indictment of the priorities of a government that privileges tax cuts over poverty-reduction. There is no indication at all from Government Ministers that this is even an issue. All we get is practiced responses that avoid the issue. A cut in taxation for people on incomes of €70,000 is on the agenda; cuts in poverty and deprivation are not.

INTO spot this at 6 yrs. Were we to have a reasonable creche/early childhood stream attached to ALL primary schools one might spot such ‘ethically offensive’ gaps earlier; without early childhood interventions present sys will continue … a return to education demands that one receive one in the first place!

I’m in favour of the Quinn reforms re Jun. Cert. The Unis are ‘free riding’ on the ‘Tyranny of the Leaving Cert’. Then again, teaching the lower-echelons to ‘think’ might prove to be dangerous for the ‘establishement’ kiddies!

Educational Feedback Loops in China and the US.
By Cathy O’Neil mathbabe.
David Madden, I found your paper very interesting although I have my doubts that I interpreted it correctly.
The lack of comments might mean I am not alone.
David O’D is fearless and willingly treads where the more cautious of us are reluctant to venture.

From what I see on my visits to Ireland is a level of prosperity and incomes that exceeds what is evident in Germany. I see no beggars on the streets in Ireland or Germany which leads me to believe that there is nothing now that approaches the poverty that existed pre Tiger. I see no obvious signs of malnutrition either. My daughter volunteers at St Patrick’s Church in Toronto where they serve over 400 dinners every Sunday to homeless men most of whom are elderly and some of whom have obvious mental issues. There are panhandlers (Men mostly) on the streets in the Financial District. Women with young children are guaranteed an apartment and an income. Food Banks operated by volunteers with gov’t support are available to the walk in needy. Social Workers are on the job and Medical Care is free.The homeless sleep in shelters on mats on the floor. Our 6 y.o. takes swimming lessons at University Settlement which operates as a recreation and educational facility during the day. At night it offers space to over a hundred homeless who sleep on the floor. I went into one classroom which had a sign on the wall “This room is restricted to 25 persons on mats or sleeping bags”, the room was about 20 X 20 feet. The surrounding area is quite rich with a massive art gallery and major hospitals.

It strikes me that there are two ways in which our children’s living standards may be higher than our own:
First, they may participate in an economy-wide rise in prosperity.
Secondly, they may move up the socio-economic gradient.
It strikes me that a lot of the discussion of the returns to education focuses on the second path to prosperity, albeit often described as ‘a reduction in inequality’. Is increased socio-economic mobility a zero-sum game? For every young Seamus who moves up the income distribution is there not necessarily a young Sinead who moves down?

Totally agree that kids with educated mothers do well. Perhaps one reason is that such mums are able to spot problems that their children are having, and will insist on getting them sorted? I know so many mums who’ve been assured by teachers that their children were grand, grand—one was even told “I know your son is not the student you want him to be, but you must accept him for who he is”—and yet, when the mums paid for private assessment, the children turned out to have conditions such as dyslexia. Perhaps uneducated mums would be more willing to accept teachers’ reassurances, and of course less able to pay for assessment? Frightening thought.

There’s still a huge problem with maths and a lot of it is rooted in the culture. It seems to be the same in the UK. Families with parents who understand maths are less likely to pass on the general fear of the subject to their kids.

@Ernie Ball
Drumcondra, Ballsbridge, Temple Bar, Grafton St and surrounds, Parnell/O’Connel.
You may have a point, I stayed in Jury’s on Parnell a couple of years ago and saw a lot of damaged doors on the rooms. There are no damaged doors in the Westbury and adequate security at the entrance. There are obviously problems which can be expected when youth unemployment is high. I was told what to avoid and I did.

Although it is politically incorrect to raise the matter, there is also the important question of the ethos of the schools.

In Northern Ireland Catholic schools repeatedly outperform state schools, even though the Catholic population until recently was discriminated against and economically disadvantaged.

This, of course, isn’t stopping the Sinn Fein Minister for Education in N. Ireland trying to scrap these schools.

Ditto with the UK as a whole. Although there is no evidence to support their claims, opponents of faith schools claim that they pick and choose their pupils. But, in Northern Ireland, this is certainly not the case, as the choice is determined overwhelmingly by which community you were born into.

Ditto with the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland scored higher than the UK or any of the UK component countries in the last PISA tests. The Republic of Ireland’s nearest neighbour, Wales, fared disastrously in these tests, coming close to bottom for Europe (while the Republic of Ireland was near the top). Given the cultural, genetic and lifestyle similarities between the two countries, I can’t think of any reason for the Republic of Ireland to totally outperform Wales other than the quality of its schools. Richard Dawkins recently praised Wales for its atheism, secularism and lack of faith schools.

True to form, left-liberals in Ireland want to scrap Catholic schools and bring in a completely state-run system. Pray God they fail. But, if they succeed, watch Ireland plunge down the rankings to Wales level in the next decade.


OR, it could also be possible that you’re suffering from ‘Confirmation bias’.

There are very few surprises in the analysis. Indeed, the situation seems to be frozen for decades largely because of an unwillingness to face up to the need to concentrate resources on the primary educational sector. This will involve budgetary choices which Irish society as a collectivity seems most unwilling to make; until circumstances force them upon it.

It is a question of who benefits and who pays, a particular problem being the decades long build-up of a widespread presumption that society owes without being owed anything in return. There is but patchy recognition that it can only consume what it produces and trades, the result being an excessively high burden of debt. The recent IT poll is, perhaps, the most interesting of recent years, especially in relation to the implementation of water charges.

It must by now not be beyond the comprehension of the bulk of the electorate that if they would not willingly pay the electricity and energy bills of their neighbours, it makes little sense to do so in respect of their water consumption. The mantra that “we have already paid through general taxation” is plausible. But only if one has worked out where one is on the u-shaped graph across the income deciles plotted in terms of (i) income and (ii) how much one contributes in taxes and charges and how much one receives in return. What is certain is that, were it not for the new external constraints, the politicians would have already caved in to the minority which knows which side its bread is buttered on.

The public demonstrations planned for 10 December will be an interesting indicator.

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