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Regional Economic Disparities as Determinants of Students’ Achievement in Italy: Concluding Remarks

Regional Economic Disparities as Determinants of Students’ Achievement in Italy: Concluding RemarksThus, the main message that emerged from our findings is to refuse the simplistic view of the socio-economic background as the main factor driving schools’ results, and to increase research effort in describing what actually happens into schools. Indeed, the key topic here is about the role of “school factors”. This issue is not new, as since the publication of the Coleman Report in the USA, educational researchers face the challenge to investigate which characteristics of schools are associated with higher students’ (average) performance. In this paper, the potential school factors were classified in two categories: (i) “externally-determined” factors (namely, the average SES of students who are attending the school) and (ii) “school-manageable” factors (the availability of instructional materials). Global Banking Survey

The former group seems providing little contribution to explain the between-schools variance, once the geographical dummies are accounted for. Even tough the high variance indicates that some sorting among students (families) is likely to exist, the average socio-economic status (that is the first potential factor along with sorting happens) is not playing a major role, and other families’ characteristics should be considered. Some literature suggested that actually the cultural profile of the families is more important in determining their educational choices than socio-economic status per se. This is why the OECD-PISA exercise collects information about (proxies of) families’ cultural capital: educational level of parents, number of books, etc. As it is not always the case that high cultural capital goes along with socio-economic status (e.g. teachers, museums’ operators, etc.) the analysis of families’ characteristics should rely more on cultural capital than on economic factors. The literature on social capital and the role of “functional communities” in education must be considered in future analyses: some studies demonstrated how the families support their children in a number of different ways. Cultural capital approaches showed the relationships between school success and the means available to families that reside on their educational records and in their relationships among people. Moreover, to the extent that such factors affect previous students’ results, sorting along this dimension still reflects different cultural endowments of the families. Thus, the results of this paper describe the inadequate explanatory power of the SES variables alone, and help in putting the educational role of the families (e.g. their culture, values, etc.) at the hearth of the formative processes. At the same time, the differences in the Regional socio-economic development seem to have an effect on the students’ achievement: given the wide differences on this respect between Italian Regions, this problem is particularly worrying. Indeed, differences in educational results will lead to increasing differences in economic development, which in turn will reproduce gaps in educational performance. Di Liberto provided some indirect evidence of this link between education and economic development for Italian Regions, even though she demonstrated that the educational gap between Regions has been reduced in the period 1961-1991.
The second reflection, however, is on school manageable features, as one of the main important roles of schools should be to act as a facilitator for social mobility. The data show that some schools are able to obtain good results on this ground, by obtaining high average achievement despite the students’ SES, while others are not. The high level of between-schools variance also suggests that some schools’ characteristics are likely to play an effective role in influencing students’ results. For instance, it can be possible that teaching styles and programs, evaluating procedures, leadership; practices among teachers, governance structures, etc. actually influence the academic results. The rich literature about school-effectiveness could help to develop school-level indicators (e.g. specific educational processes) that should be included in future analyses, by extending the present versions of questionnaires administered in national and international testing exercises. Case studies also could be fruitful, in this context, to generate accurate information on this ground, and help in identifying effects of these factors on achievement.

This post was written by , posted on January 17, 2014 Friday at 12:15 pm