The frail empirical foundation of the educational disadvantage policy
Educational opportunities are influenced by factors lying in the home situation of the children. In order to compensate for unfavorable circumstances, the Dutch government launched the educational disadvantage policy in the 1970s. The core of this policy is the so-called weighted student funding system. This policy instrument departs from the premise that students can be discerned according to level of disadvantage, and that schools with disadvantaged students should receive extra financial resources accordingly to combat educational delays. When this system was developed in the early 1980s, three indicators of disadvantage were applied, viz. parental educational level, occupational level, and country of birth. Analyses performed at the time showed a predictive validity estimate of 0.50, or 25 percent of explained variance in the students’ educational attainment. In the course of years the demographic circumstances have changed and the funding system has been adapted. Nowadays there only is one indicator of disadvantage left, that is, parental educational level. Analyses performed on data from the 2014 measurement wave of the national large-scale COOL5-18 cohort study show a validity estimate of 0.20, or no more than 4 percent of explained variance. It is argued that the empirical foundation of the educational disadvantage policy has become questionably frail and that instead of employing demographical family characteristics, focusing on the actual performance of children based on test achievement or teacher observations probably offers a more valid alternative.
Geert Driessen (2015). De wankele empirische basis van het onderwijsachterstandenbeleid. De afnemende validiteit van indicatoren voor de toewijzing van extra middelen. Mens & Maatschappij, 90(3), 221-243.