Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does mainstreaming hurt educational outcomes?

Stephen Donnelly TD (@donnellystephen) says our the state of our education system is a "national emergency." To support that thesis Donnelly cites a 2010 OECD report on educational outcomes.

I read the report - it's really more of a summary of findings - and the overall message is that our standards in reading and math have slipped. Alarming. However, one finding in particular caught my eye.
The experts attribute some of the declines to changes in the profile of Ireland’s student population, including larger numbers of migrant students who do not speak English as a first language and greater inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream schools where the PISA tests were carried out.
What is this saying? It seems pretty straight-forward that the measures used showed a fall-off in standards due to too many non-English speakers and too many weak students in the classroom. But - and this is the key issue for most parents AND for the state - does this mean that the average student is achieving less due to these students being in the classroom with him/her OR are these children simply bringing down the scores?

If it's simply the case that they're bringing down the scores and making comparison with other countries less useful, then why not exclude the scores of those who are non-English-speaking or have special needs? Then we can compare like with like and get a better feel for how we're doing compared with other countries.

But what if the experts are actually saying, indirectly, that the influx of so many "migrants" and/or the mainstreaming of special needs students is actually having a negative effect on the education that most children get? Then what? I suspect these questions would be considered beyond the pale, not worthy of consideration because they're politically incorrect.

Donnelly, of course, doesn't go anywhere near the issue. He mentions 4 countries - Canada, Finland, South Korea and New Zealand - with better education systems than we have. I'd love to know how they handle these issues because the implication of the comment from the expert group is that they don't deal with these matters in the same way Ireland does.

When it comes to immigrants, I can't imagine that the experience in New Zealand and Canada could be much different from Ireland's. I'd love to know how they deal with non-English-speaking students and what impact they have on their overall educational outcome as measured by the OECD.

I'd also love to know how all four of those countries handle children with special needs. If these factors are not issues, then I want to know why our employed experts mentioned it in the first place.