Chapter 7. Organise resources to reduce the influence of socio-economic status on the outcomes of immigrants

This chapter identifies the extent to which socio-economic status determines the academic performance and general well-being of individuals with an immigrant background in different OECD countries. The extent to which socio-economic status exacerbates other forms of disadvantage associated with having an immigrant background is also examined. The chapter illustrates principles that could guide the design and implementation of policies and practices to ensure that immigrants are not held back by a relatively disadvantaged socio-economic condition. The role of institutional and governance aspects of education policy (including the implementation of market mechanisms, resource allocation criteria and curricular guidelines) and how they can be used to reduce the influence of socio-economic status on the outcomes of immigrant groups is discussed.

    

Socio-economic status is one of the strongest determinants of students’ academic performance and general well-being (OECD, 2016[1]; OECD, 2017[2]) and has been widely examined in the case of immigrant students (Marks, 2005[3]; Martin, 1998[4]; Portes and MacLeod, 1996[5]).

Socio-economic status affects individual outcomes through a variety of channels, at the individual, school and system levels. A family’s socio-economic status can determine parents’ ability to provide for their children’s needs, to be involved in their education and to effectively guide them during the transition from education and training into the labour market. It can also influence the socio-economic composition of the school that students attend, which has an impact on the school’s resources and environment and the social networks children are exposed to. Parents with high educational attainment are also better able to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children, and in which their children will meet stimulating peers. At the system level, socio-economic status is related to spending on education, which affects children’s ability to perform and enjoy a sense of well-being. Parental socio-economic status is also associated with the ability of individuals to engage in unpaid or poorly paid internships, which promote skill accumulation and guarantee access to highly coveted jobs. Parental socio-economic status also acts as a safety net, which enables individuals to make riskier career decisions (OECD, 2018[6]).

Individuals with an immigrant background tend to have more disadvantaged socio-economic status: they generally have parents with lower educational attainment, parents in less prestigious occupations and fewer economic resources in the household. Immigrants also tend to have fewer social networks established in their host country and have social networks composed of individuals who are equally disadvantaged, limiting their ability to network within their social circles to improve their long-term outcomes.

This chapter compares the socio-economic status of native students and students with an immigrant background, while also exploring the link between differences in socio-economic status and differences in well-being outcomes. It will stress the importance of observing different aspects of the socio-economic status of students with an immigrant background instead of focusing on a single one or composite measures. It will also highlight that, despite the fact that socio-economic status is a major risk factor for students with an immigrant background, it has a limited role for certain groups of non-native students and other factors may prevent immigrant integration. Finally, this section will detail some policies and practices designed to address barriers related to socio-economic status.

The socio-economic status of students with an immigrant background

PISA measures socio-economic status through a composite indicator called the index of economic, social and cultural capital (ESCS). It summarises information on parental level of education and occupational status, as well as the availability of a set of household items including consumer durables, and educational and cultural resources. The index is designed to have a value of zero for the average OECD student and a standard deviation of one across equally weighted OECD countries.

Although both thorough and simple (one number summarises a complex phenomenon such as socio-economic status), the ESCS index also has some important drawbacks. The most notable is that it does not allow for the examination of whether the roots of socio-economic disparities in different countries and between different groups of students stem from different mechanisms and processes.

The socio-economic status of students, as measured by their values on the ESCS index, differs greatly across students with a different immigrant background and between countries. Figure 7.1 suggests that, on average across OECD countries, first-generation immigrant students are the most socio-economically disadvantaged compared to native students. In 2015, on average across OECD countries, the ESCS of first-generation immigrant students was about one-third of a standard deviation below the average OECD students, while the ESCS of second-generation immigrant students was about one-third of a standard deviation below.

In as many as 22 out of 49 countries with available data, the ESCS of first-generation immigrant students was lower than those of their native peers, while the opposite was true only in 10 countries. The gap was above 0.5 (one half of a standard deviation) in 17 countries and economies, including Austria, Belgium, France, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden, while it was above 0.8 in Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (Argentina), Greece, Hong Kong (China), Mexico and the United States. The ESCS of second-generation immigrant students was below that of native students in as many as 29 countries and economies out of 58 with available data.

Figure 7.1. Difference between immigrant and native students in socio-economic status, by immigrant generation
Difference in the PISA Index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS)
Figure 7.1. Difference between immigrant and native students in socio-economic status, by immigrant generation

Note: Statistically significant differences are marked in a darker tone. Results are displayed only for countries/economies with valid estimates of the ESCS score of second-generation immigrant students. Statistically significant differences in ESCS between first- and second-generation immigrant students are shown next to country/economy names. For the OECD and EU averages, this number refers only to the subset of countries/economies with valid information on both groups of students. Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the difference in the ESCS index between second-generation immigrant and native students.

Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Database.

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933939866

Data from PISA 2015 shows that in the majority of countries, immigrant students with at least one native-born parent (returning foreign-born students and native students of mixed heritage) are more advantaged than native students. On average across OECD countries, native students of mixed heritage and returning foreign-born students had values on the index that were 0.10 and 0.28 point higher, respectively, than that of native students. These results suggest that having at least one native-born parent crucially influences the socio-economic status of students with migration in their background, and therefore it might not represent a risk factor for their successful integration.

Although the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) is designed to have the highest possible correlation with its three components (parents’ education, parents’ occupational status and household possessions) and to capture the greatest amount of information, the three components might not be completely aligned in all instances. For example, high skilled immigrants might have to go through a period of adjustment before they attain an occupational status that matches their education level. Also, an immigrant who has recently entered the host country is likely to own fewer household possessions than a native who has lived in the host country throughout his or her life.

Results from looking at the individual components of ESCS in PISA 2015 show that “socio-economic disadvantage” can stem from various sources, and not necessarily all of them simultaneously. Compared to native students, immigrant students (first and second-generation immigrant students) tend to have lower economic and social status, but similar cultural status. In the vast majority of countries and economies with available data, the parents of immigrant students have fewer household possessions; in about half of the participating countries/economies, they have lower occupational status; and in slightly less than half of the countries/economies, they had completed fewer years of education.

In the United Kingdom, the parents of immigrant and native students completed the same number of years of education and hold the same occupational status; however, immigrant students have fewer household possessions (a difference in the index of one-third of a standard deviation). In Italy and Spain, parents completed the same number of years of education across immigrant backgrounds, but the economic and social status of immigrant and native students differ widely. In both countries, the difference in the index of household possessions between native and immigrant students is around two-thirds of a standard deviation, which corresponds to the difference between the average student in Norway and Portugal. When it comes to occupational status, differences are also well above OECD average (7 points): 14 points in Italy and 10 points in Spain.

These results show that the type of socio-economic disadvantage experienced by immigrant students changes across groups and countries. Therefore, policies and practices aiming to reduce the disadvantages experienced by immigrant students should reflect the specific needs of targeted individuals.

Socio-economic status and the academic resilience of students with an immigrant background

PISA reveals that socio-economic status is an important mediating factor in the relationship between immigrant background and academic resilience. Figure 7.2 shows differences between native and immigrant students in the percentage of students who attained baseline levels of proficiency in the core PISA subjects, before and after accounting for socio-economic status in PISA 2015. In 25 countries and economies, the gap between the two groups was considerably smaller after socio-economic differences were considered. This means that gaps in academic proficiency between the two groups of students were at least partly due to immigrant students being more socio-economically disadvantaged than native students.

Being disadvantaged is a risk factor for failing to attain baseline levels of academic performance in the three core PISA subjects. On average across OECD countries, the share of native students who attained such levels was 18 percentage points larger than the share of immigrant students who did so, before accounting for socio-economic status. The difference narrows to 14 percentage points when comparing native and immigrant students of similar socio-economic status. In Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires (CABA) (Argentina), France, Luxembourg and the United States, the difference between the two groups before and after accounting for socio-economic status was larger than 10 percentage points. In the United States, socio-economic status was particularly influential since the gap between the two groups becomes statistically non-significant after accounting for ESCS.

In the majority of countries and economies, the native-immigrant gap in the percentage of students attaining baseline academic proficiency remains statistically significant and large even after accounting for socio-economic status. In 18 countries and economies the gap adjusted for socio-economic status is still larger than 15 percentage points. Results show that, while socio-economic status accounts for a remarkably large share of the differences in academic achievement between the two groups of students, the largest portion of the disparities remains unexplained in most countries and economies.

Figure 7.2. Difference between immigrant and native students in attaining baseline academic proficiency
Figure 7.2. Difference between immigrant and native students in attaining baseline academic proficiency

Notes: Statistically significant differences are marked in a darker tone. Only countries/economies with valid data on the immigrant-native gap in attaining baseline academic proficiency are shown. Only students with non-missing values on PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) index are considered. Statistically significant differences in the immigrant-native gap after and before accounting for socio-economic status are shown next to country/economy names. For the OECD and EU averages, this number refers only to the subset of countries/economies with valid information on both groups of students. Students who attain baseline academic proficiency are students who reach at least PISA proficiency level 2 in all three PISA core subjects – math, reading and science. Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage point difference between immigrant and native students in the percentage of students attaining baseline academic proficiency after accounting for socio-economic status.

Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Database.

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933939885

As discussed earlier, immigrant students with at least one native-born parent tend to have a higher socio-economic status than native students, yet they lag behind in academic performance. In 2015, in 35 countries and economies, the difference between native students and immigrant students with at least one native-born parent in the probability of attaining baseline levels of performance in the core PISA subjects widened after accounting for socio-economic status. In Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain and Tunisia, the gap became negative and statistically significant after accounting for socio-economic status.

Results indicate that the socio-economic advantage observed in immigrant students with at least one native-born parent mitigates the adverse effects of an immigrant background on academic performance, and thus reduces the difference in performance compared with native students. This implies that policies aiming to improve the integration of immigrant students with at least one native-born parent should target factors other than socio-economic status.

Socio-economic status and the social and emotional resilience of students with an immigrant background

PISA shows that socio-economic disadvantage is related to native-immigrant gaps in social, emotional and motivational well-being. Nevertheless, the correlation is markedly weaker than that between socio-economic status and academic performance gaps.

Figure 7.3 shows that socio-economic disadvantage is one of the factors that explain the gap between native and immigrant students in the percentage of students who report a sense of belonging at school. In 20 countries and economies, this gap narrowed after accounting for socio-economic status. Across OECD countries, the gap narrowed by around 1 percentage point (from approximately 7% to 6%); in Belgium, CABA (Argentina), Denmark, France, Hong Kong (China), Luxembourg and the United States, the gap narrowed by more than three percentage points. In CABA (Argentina) and France, the reduction was such that the gap between native and immigrant students was not statistically significant, while in Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg, the decrease of about 3 percentage points represented only a small part of the gaps observed before accounting for socio-economic status, all of which were considerably larger than 10 percentage points.

Results show that the relationship between socio-economic gaps and native-immigrant gaps in other well-being outcomes, such as schoolwork-related anxiety and life satisfaction, is even weaker than with sense of belonging. Overall, evidence shows that the socio-economic status of immigrant students does not play a major role in explaining their disadvantage in well-being measures. Policies aiming to reduce such gaps should focus on other risk factors more strongly related to the well-being of students with an immigrant background.

Figure 7.3. Difference between immigrant and native students in reporting a sense of belonging at school
Figure 7.3. Difference between immigrant and native students in reporting a sense of belonging at school

Notes: Statistically significant differences are marked in a darker tone.

Only countries/economies with valid data on the immigrant-native gap in reporting a sense of belonging at school are shown.

Students who reported a sense of belonging at school are those who reported that they “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement “I feel like I belong at school” and “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement “I feel like an outsider at school”.

Only students with non-missing values on the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) index are considered.

Statistically significant differences in the immigrant-native gap after and before accounting for socio-economic status are shown next to country/economy names.

Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage-point difference between immigrant and native students in the percentage of students reporting a sense of belonging at school after accounting for socio-economic status.

Source: OECD, PISA 2015 Database.

 StatLink http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933939904

From evidence to action: Lessons from the field including examples of policies and practices to limit barriers related to socio-economic status

This section highlights policies and practices that countries and schools have used to reduce the negative effects of the socio-economic disadvantage experienced by some groups of students with an immigrant background. It describes policy responses that can limit barriers related to socio-economic status, and best practices from various countries at different levels of governance.

Understand the role of socio-economic disadvantage

Socio-economic status is a strong determinant of students’ academic performance and general well-being (OECD, 2016[1]; OECD, 2017[2]) and the relevance of socio-economic status in shaping the outcomes of students with an immigrant background has been widely examined (Marks, 2005[3]; Martin, 1998[4]; Portes and MacLeod, 1996[5]). It affects student outcomes in a variety of ways, at the individual, school and system levels.

A family’s socio-economic status can determine parents’ ability to provide for their child’s needs and to be involved in their education. It can also influence the socio-economic composition of the school that students attend, which has an impact on the school’s resources and environment. For example, wealthy parents can afford private schooling when local public schools are not considered to be of high quality. Students from different backgrounds may have varying degrees of exposure to specific content in the classroom because of the instructional time school systems and teachers allocate to them. Research using PISA data suggests that up to one-third of the relationship between socio-economic status and student performance is accounted for by measures of opportunity to learn (Schmidt et al., 2015[7]).

The design of education systems can mediate the relationship between parents’ resources and learning outcomes. Sorting and selecting policies used by schools and education systems, such as early tracking or grade repetition, can lead to differences in academic and well-being outcomes across students from different socio-economic backgrounds. While the selection of students for certain grades or programmes should be based primarily on performance, research shows that students’ background characteristics also influence those decisions (Agasisti and Cordero, 2017[8]; Van de Werfhorst and Mijs, 2010[9]). Other characteristics of education systems, such as the level of resources available to public or private schools, or to urban and rural schools, can strengthen or weaken the relationship between socio-economic status and academic performance (Greenwald, Hedges and Laine, 1996[10]; OECD, 2016[11]; Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2005[12]).

Countries also alleviate students’ and schools’ socio-economic disadvantage with additional support in the form of greater resources. Countries typically use one of the following two approaches to promote equity: provide additional resources through targeted programmes (external to the main allocation mechanism) or include additional funding in the main allocation mechanism (e.g. through weightings in a funding formula) (OECD, 2017[13]).

Provide greater support to disadvantaged students and schools

Immigrant students are a key focus of resource allocations both because of migration-related needs (such as language difficulties) and socio-economic disadvantage (immigrant students tend to be socio-economically disadvantaged and live in disadvantaged communities). They can also be targeted through funding directed to certain geographical areas or to the actual population in each school. Area-based funding aims to address the additional negative impact of a concentration of disadvantage; student-based funding aims to adapt funding levels to the needs of the actual population in each school. Providing additional resources to students or areas that have greater need to promote equity in outcomes assumes that data on students’ level of needs is both available and accurate. Designing funding formulas to account for individual or area-based need also involves a trade-off between simplicity and accuracy (OECD, 2017[13]).

Many countries provide additional resources to schools to overcome language difficulties among newly arrived students, with funding provided to promote second-language teaching and learning and to support the creation of innovative teaching modules. For example, in Estonia, the Multicultural School project covering 2017-20 aims to reform the structure of financial support available to schools with a diverse student population and change school-level approaches to multiculturalism.

In the Flemish Community of Belgium, schools receive additional funding to target socio-economic disadvantage and have discretion over how to use this funding. The funding is mostly used to provide necessary material for teachers, and to cover expenditures to address the needs of disadvantaged students, such as specific teaching materials, in-service training or community-school activities (OECD, 2017[13]).

Extra funding can also be targeted to immigrant students facing a transition into a new education system. In Canada, for example, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has a funding programme for before- and after-school activities for “new Canadians”. This immigration strategy funding can support initiatives such as the provision of additional English Second Language (ESL) materials to school districts and funding to community groups such as the Association for New Canadians to support after school activities.

Limit the concentration of disadvantaged students

The concentration of disadvantage in schools is another risk factor that can affect the resilience of immigrant students. PISA data shows that most of the differences in student outcomes that appear to be associated with the concentration of students with an immigrant background in specific schools reflect the fact that these schools are socio-economically disadvantaged, rather than that these schools are disadvantaged because of a concentration of students with an immigration background (OECD, 2018[6])

Schools that struggle to provide quality education for native students might struggle even more with a large population of children who cannot speak or understand the language of instruction. Countries that distribute immigrant students across a mix of schools and classrooms achieve better outcomes for these students. A more even distribution also relieves the pressure on schools and teachers when large numbers of immigrant students arrive over a short period of time (OECD, 2015[14]).

Some countries have measures designed to counter the concentration of students with an immigrant background and promote integration. Countries have used three principal strategies to address the concentration of immigrant and other disadvantaged students in particular schools. The first is to attract and retain other students, including more advantaged students. The second is to better equip immigrant parents with information on how to select the best school for their child. The third is to limit the extent to which advantaged schools can select students on the basis of their family background (OECD, 2015[14]). Brunello and De Paola (2017[15]) suggest that desegregation policies are both equitable – they provide better opportunities to individuals from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds – and efficient.

Language barriers, resource constraints, lower levels of education or lack of knowledge of the host country’s school system could hinder immigrant parents’ capacity to enrol their children in the most appropriate schools (OECD, 2015[14]). To overcome these barriers, the municipality of Rotterdam in the Netherlands offers bus tours to take parents around to visit local schools. The purpose of the tour is to allow parents to discuss enrolment options, encourage them to use their local schools and provide more information on student-exchange projects available at schools with very different profiles. These projects, which include team sports, after-school child care and excursions, attempt to bring together students from diverse cultural backgrounds (Brunello and De Paola, 2017[15]).

In the Flemish Community of Belgium, in regions with many immigrant communities, a platform of local organisations linked with education has been established to design regulations that aim to avoid high concentrations of immigrants or natives in particular schools. The project School in zicht encourages parents of native children to enrol their child in local schools that have many students with an immigrant background (MIPEX, 2015[16]).

In Denmark, the 2006 school act permits municipalities to refer students with an immigrant background to other schools. Different measures to promote integration are developed at the municipality level. Some municipalities, such as Aarhus, practice forced desegregation; others, including Copenhagen, encourage ethnic-minority parents to choose a school with fewer ethnic minorities, and majority native parents to choose schools with a large number of ethnic-minority students. A report from the municipality of Copenhagen concluded that such measures seem to improve societal integration to a certain extent, but they can create new problems for the targeted minority students (MIPEX, 2015[16]).

The Education Territories of Priority Intervention Programme for clustered and non-clustered schools in Portugal is largely implemented in disadvantaged contexts, where the risk of school failure and dropout is high. Schools involved in the programme (17% of all Portuguese school clusters) are invited to develop specific improvement plans based on an agreement, between the school and school authorities, on measures, targets, evaluation and additional resources. The specific improvement plan covers four areas: support to improve learning; management and organisation of the cluster’s programmes; prevention of dropout, absenteeism and indiscipline; and relations among the school, families and community.

Studies have shown that it is mostly advantaged, non-immigrant families who exercise school choice. Therefore, it is important to make schools attractive to students from these families. One example is Qualität in multikulturellen Schulen (Quality in multicultural schools-QUIMS) in Switzerland that is obligatory when more than 40% of a school’s student population are multilingual. The school administration supports QUIMS-schools with extra financial resources and professional help, so that the school can adapt the programme as required in the areas of language, attainment and integration. Language support includes promoting literacy for all students using language-competence assessments, and creative work for oral and written proficiency, and supporting integrated “native language and culture lessons”. Attainment support includes a variety of learning methods to encourage co-operative learning and problem solving. Integration support is based on building a shared culture of appreciation, respect and understanding by using intercultural mediators to develop connections between parents and teachers, including the establishment of parent councils (Gomolla, 2006[17]; Herzog-Punzenberger, Pichon-Vorstman and Siarova, 2017[18]).

As school places are limited, the schools that are perceived to be of the highest quality are likely to attract more applicants than they have places available. Several studies suggest that school-choice plans should use simple lotteries to select among the applicants for oversubscribed schools in order to promote more diverse student populations (Godwin et al., 2006[19]). Education systems can also consider providing financial incentives for oversubscribed schools to enrol immigrant students (Field, Kuczera and Pont, 2007[20]). For example, in the French Community of Belgium, differentiated funding is provided to schools based on the socio-economic background of its students. The 2004 Contract for School and the 2007 Enrolment Decree seek to fight against segregated schools. The 2005 Report on Intercultural Dialogue identified the problem of concentration of disadvantage in ghetto schools and recommended using funds to increase socio-cultural diversity (MIPEX, 2015[16]).

References

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