Socio-economic disadvantage is a challenge to educators everywhere

poverty-schoolCompensating for students’ socio-economic disadvantage is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers,school leaders and education systems as a whole. However, data from PISA show that some countries are much better at this than others.

Consider the chart above. The horizontal axis shows the percentage of lower secondary teachers who work in schools where their principal reported that more than 30 percent of students in their school were from disadvantaged homes.1

The vertical axis shows the actual percentage of 15-year-old students from disadvantaged homes, measured by PISA’s internationally standardized index that summarizes various indicators of socio-economic disadvantage, including parents’ income and education level, educational resources at home, and other family possessions.2 In other words, the horizontal axis reflects school principals’ perception of disadvantage by national standards while the vertical axis reflects the prevalence of disadvantage as compared internationally.

Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico and Portugal are found in the upper right corner of the chart because their schools have a large share of disadvantaged children and that aligns with the reports of principals. The lower left corner includes the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Korea and Norway where disadvantage in schools is limited, and fewer than one in ten principals reports significant disadvantage.3 These are the results one would expect.

(Next page: Actual disadvantage vs. perceived disadvantage)