2017 | 2(2017) | 146–163
Article title

Education reform and inequality: fifteen years of new lower secondary schools in Poland

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Inequalities in education are so deeply embedded in social stratification that even far-reaching school reforms are not able to weaken the influence of social origin on school achievements. The aim of this article is to verify whether the education reform, which in Poland established a new type of 3-year lower secondary school (gimnazjum), simultaneously equalised the chances of students from different social backgrounds at the transition from lower to upper secondary school. All hypotheses were tested using PISA data from the years 2000–2012, which covered the period before and after school reform in Poland. In case of the first hypothesis, which concerned changes in the impact of social origin on student’s performance in the last year of the new schools, i.e. a year before transition to upper secondary school, PISA data clearly demonstrated that after the reform, there was no significant decrease in correlations between socio-economic status of students and their results in three PISA domains: mathematics, reading and science. In case of the second hypothesis, which was directly focused on social selections to upper secondary schools, PISA data did not confirm that anything changed in this respect after the reform. The third hypotheses addresses the problem of the growing differences among schools in terms of their performance. During the fifteen years since the reform, new schools started to diversify more and more, especially in large cities. PISA demonstrates, however, that this diversification did not perpetuate social inequalities, but rather resulted from competition among schools in the quality of instruction. The latter result was supported by PISA data from eight European countries where students, as in Poland, attend schools which are not divided into tracks. Between 2003 and 2012, growing differences among schools was observed in most of these countries, but in none of them was it accompanied by growing inequalities in education.
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