How effective are poor schools? Poverty and educational outcomes in South Africa

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP06/2006

Author(s): Servaas van der Berg

JEL Classification: J210

Keywords: Analysis of Education

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Massive differentials on achievement tests and examinations reflect South Africa’s divided past. Improving the distribution of educational outcomes is imperative to overcome labour market inequalities. Historically white and Indian schools still outperform black and coloured schools in examinations, and intraclass correlation coefficients (rho) reflect far greater between-school variance compared to overall variance than for other countries. SACMEQ’s rich data sets provide new possibilities for investigating relationships between educational outcomes, socio-economic status (SES), pupil and teacher characteristics, school resources and school processes. As a different data generating process applied in affluent historically white schools (test scores showed bimodal distributions), part of the analysis excluded such schools, sharply reducing rho. Test scores were regressed on various SES measures and school inputs for the full and reduced sample, using survey regression and hierarchical (multilevel) (HLM) models to deal with sample design and nested data. This shows that the school system was not yet systematically able to overcome inherited socio-economic disadvantage, and poor schools least so. Schools diverged in their ability to convert inputs into outcomes, with large standard deviations for random effects in the HLM models. The models explained three quarters of the large between-school variance but little of the smaller within-school variance. Outside of the richest schools, SES had only a mild impact on test scores, which were quite low in SACMEQ context.