When the Public Sector Behaves Like the Private Sector: the Stratifying Impact of the Choice of School Mechanism in Tallinn
The purpose of the article is to show how the choice of school on the basis of market principles causes the segregation of pupils into the so-called „good schools” and „not so good schools” on the basis of the background characteristics and strategic behaviour of their parents.
The data obtained through the interviews conducted in spring 2012, where the respondents were the parents of the pupils in the first three grades of the so-called elite schools in the centre of Tallinn and the so-called ordinary schools. The authors show that the phenomenon of elite schools, which is further emphasised by the ranking tables of schools published in the media, has inspired the parents to invent different strategies, including attending the pre-school and manipulation of residential addresses, for getting their children into these schools. Logistic regression analysis shows that these strategies in combination with background characteristics to a great extent determine the success of getting into an elite school. This in its turn means that the reproduction of educational stratification takes place at a very early level – upon transition from kindergarten to school. 840 parents whose children had started school in 2008–2011 replied to the questionnaires. 34.6 per cent of the children of the sample group go to elite schools. The analysis used logistic regression, which in the case of binary data is the traditional method of causal analysis. Being admitted to an elite school or not being admitted is the dependent variable of the model. Independent variables have been classified into different groups. The first group consists of the background characteristics of parents: mother’s and father’s education, net income of the family and family model. The second group characterises the educational strategy of parents: putting the child into pre-school, place of residence, participation in school entrance tests. Besides that, several reference variables were used: number of children in the family, cultural background, time spent with children, etc. At the same time it is also checked whether the experiment conducted in 2011 – preferring the choice of parents over schools of residence – further increased the segregating influence of choice of school.
The analysis proved that the working strategy for getting into the elite schools in the centre of the city is (1) completion of a fee-charging pre-school or living in the town centre, (2) mother’s higher education, (3) high income of the family. And the effects are surprisingly great, for example, attending a fee-charging pre-school ceteris paribus increases the chances of admittance by 55%, living in the city centre (or being registered as living there) by 66%. Even if the result received is, from the viewpoint of the trends of effects, not very original on the background of the problems connected with the choice of school in the rest of the world, then in addition to the size of effects, the given case is made more interesting by the fact that there are no instruments for balancing the segregation. Rather, in the existing mechanism several factors causing segregation function by mutually enhancing each other, like the advantage of registered address, school-based entrance tests, the autonomy of schools in deciding the admittance of pupils, etc. The message of the authors to those who doubt the necessity of school being the leveller of the impact of the background characteristics of parents: there are no good or bad children, there are only good or bad circumstances the children cannot control.