The 7th Meeting of Equitable Education Alliance Budgeting and Financing Mechanism for Equity in Education : Needs-based Resourcing as a Tool for Alleviating the Effects of Social and Urban Segregation
Dr. Venla Bernelius, Leading Specialist, City of Helsinki, Docent, University of Helsinki

Dr. Bernelius highlighted Finland’s egalitarian education system, which has been a key factor in the country’s excellent PISA results. Finland has achieved excellent PISA results, with minimal variance between schools and institutional qualities and a robust public provision of education. Schools are stable and financed by the state, independent of where you live. The learning outcomes are minimal, and the school system is based on a very equitable provision of early childhood education and care that is an integral part of the school system. However, Dr. Bernelius also pointed out differences in the adult education system level between municipalities, especially in the capital city of Helsinki, where there are growing levels of social and spatial disadvantage and a lack of equal opportunities. The gap in the educational outcomes between the highest and lowest school deciles is equivalent to a 2.5-year learning gap. More importantly, segregation patterns seen and differentiated by parental education level affect education outcomes and school ability. The need to understand how growing disadvantages are organized in schools and what models can be used to tackle these problems was highlighted.

The presentation also highlighted the geographical patterns of educational disadvantage that have been extensively analyzed. All school catchment areas have been mapped out in the southernmost part of Finland, the few municipalities around the capital region of Helsinki, ESPOO, and Monta cities. The Finnish system is geographically allocation-based, which has been shown to make the differences between schools slightly smaller. The geographical correlation between spatial disadvantage and school segregation is relatively high in all countries. If the degree of school choice is more minor, the school segregation patterns tend to be smaller.

Dr. Bernelius presented maps demonstrating an accumulation of different advantages or disadvantages in the same school districts, indicating a growing gap between neighborhoods. Looking at the time developments, the gaps between neighborhoods have been growing. The spatial units, the disadvantaged or advantaged neighborhoods, are growing together. There is also an extreme path dependency, showing that the neighborhoods that were the most advantaged or the most underprivileged tended to be that already 20 years ago. Even though the gaps have been growing, the rank order remains the same. The Urban Paradox is the phenomenon that shows that the most advantaged neighborhoods and the most disadvantaged neighborhoods can be found one kilometer apart in the urban core.

Moreover, Dr. Bernelius noted that children tend to be more spatially segregated than adults. Families with children are even more sensitive to their living environment than, for example, couples without children. Families with children with the economic means to make choices tend to shy away from neighborhoods they perceive might have social problems. This makes the segregation patterns of children even stronger than other population groups, which of course, have even further separate schools. School-pupil segregation tends to be stronger than neighborhood segregation, as well-educated parents are more likely to try to choose a school outside their neighborhood. In the Finnish system, where the institutional quality of schools is unanimous, the options are very often based on the socioeconomic background of the other students. This affects school reputations, of course, in countries where institutional qualities differ. So, school choices then separate schools even further apart.

Understanding the spatial organization and school choices can help researchers statistically model the likelihood of each school having concentrations of educational disadvantage. An example demonstrated the reliable predictive power of a model in Helsinki, which predicted educational outcomes in schools using only neighborhood characteristics. The study forecasted each school’s educational results based on background characteristics. A needs-based model was built to provide extra resources to schools at risk for producing low educational outcomes. The allocation model does not use educational outcomes but tries to predict them and only uses background factors to avoid incentivizing bad outcomes or punishing hardworking schools.

The presentation further discusses the importance of understanding segregation dynamics in education and the need for needs-based allocation of resources to prevent segregation in schools. It highlights how segregation affects schools’ reputations and educational outcomes, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of segregation. The Finnish system has recognized this and uses models based on school-level characteristics to prevent segregation at both local and national levels. The presentation also mentions a vast project to model and understand the country’s dynamics in schools and develop indicators for national model development. Many other municipalities in Finland are following suit and developing their programs. The city of Helsinki currently spends €10 million annually on additional school resources, but there is debate on whether this should be increased. The R square of the current model for predicting educational outcomes is 0.75, which is considered high, and the model identifies schools at risk for educational disadvantage using indicators such as the share of parents with tertiary degrees, unemployed parents, pupils living in high-poverty households, household income, and pupils with non-native home language. The system aims to allocate support to schools based on identifying shared dynamics of disadvantage in school communities rather than supporting individual students. Discussions are ongoing about how much funding is necessary to address persistent cycles of disadvantage and segregation.

In a nutshell, the main point learned in Finland in the past 20 years of research at the university, municipalities, and ministries is that even very equal egalitarian institutions are not shielded from these types of circles of segregation, stigmatization, and disadvantage. Even if you have a very egalitarian funding system, social dynamics of educational disadvantage and segregation can still affect the system in harmful ways. This is why it is not enough to get the funding to a consistent level, but there needs to be a way to efficiently allocate extra funding to prevent some schools from getting into these cycles of segregation. Moreover, needs-based resourcing aims to support disadvantaged pupils at schools and make these schools more attractive in parental school choices, as choices tend to push schools further apart. There is also an attempt to make these schools more attractive for parents in school choices and, in this way, to prevent further segregation by choice.


Needs-based Resourcing as a Tool for Alleviating the Effects of Social and Urban Segregation, The 7th Meeting of Equitable Education Alliance Budgeting and Financing Mechanism for Equity in Education by Dr. Venla Bernelius, Leading Specialist, City of Helsinki, Docent, University of Helsinki.

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