Small Municipalities Achieve Lower Grades after the Seventh Grade
The quality of the offered education is uneven among municipalities. Schools in small municipalities are not comparable in terms of quality and results to those in the big ones.
The quality of education in Bulgaria can be measured in several different ways. The education system itself has independent assessmentс for all students following each of its three stages. Apart from that, Bulgaria takes part in several international sturdies of educational achievement, PISA and TALIS among them. In broad terms, they point out that in a comparative context the quality of education provided by the Bulgarian educational system is on an average level compared to other countries and does not change significantly over the years.
The country level analysis - especially a country like Bulgaria, where there are considerable regional differences – however, often hides the inherent inequalities and the broad range of the level of educational attainment within the country. Because of this, here we will examine the performance of the students in the different municipalities in the country.
The quality measurement used is the performance of the students on the compulsory exam in Bulgarian language and literature held after the seventh grade. This indicator is chosen because it covers the entire country. This allows for a perfect comparison, as the tests used are the same for all students in the same year.
There are significant differences between the municipalities. While in Novo selo, Vidin district, the average result is barely 7.9 out of 65 points, in Zlatitsa, Veliko Turnovo district - 10.2, the seventh grade students in Zlatograd, Smoyan district achieve an average result of 39.8 and in Smoyan itself - 39.7. These extreme differences are probably not only the result of low teaching quality, but also of random variations and the relatively small number of students in these municipalities. Nevertheless, there is an obvious proportional relationship between the size of the city or town and the mean result of the external evaluation, i.e. larger municipalities generally achieve higher evaluation results. The reason behind this is most likely not only the concentration of better schools and teachers in those municipalities, but also the fact that better students are choosing schools in the bigger cities. The opposite conclusion however cannot be made for smaller municipalities, at least not with high certainty – they achieve both good and bad results, but the lower ones are predominant compared to the bigger municipalities.
The results indicate that the quality of the education is quite uneven between the municipalities – the schools in the smaller ones are incomparable in terms of education quality and attainment with the ones in the big cities. Should it even be assumed that the family and social background in smaller municipalities offer a worse start to students it is obvious that the schools do not manage to overcome these deficits but rather maintain them.
There are at least two solutions to this problem. The first option is to intentionally direct human and financial resources with to municiaplities with bad results. The current financing system, however, already distributes financial resources unevenly and gives priority to places where assessments show weak results;despite that the differences in quality remain significant. Redirecting teachers to smaller cities on a large scale seems hard to achieve even if there is financial motivation, given the advancement opportunities and living conditions in smaller cities and towns.
For years now such redirecting of highly-educated young people to schools in poorly developed, minority-dominated and rural communities has been done by the “Together in class” program. Notwithstanding that the program creates good conditions and motivates young teachers, which are an ever rarer sight in the educational system, its scope at this stage is way too narrow (according to the website of the program for the 2016/2017 school year there are 170 young teachers that participated in it) in order to lead to a systematic change in the quality of the education in underachieving areas. Should its approach be taken up and replicated on a much larger scale though, it could provide a solution to the education quality issues.
The second option is to consolidate schools. Statistical analysis on the school level indicates that schools where more students are taking the after-seventh-grade exam achieve higher scores (the effect is 0.15 points per student taking the exam). The consolidation of the school system will lead not only to the provision of access to higher quality education to more students, but also to a reduction of costs for maintenance of school buildings and staff in places where low-quality education is provided. The present system of secondary education funding hinders this process as unified cost standards are allocating more resources exactly to students in smaller municipalities. Apparently, however, larger the larger per-student payments in these municipalities cannot guarantee better education, but has the opposite effect – it artificially supports schools with poor quality teaching.