A Danish school became the focus on intense criticism on Wednesday for setting an “ethnic quota” policy. In effect, the school limits the number of immigrant background in some of its classes to keep students of Danish background from leaving and to promote social integration.
The policy was introduced in Langkaer, an upper secondary school near Aarhus. The school went from having a 25% student population of immigrant background in 2007 to 80% in 2016.
In practice, the policy entails racially profiling first-year students and distributing them to different classes. Out of seven first-year classes, three are signaled out in which the ratio of ethnic Danes to immigrants must be 1:1 (50%). The other four classes consist of students with 100% immigrant background.
The school’s headmaster Yago Bundgaard defended the policy as an attempt to promote integration by retaining “sufficient numbers from both groups” in school. The headmaster admits that racial profiling on the basis of a Danish sounding name is controversial, but it is the lesser of two evils.
An MP of Turkish origin, Ozlem Cekic, vowed to take the matter to Denmark’s Board of Equal Treatment, as the policy could be seen as protecting the white from the brown. Human rights activists are questioning the legal grounds for such a policy. And the Danish Education Minister Ellen Trane Norby has commissioned a report on the issue, for all ethnically mixed schools in Denmark.
A common issue in Europe
A 2012 OECD report shed light for the common issue of clustering of disadvantaged children in particular schools in many countries in Europe. The report noted that “in most OECD countries, students’ attainment is typically lower in schools where most of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds.” These are often pupils of immigrant background.
By intuition, parents seeks to avoid such schools as they know that students’ socio-economic background has a strong impact on their performance. Disadvantaged schools tend to reinforce socioeconomic inequality, although less so in Nordic countries. According to the OECD, a student in a school with a stronger socio-economic foundation performs 32-to-50% better in reasing for example.
Not all schools in socioeconomically challenged areas provide lower standard educational services. In fact, the most successful schools in mitigating inequality are in Nordic countries, namely Finland, Norway, and Iceland. Successful strategies include investment in teaching methodology, coaching and mentoring programs for pupils, incentive programs designed to retain talented teachers, and managerial support for schools.
Overall, policy evaluation is hard because many of the most successful strategies tend to be context specific. It is preferable that improvement strategies are developed in schools and build on the capacity of existing staff. In the Netherlands for example, persistently low performing schools are identified by the inspectorate and interventions are based on action plan that are founded on extensive consultations with staff, parents, and students.