Roma students in the Hungarian education system
The educational outcomes of Roma students, both male and female, lag behind in several aspects. They are more likely to go to lower quality schools and to repeat grades in both elementary and secondary school. If they are admitted to secondary school, they are more likely to go to lower level secondary schools than their non-Roma peers. The achievement gap in standardized reading and math test scores between Roma and non-Roma students is comparable with the size of the black to white test score gaps of the USA in the 1980s (Kertesi and Kézdi 2011, 2014). About 13–50% of this gap comes from the fact that Roma students do not have access to high-quality education, and the remainder is accounted for by differences in social background (Kertesi and Kézdi 2014). The Hungarian education system is rated as one of the worst among the OECD countries in terms of offsetting social disadvantages. According to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, family background explains one of the largest shares of the variance in mathematics test results in Hungary among the OECD countries (OECD 2014). With free elementary school choice and early tracking, the Hungarian education system is highly segregative with respect to disadvantaged students in general, and with respect to Roma students in particular (Kertesi and Kézdi 2009).
Compulsory education and the reform
Before the reform, students had to stay in school until the end of the academic year in which they reached age 16. The reform, the Public Education Act (1996), extended compulsory school attendance by 2 years, from age 16 to age 18 and first applied to those starting school in 1998. The regulation allowed few exceptions and sanctions on noncompliance were relatively harsh. Schools were not allowed to expel pupils below the school leaving age on any account, and the obligation of school attendance could be lifted only in special cases after age 16, such as getting married or having a child. Schools were supposed to keep a record of all absences and a ministerial decree required them to notify parents after the first unjustified absence (11/1994. (VI. 8.) MKM decree). If the pupil missed another class, the school had to inform the parents of the consequences via the municipal child welfare agency and convince them to fulfill their parental responsibilities. If a child missed 50 classes (unjustified), the school director had to inform the district notary, who could fine the parents of up to 50 thousand forints (about the monthly net minimum wage at the time). Parents not letting their children attend school for long periods could be imprisoned for up to 5 years (Kazuska 2012). There is no data on the actual use of sanctions by municipal notaries, but some qualitative evidence suggests that sanctions were applied unevenly, often depending on the discretion of the notary (Mártonfi 2011a).
To the best of our knowledge, no administrative data are published on the number of students who should legally be still in school but they are not. The Public Education Statistics of the Public Education Information System, which is the administrative school census, captures who is enrolled in school, but it does not register ethnicity. The only full coverage data source on schooling status and ethnicity at the same time is the Hungarian Census. Figure 2 shows the share of all women and Roma women in school in the 2001 Census, prior to the reform, as well as in the 2011 Census, after the reform, by age. Prior to the reform, 96.4% of 15-year-old Roma women were still in school right before reaching the actual CSL age of 16 that was in place at that time.Footnote 7 At age 17, only 35% of Roma women were still in school in 2001.
After the reform, in 2011, the share of Roma women still in school at age 17 (i.e., before reaching the new CSL age of 18) was 76.9%. For comparison, among all women, the share of those still in school at age 17 was 96.7% in 2011. While the enforcement of the new CSL age might not have been perfect, it still contributed to increasing the share of Roma women in school at age 17 from 35.0% in 2001 to 76.9% in 2011 (Fig. 2). Due to imperfect enforcement, we can only estimate the lower bound of the effects of the reform. Furthermore, as having a child could have been used as a reason to drop out of school early, some women might have faced extra incentives towards childbearing.
The reform first applied to students who enrolled in elementary school in the 1998/1999 academic year, in September 1998. This cohort was already aware of the increase in compulsory schooling at age 6. Although the reform included other elements as well, increased CSL age was the only measure leading to a sharp difference between those entering elementary school in September 1997 versus in September 1998. The new legislation also laid down how to adapt the structure of secondary schools to accommodate the new CSL age by forcing all programs to offer at least four grades, and thus, last until at least age 18. This adaptation process already began in the 1998/1999 academic year and by the time the first affected cohort entered secondary education in 2006, it had been completed for half a decade.
Elementary school has 8 grades. According to the elementary school enrollment rule that time, students were expected to enter the first grade of elementary school at age 6 if they were born before June 1, but only a year later at age 7 if they were born on June 1 or after. Thus, compliance with the enrollment rule creates a discontinuity in the probability of starting school in one academic year versus the next: those born before June 1, 1991, were more likely to start elementary school under the old CSL age regime of age 16, while those born on June 1, 1991, or later, were more likely to start elementary school under the new CSL age legislation of age 18 and to stay in school 2 years longer.
Compliance with the enrollment rule is not perfect. On top of the rule, elementary school enrollment is a decision made during preschool, jointly by parents, preschool teachers, and if needed, pedagogical and psychological counselors who are employed by public Pedagogical Service Centers. In this period, attending preschool was mandatory from age 5. When it is due to make a decision about entering elementary school, preschool teachers have to provide an official opinion about whether a child is ready to enter school. If there are any doubts, based on the inquiry of preschool teachers, the local Pedagogical Service Center completes a “school readiness examination.”
On average, compliance with the enrollment rule is 78–80% (Table 2). Some parents have a preference for delaying enrollment, especially, but not exclusively, if their child was born right below the cutoff, because they think that being relatively old in the class is better than being relatively young. According to administrative data, about 18–20% of a cohort start elementary school later than when they are supposed to based on their date of birth (late starters). Those born above the cutoff, in June–Dec, also might start school earlier (early starters), but only if they completed at least 1 year in preschool that was compulsory at that time before school enrollment and passed the school readiness examination. Early school start is rare though, less than 2% on average (Table 2). Roma students, in particular, are prone to start school later, some by even 2 years: partly because they tend to start the 1-year compulsory preschool later than their peers and partly because due to their low socio-economic background they lag behind in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills and would not pass the school readiness examination (Kende and Illés 2007). It is not uncommon that Roma and/or disadvantaged students delay school enrollment to age 8. However, delaying school enrollment to that age (very late starters) is usually a consequence of special individual circumstances, like having special education needs or long-term illness (Kende and Illés 2007), and it is largely independent of the enrollment rule.
While no administrative data are available on the school enrollment of Roma students, the census provides information on whether someone is in school, and if so, which grade she attends, at the time of the data collection. However, as grade repetition is possible and is not registered in the census,Footnote 8 we cannot directly check compliance with the enrollment rule. For the sample of Roma women, the only thing we can show is that there is a jump in the probability of starting school after the reform around the cutoff but we can not pin down the exact magnitude of this jump. Consequently, we will only estimate ITT effects around the cutoff.
Theoretically, those who started school after the reform, in 1998 or later, should have been in the third or a lower grade, while those who started school before the reform, in 1997 or earlier, should have been in the fourth or in a higher grade in the Spring of 2001, if they had not repeated grades. About 20% of Roma students are expected to be grade repeaters though (Table 13 in the Appendix); thus, the only thing we know with certainty is that if someone is in the fourth or in a higher grade in the 2001 Census, she must have started school already in 1997 or earlier, before the reform. If someone is in the third or in a lower grade, it might mean that they either started school in 1998 or later, after the reform, or they started school before the reform and repeated grades (potentially multiple times). Figure 3 shows the distribution of female students born in 1991 across grades in 2001 by month of birth. The high share of those still in the first or second grade among Roma women confirms the expected high prevalence of late/very late starters and grade repetitions on both sides of the cutoff. What is clear though is that Roma women born below the cutoff are more likely to be in the fourth grade and less likely to be in the third grade than Roma women born above the cutoff, while the difference around the cutoff in the probability of being in the first or second grade is small (and if tested, insignificant), showing that the share of grade repeaters and very late starters is about the same on both sides of the cutoff. The fact that those born below the cutoff are more likely to be in the fourth grade and thus more likely to have started school before the reform, than those born above the cutoff, shows that there is indeed a jump in the probability of being exposed to the reform around the cutoff in 1991.
We use the probability of being at most in the third grade in the Spring of 2001 to proxy the probability of starting school after the reformFootnote 9 (Fig. 4). Again, those in the fourth grade surely started school before the reform while those in at most the third grade either started school after the reform or they started school before the reform and repeated grades. Thus, in the worst case scenario, we underestimate the size of the jump in the probability of being exposed to the reform. This is not a problem for our purpose. All we need to estimate the ITT effects of the reform is to demonstrate that there is a significant jump in the probability of exposure around the cutoff and we do not use the size of the jump. Among all women born in 1991, the probability of being at most in the third grade jumps from 47 to 85%, while among Roma women, it jumps from 70 to 94% around the cutoff (Fig. 4).
To have a rough idea about how large the jump would be if we did not have to deal with the problem of unobserved grade repetitions, we can look at children who are not in school yet at age 6 in the censuses. If they were born below the cutoff, they are going to be late starters as they should have already been in school; if they were born above the cutoff, they are compliers as they should not be in school yet.Footnote 10 The relevant cohorts for this comparison consist of those born in 1994 in the case of the 2001 Hungarian Census and those born in 2005 in the case of the 2011 Hungarian Census.Footnote 11 Figure 5 shows that in the two censuses, among Roma women born in June–May, 46–68% , while among those born in June–December, 92–100% of pupils are not in school yet at age 6. The jump in the probability of not being in school yet at age 6 around the cutoff is about 27–28 percentage points among Roma women, which is only slightly higher than to the jump we have found above for those born in 1991 (24 pp). This result is in line with our finding that there is no jump in the probability of being in a lower class (first or second) at age 9/10 among those born in 1991 around the cutoff; thus, the probability of starting school at age 8 and repeating grades are similar on the two sides of the cutoff.
We do not have information on how grade repetition might have affected the enforcement of CSL age. There should be no problem with those who started school in 1998: even if they repeated a grade later, they entered a new class where everybody else was exposed to the higher CSL age, too. The question is what happened to those who started in 1997, before the reform, repeated a grade, and moved to a class where everybody else was supposed to stay in school until age 18. Practically, those students who were aware of the fact that they could have dropped out at age 16 should have had the possibility to do so if they wanted to. On the other hand, some students who just went with the flow might have stayed in school longer, together with their peers in the repeating class. As some women born below the cutoff might have shifted to the intention-to-treat group due to grade repetitions, we might underestimate the real effect around the cutoff.