This dissertation examines the role of national institutional characteristics, such as the presence of tracking and national funding practices, in shaping educational inequality. Of several ways of defining and conceptualizing educational inequality, the focus here is on the magnitude of the family socioeconomic status (SES) effect on academic achievement. The educational advantage of higher SES students, due to greater family resources and opportunities, is a consistent pattern observed not only in the United States but also in many other countries. The extent of advantage conferred by family SES, however, varies cross-nationally. These comparative differences underscore the importance of national institutional arrangements in shaping educational inequality, an issue that cannot easily be addressed in single-country studies.
Although a comparative perspective on social disparity in educational outcomes is not new in the research field, empirical studies, especially those focusing on academic achievement (i.e. test performance/score) as the educational outcome, have not yet been able to address the broad spectrum of relevant national institutional contexts fully, including the economy (private sector/labor-market arrangements), the welfare state, and the structure and financing of education. Drawing data from the PISA 2003, an international survey of student achievement in 30 OECD countries, and utilizing hierarchical linear modeling, this project examines the effect of a variety of national-level characteristics within and beyond the educational institution. It assesses the relative importance of a comprehensive list of institutional factors that may give rise to educational inequality, thereby advancing sociological understanding of the relationship between national structures/practices and enduring social disparity in academic achievement. The findings suggest that the strong presence of a state-controlled assertive formal education system (characterized by longer hours of schooling, more funding from national/regional levels of government, national control of textbooks, etc.) reduces the effect of family socioeconomic status on achievement. Incentives for school success in the labor market (the relative payoff for educational attainments) and the extent of welfare-state efforts appear to have weaker effects on family investment in their children's academic achievement. Overall, this study indicates that policy efforts directed to specific institutional changes may be useful ways to reduce educational inequality.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2013. Major: Sociology. Advisors: Professor Evan Schofer and Teresa Swartz. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 151 pages, appendices 1-2.
National institutional context and educational inequality: a multilevel analysis of variation in family SES effects on academic achievement across OECD countries.
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