Children, Schools, and Inequality

Children, Schools, and Inequality

Children, Schools, and Inequality

Children, Schools, and Inequality


"A compelling inquiry into family & school influences by a talented research team." Glen Elder University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "Comprehensive & well-written, this is an invaluable, exciting, & very important summary of findings during the early school years." Jacqueline Eccles University of Michigan


The purpose of this book is to shed light on the process of schooling--how and why attending school affects children's cognitive and socioemotional development. Schooling is not the same as learning, although children do learn many things in school, including much that is not in the formal curriculum.

The sociopsychological basis of schooling has challenged researchers all through this century. For one of us (DRE) it has been the most important thread running through a career--beginning with a study of placebo effects in a field experiment in 1961 and continuing through to the present. Hopefully the work presented here, which is based entirely on observational data, will shed some new light on early schooling. It is truly astounding that so little sociological research directly concerns young children. Despite prodigious efforts by educators and by a wide group of social scientists, we know very little about schooling. To give an example, teachers for a long time have believed that children in small classes do better than children in big classes but only recently has robust evidence been marshaled to support this belief. (See Mosteller 1996.) Many other school practices like reading groups for first graders or curricular tracking in high school likewise are common but more because of opinions or custom than because of solid scientific evidence that tells us how these organizational devices actually work.

Politics and policy are part of the problem. When children appear not to be doing well in school, society blames the school and cries for change. Then, to placate constituents, school boards and departments of education order changes in schools, not because they know the changes will be effective but because making a change offers them a way to deal with political pressure. Likewise, policy makers in all sections of the government recommend changes, often well-intended, but again with no explicit scientific justification. In a country like the U.S., with grass-roots control of education and with almost everyone having a stake in the outcome, the cacophony is monumental. Fortunately, human beings would not have survived to the present if they could not learn under almost any conditions.

Our purpose in starting the Beginning School Study was to look--to watch children when they started school, catalogue their experiences, query their parents and teachers, and, with as few preconceptions as possible, to try to understand what helps or hinders their schooling. In short, the Beginning School Study was conceived as a multi-faceted longitudinal study to examine . . .

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