No Child Left Behind? Role/identity Development of the "Good Student"

Article excerpt

Abstract: Using a new method to measure identity, we attempt to capture salient identities of young children developing into "good students." Using a nationally representative sample of American kindergarteners who advance to the first grade, derived from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, we examine identities based on socio-economic status, motor skills and weight that affect school performance as measured by both cognitive and non-cognitive skill assessments. Results reveal that identities derived from socio-economic status and motor skills are positively linked to school performance outcomes, and parents of first graders negatively link identities derived from body weight to first graders' non-cognitive skills. Our findings have implications for policies that concentrate on cognitive skills and ignore work habits when evaluating performance. We discuss the importance of linking identity development to both types of skills because American teachers and parents, unlike teachers and parents in East Asia, do not recognize the need to stress ability and effort equally when assessing schooling. We also interpret the meaning of our results for the No Child Left Behind Policy.


Social roles are positions within a network of relationships that have expectations attached to them (Stryker 1980; Stryker & Burke 2000). When an actor inhabits a social role for a length of time, she internalizes the associated role expectations. The definitions and meanings that constitute expectations become a part of her self-concept, the collection of meanings, or identities, that she possesses and would use to describe herself (Stets & Burke 2003). While embedded in a role, an actor performs according to role expectations, and thus expresses her self-meanings through behavior (Burke 1980). A tacit association between identities and role performances can be made, providing that actors within a social context share the same understanding of how one's self meanings and performance are related to one another (Burke & Tully 1977; Burke & Reitzes 1981; Burke & Franzoi 1988).

The association between identity and role performance can be examined with actors who can validly and reliably answer such questions as: "who am I?"; "how do I perform?"; and "which actors in this context are expected to perform in a certain way?" (Burke 1989; Burke, Stets & Pirog-Good 1988; Nuttbrock & Freudiger 1991; Simon 1992; Thoits 1995). However, the concepts of "identity" and "role performance" are not so readily operationalized with actors that lack the level of sophistication to understand these concepts, such as young children. Nonetheless, despite these methodological issues, evidence does exist that children develop and invoke identities, and the role performances indicative of these identities (Marsh, Craven & Debus 1991; Eccles, Wigfield, Harold & Blumenfeld 1993), although confirmation of these findings lacks reliability across studies (Wylie 1989; Byrne 1996). If a more valid and reliable way to measure identities of children were found, researchers would be better able to explore the link between self-meanings and behavior in young children.

The purpose of this paper is to explore a new method of identity measurement, developed by Jasso (2003, 2004), to determine if salient identities can be recognized without explicitly measuring the shared meaning system in which they are embedded. Specifically, we use this methodology to capture salient identities of very young students that are based on social status, the prestige one possesses based on one's differentially valued social distinctions. Using a nationally representative sample of kindergarteners that advance to the first grade, we examine the salient, status-based identities that may be linked to school performance as measured by both cognitive and non-cognitive skill assessments.

We feel this research is important because, in the U. …


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