The Anatomy of inequalities in attainments: an international investigation on stratification and choice

Other title(s): The Anatomy of inequalities in attainments: an international investigation on stratification and choice; L'Anatomie des inégalités dans les performances scolaires: une analyse internationale de la stratification: résumé de la thèse

Author(s): Mostafa, Tarek

Organisation(s): CNRS; Université de la Méditerranée - Aix-Marseille II (France)

Date: 2009

Pages: 55 p.

Reducing inequalities in educational attainments has become a major preoccupation of educational reforms. Recent studies - especially the OECD’s “Education at a Glance” - proved the existence of large disparities in outcomes and subsequently triggered a heightened interest for policy evaluations and international comparisons. In fact, education policies have become a main source for political debates. These debates made the headlines in most developed countries. For instance, Der Spiegel’s headline on the 22nd of March 2007 was “UN slaps Berlin on the wrist: German schools perpetuate inequality report says;” The Guardian’s headline on the 26th of August 2008 was “Is inequality worse than ever?;” The New York Times’ headline on February the 2nd 2003 was “The tone of inequality in education;” and in France, Libération’s headline on the 17th of February 2009 was “Inégalités sociales dans l’éducation: Royal noircit un peu le tableau.” According to the traditional approaches, the level of inequality is defined as the strength of the impact of social background on educational attainments. This definition is implicit in some of the empirical literature and in the international comparative reports on education, such as the “Education at a Glance” and the “PISA Report.” Nevertheless, reality is more complicated. Educational achievements are not the simple direct product of social backgrounds, and in general the latter operate indirectly through intricate stratification mechanisms. For instance, unprivileged households are likely to be stratified into relatively poor communities, due to the functioning of the housing market. These communities are populated with other households of similar type. Under these circumstances, the social mix of the schools operating in these neighborhoods consists mainly of unprivileged students. In such a situation, students’ social backgrounds operate directly through their impact on performance and indirectly through school peer effects. Furthermore, certain educational policies can be the source of increased inequalities.

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