CHASP faculty associate Dr. Paul von Hippel’s new paper, Are Schools (Still) a Great Equalizer? Replicating a Summer Learning Study Using Better Test Scores and a New Cohort of Children (Social Science Research Network), reexamines the debate among sociologists about whether or not schools have an effect on inequality and if they in any way serve as equalizers for children.
Sociologists have differing opinions about how schools affect inequality among children. Some subscribe to the reproduction narrative that schools increase inequality differences among children, some believe in a more neutral philosophy in which school makes no impact on inequality, and some sociologists support the compensation narrative that schools and education are “equalizers” that help to reduce class division and equalize the distribution of wealth. The question thus becomes how can research determine whether schools are reproductive, compensatory, or neutral?
In his latest paper, along with colleagues Joseph Workman of the University of Oxford and Douglas B. Downey of Ohio State University, von Hippel tackles the question of how schools affect inequality among children. This study builds upon a 2004 study that von Hippel wrote about in Are schools the great equalizer? (American Sociological Review), which found that gaps in reading and math aptitude grew faster during summer vacation and slower during the academic year, thereby offering evidence that schools serve as important equalizers. However, the 2004 study scored reading and math using non-interval scales that exaggerated gap growth, so von Hippel replicated his research study using interval-scaled test scores and a more recent cohort of children.
Learn about von Hippel’s findings in the abstract below or read the full paper.
Are Schools (Still) a Great Equalizer? Replicating a Summer Learning Study Using Better Test Scores and a New Cohort of Children
Social Science Research Network – September 2017
Sociology offers competing narratives about the effects of schools on inequality. The reproduction narrative holds that schools increase inequality; the compensation narrative holds that schools reduce inequality; and the neutral narrative holds that schools have little effect on inequality.
The 2004 study “Are schools the great equalizer?” offered evidence for the compensation narrative, reporting that gaps in reading and math grew slower during the academic year than during summer vacation. However, the Great Equalizer study scored reading and math using non-interval scales that exaggerated gap growth. In this article, we replicate the Great Equalizer study using interval-scaled test scores and a more recent cohort of children.
Contrary to the original Great Equalizer study, we find that inequality changes very little between the ages of 5 and 8. Socioeconomic gaps and total variance shrink during kindergarten and grow during the first summer vacation, but the pattern does not consistently replicate to later school years or to inequality associated with race, ethnicity, and gender. By the end of second grade, most gaps are about the same as they were on the first day of kindergarten. The results suggest that schools are primarily neutral institutions, which inherit inequality from early childhood.