14 SES 06 B, School-Related Transitions Within a Life Course Perspective IV
Social inequality in educational attainment remains a very persistent feature in Western Europe (Breen et al., 2009). These disparities in educational attainment are explained by two processes, firstly social differences in educational achievement and secondly inequality in educational choice (Breen & Jonsson, 2005). In this study we focus on the process of choice-making at the transition from primary to secondary education. Research has shown that self-selection is still a dominant feature of school and track choice among families from lower social backgrounds. Regardless of their grades, students from lower social backgrounds are less inclined to opt for the more demanding educational tracks. (Boone & Van Houtte, 2013).
While research into social disparities in education is abundant in European sociological research on education, the process of arriving at a particular choice has received much less attention. In this study we want to focus specifically on social disparities in the process of school- and track choice at the transition from primary to secondary education. First of all, we want to study whether parents proceed differently in arriving at a particular educational choice dependent on their social background. Secondly, if such differences can be established, we will then try to explain these differences. In doing so, we hope to get a better understanding of how parental social background shapes the decision-making process.
The theoretical backbone of our study is formed by three theoretical strands. First of all, social-psychological research on parental involvement has pointed to the importance of parental beliefs and resources in shaping parents’ decisions to become involved in the schooling of their children (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). Parents with a positive sense of efficacy for helping their child learn and an active role constructing for involvement tend to be more involved in the schooling of their children (Green, Walker, Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 2007). In this study we try to find evidence for these claims in a European educational context and determine whether this affects the process of school and track choice of parents.
A second strand is the sociological literature on social capital in education (Bourdieu, 1986) which is generally related to social disparities in educational outcomes (Dika & Singh, 2002). Research inquiring into the role of social capital in educational choice is predominantly qualitative and primarily deals with school choice (e.g. Ball, 2003), rather than with the choice of an educational track. These studies show great differences in the composition of social networks and in how these networks are put into use depending on parents’ social background (Horvat, Weininger, & Lareau, 2003). Ethnographic research in schools has shown that middle class parents can use their personal networks as a powerful source of information to intervene in their children’s schooling. Working class families are more dependent on kinship ties and have less access to professional advice and inside information about the school (Lareau, 2000). In this study we look at the composition of the network of families and try to determine its influence in the process of school and track choice.
A third explanation for inequality in educational trajectories is found in literature on cultural capital. While cultural capital is often rather narrowly operationalized in terms of high status culture, we draw on a broader conception of cultural capital incorporating knowledge about education, educational background and the logics parents adopt in interaction with social institutions like schools (Calarco, 2014; Lareau, 2000; Symeou, 2007; Weininger & Lareau, 2003). In this study we look at how parents’ knowledge about education differs and how this shapes parents’ school and track choices.
Ball, S.J. (2003). Class strategies and the educational market: the middle classes and social advantage. London: Routledge Falmer. Bourdieu, P. (1986).The forms of capital, in John G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241-258.). New York: Greenwood Press. Boone, S., & Van Houtte, M. (2013). In search of the mechanisms conducive to class differentials in educational choice: a mixed method research. The Sociological Review, 61(3), 549-572. Breen, R., & Jonsson, J. O. (2005). Inequality Of Opportunity In Comparative Perspective: Recent Research on Educational Attainment and Social Mobility. Annual Review of Sociology, 31, 223-243. Calarco, J. M. (2014). Coached for the Classroom: Parents' Cultural Transmission and Children's Reproduction of Educational Inequalities. American Sociological Review, 79(5), 1015-1037. Dika, S. L., & Singh, K. (2002). Applications of social capital in educational literature: A critical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 72(1), 31-60. Green, C. L., Walker, J. M. T., Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. M. (2007). Parents' motivations for involvement in children's education: An empirical test of a theoretical model of parental involvement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 532-544. Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. M. (1997). Why Do Parents Become Involved In Their Children's Education? Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 3-42. Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., Walker, J. M. T., Sandler, H. M., Whetsel, D., Green, C. L., Wilkins, A. S., & Closson, K. (2005). Why Do Parents Become Involved? Research findings and Implications. . The Elementary School Journal, 106(2), 105-130. Horvat, E. M., Weininger, E. B., & Lareau, A. (2003). From social ties to social capital: Class differences in the relations between schools and parent networks. American Educational Research Journal, 40(2), 319-351. Lareau, A. (2000). Home advantage : social class and parental intervention in elementary education (2nd ed.). Lanham (Md.): Rowman and Littlefield. Symeou, L. (2007). Cultural capital and family involvement in children's education: tales from two primary schools in Cyprus. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(4), 473-487. Weininger, E. B., & Lareau, A. (2003). Translating Bourdieu into the American context: the question of social class and family-school relations. Poetics, 31(5-6), 375-402.
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