09 SES 04 A, Findings from International Comparative Achievement Studies: Relating Achievement to Teaching, School and System Variables
Parallel Paper Session
International studies have observed powerful effects of family SES on the cognitive development of children very early on in life. For instance, Feinstein (2003) has shown in the UK that even at age 22 months there are considerable differences between the cognitive abilities of high and low SES children. He examined the cognitive trajectories of these children and established that test scores at 22 months and at 42 months were correlated with educational attainment at age 26. Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Feinstein’s study was that he found no evidence that initial inequalities were reduced by entry into the school system. The considerable degree of sorting and mobility between the age of 22 months and 42 months on the basis of SES points to the importance of educational investments made in the home and is an indication that interventions should be employed as early as possible. Heckman (2006) argues for exactly this, based on a similar analysis. He notes that although much hope is often put in schools to reduce skills gaps on the basis of SES, the motivations and abilities derived from one’s family background play a far stronger role in the determination of academic performance than do traditional school inputs.
This study also investigates educational trajectories, but at higher ages in the South African context. School retention and performance in the major school-leaving matric (Grade 12) examination are characterised by significant inequalities on the basis of race and socio-economic status. In order to know at what point in the educational trajectory policy interventions and school improvement programmes will be most effective, it is necessary to trace the development of these educational inequalities to earlier phases of schooling and before.
The paper’s findings are based on a unique dataset that tracks individuals who participated in TIMSS in 2002 as grade 8 students to matric in 2006 and 2007. This permits an investigation into the extent to which educational inequalities are already evident by the eighth grade, and what if anything is achieved by secondary schools to reduce them. The research questions relate to how much the educational trajectory between Grade 8 and Grade 12 is pre-determined by performance in Grade 8 in TIMSS (in which SES plays a strong role), and to what extent different parts of the schools system (and in particular the formerly race-based education sub-systems) still leave a mark in terms of both educational performance and progression.
Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. 1976. Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books. Carnoy, M. 1982. “Education, Economy and the State.” in Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education. Edited by M.W. Apple. London: Routledge and Keegan Paul. Coleman, J.S., Campbell, E.Q., Hobson, C.J., McPartland, J., Mood, A.M., Weinfeld, F.D., and R.L. York. 1966. Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Feinstein, L. 2003. “Inequality in the early cognitive development of British children in the 1970 cohort.” Economica. 70: 73-97. Fleisch, B. 2008. Primary Education in Crisis: Why South African schoolchildren underachieve in reading and mathematics. Juta. Heckman, J.J. 2006. “Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children.” Science. 312: 1900-1902. Heyneman, S.P. and W. Loxley. 1983. "The Effect of Primary-School Quality on Academic Achievement Across Twenty-nine High-and-Low-Income Countries." The American Journal of Sociology. 8: 1162-1194. Lam, D., Ardington, C., and M. Leibbrandt. 2008. “Schooling as a Lottery: Racial Differences in School Advancement in Urban South Africa.” University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Population Studies Center Research Report 08-632. Lee, V. E. and D.T. Burkham. 2002. Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School. Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute. Reddy, V. 2006. Mathematics and Science Achievement at South African Schools in TIMSS 2003. Cape Town: HSRC Press. Taylor, S.G.S and D. Yu. 2009. “The importance of socio-economic status in determining educational achievement in South Africa.” Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers No. 01/09. Van der Berg, S. 2008. “How effective are poor schools? Poverty and educational outcomes in South Africa.” Studies in Educational Evaluation. 34: 145-154.
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