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Anne Christine Holtmann and Fabrizio Bernardi

The literature comparing learning during the school year to learning during the summer, when schools are closed, suggests that schools equalize the socioeconomic status (SES) achievement gap, which grows more during the summer holidays than during the school year. Our contribution to this literature is twofold. First, we compare the findings for the United States to Finland. During the summer, SES achievement gaps in Finland grow less than in the United States, and during the school year, they even decline in Finland. These findings suggest that in Finland, families provide more equal learning opportunities than they do in the United States and that schooling has a more equalizing effect in Finland than it does in the United States. Consequently, schooling might be more equalizing when schools are integrated across socioeconomic lines as they are in Finland. Our second contribution consists in discussing limits to the equalizing potential of schools. First, most of the SES achievement gap already exists in early childhood before schooling has even started. Second, high-SES parents manage to ensure their children’s success in school and on the labour market even when their children perform poorly (compensatory advantage). We conclude that schooling can reduce SES achievement gaps, but that it is more difficult to equalize educational attainment and labour market outcomes.

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Camilla Borgna, Christian Brzinsky-Fay, Martina Dieckhoff, Anne Christine Holtmann and Heike Solga

Research on educational inequality predominantly focuses on schools and families. Such a constrained perspective is not only found in research but is also inherent in educational policy. In this chapter we seek to direct attention to the social contexts in which schools and families are located and the context-specific challenges they face. In particular, we argue that inequality in educational attainment and achievement is more adequately understood and effectively targeted with such a broader perspective. By reviewing research which focuses on this social embeddedness of educational inequality, we illustrate why it is important to consider societal factors such as, for example, poverty, economic inequality and health inequality, when investigating educational inequality. We conclude by outlining a number of research gaps to be addressed by future work.