Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education
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Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education

Edited by Rolf Becker

Presenting original contributions from the key experts in the field, the Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education explores the major theoretical, methodological, empirical and political challenges and pressing social questions facing education in current times.
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Chapter 14: The equalizing effect of schools and its limits

Anne Christine Holtmann and Fabrizio Bernardi

Abstract

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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