English Studies for the Arab Minority in Israel: Social Tracking or a Key to Mobility?
Research has shown that the social background of students is a crucial explanatory factor in inequality of educational opportunities. However, some disadvantaged students seem to overcome the socioeconomic barriers and perform better than others. Against this background, we asked whether placement in the high-status advanced English study track in an education system with limited choice (the Arab school system) correlated with academic achievement alone, or with social background variables, as well. This question is salient in light of the correlation of high-school English studies with access to higher education and future social mobility.
Questionnaires were distributed to 316 students in Arab schools in central Israel. The analysis was based on two logistic regressions, one measuring the impact of social background variables on the chances of learning English at an advanced level, and the other, the impact of academic achievement beyond social background.
The findings revealed that selection for the advanced study track was associated with both social tracking and meritocratic considerations. Children of educated parents had better chances, compared with children whose parents were not educated, of attaining high achievements in middle school, which in turn correlated with advantages in high school, such as acceptance to advanced English programs. However, the children of uneducated parents who attained high scholastic achievements were also able to improve their chances of admission to the high-status study track, despite their social background.