How Educational Policies Affect Social Gradients in Student Achievement: A Comparative Study of 31 European Countries
Research has demonstrated social gradients in student achievement in any country for which data exist. Socially privileged students tend to outperform their peers from lower social classes. Recent evidence suggests that these social gradients in student achievement cannot be explained satisfactorily by differences in genetics or educational aspirations. This raises the question of the causes of these gradients. By now we know that social gradients in educational achievement can be associated with characteristics of the individual, the family, and broader environmental contexts. This study seeks to determine how country-specific educational policies affect social gradients in student achievement in European countries. It focuses on four policy dimensions: pre-primary enrollment rates, public/private education sectors, educational tracking (selection of students into hierarchically structured types of schools), and amount of schooling. The study uses data from the Program for International Student Assessment as well as from several data repositories (e.g., Eurostat, UNESCO). The sample comprises around 200,000 students. Hierarchical linear models are performed which take into account the nested structure of the data (students in schools in countries). Cross-level interaction effects are calculated to establish whether country-specific educational policies moderate the social gradients in student achievement. Preliminary results indicate that social gradients in student achievement change as the policies change. For instance, the longer the annual schooling time, the weaker are the social gradients in achievement. By contrast, the greater the amount of tracking in an education system, the stronger are these gradients. In sum, the study contributes to debates about the effects of educational policies on educational stratification and mobility.