Journal Article: Student Background and Student Achievement: What Is the Right Question?


Education, Student achievements/Research, School children/Social and economic status/Research, Social cohesion/Research


Heyneman, Stephen P.


2005, November


For half a century there have been reports that children of the poor or of some ethnic minorities on average perform worse in school. Some have suggested that these findings demonstrate a failing of education to reduce gaps in adult income and differences in adult socioeconomic status. This article reviews the research internationally and concludes that the debate is outdated. School children in the United States make up only 2 percent of the world's school children. When considering this question globally, it is discovered that social status is a consistent determinant of school performance, but it is not necessarily true that children of the poor perform systematically worse in school than do children of the rich; results vary by subject, student age, gender, and other factors. Perhaps more important, academics seem to hold schools accountable for the wrong function. The more important purpose of public schooling is to help foster social cohesion. Schools and school systems should be held accountable for their true purpose, and the debate should shift from whether schools narrow the gap in adult incomes to whether schools are effective in fostering social cohesion. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.


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