Equality of educational opportunity between low-income and well-off students : school and family inputs in two national cohorts of high school students
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Why do low-income students achieve lower test scores and attain less education than their better off peers? Can we close these gaps through redistribution of school funds? Fifty years ago the Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) suggested that school resources had surprisingly little to do with these achievement gaps, and that school segregation, along with family background, were the primary drivers. In this dissertation I present two studies on two nationally representative cohorts of high school students (high school class of 1992 and 2004). In Study 1, I describe the differences between low- income and well-off students’ families (income, structure, home-language, and parental education), school resources (class size and teacher salary), student body characteristics, school and family interpersonal processes, and finally educational outcomes (test scores and attainment). In Study 2, I pursue a structural model to determine whether school resources or family characteristics relate more strongly to students’ outcomes, and to identify the mechanisms of influence. In both studies I explore changes in these relations for the two cohorts. Results from Study 1 indicate that low-income students differ from well off students on their family characteristics, characteristics of peers in school, and outcomes, but differences are slight on school funding or resources. Findings from Study 2 indicate that family background and school segregation relate the strongest to students’ outcomes with school funding and resources showing only weak relations.