Families, Schools, and National Contexts: The Effects of Institutions and Inequality on Educational Achievement across Industrialized Countries

Troy A. Powell, Duke University

This paper focuses on the direct and indirect effects of family background and school quality on the educational achievement scores of high school students in developed countries. The socioeconomic characteristics of one’s family has a direct impact on how well one does on achievement tests, and, if family background helps determine the schools children attend, it can also have an indirect effect through school quality. The quality of schools thus may serve both as a mediator of family background and an independent source of variation in student achievement scores. Therefore, the structure of a country’s educational system – particularly the variation in school quality and the process of student assignment – can impact the relationship between family background and achievement scores and serve as a source of inequality in educational achievement. This paper disentangles these family and school effects on achievement and compares these results across developed countries.

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Presented in Session 21: Stratification Processes