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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Schools and Inequality, Revisited

Event Details

September 24, 2010
LBJ School, Bass Auditorium

Do U.S. schools contribute to the achievement gaps between children of different backgrounds? This question was famously debated in the 1960s and 1970s; we now revisit it in light of more recent research. Our review suggests that inequalities between schools have been shrinking for 100 years, and have continued to shrink even during recent periods when inequalities between families have grown. For at least sixty years the differences between schools have been much smaller and less consequential than the differences between families. And children learn at far more equal rates when they are in school than when they are not. In sum, although schools may contribute to inequality in some ways, on balance schools do far more to counter inequality than to exacerbate it. Policies that try to equalize children by equalizing school resources have reached a point of diminishing returns. More promising ways to reduce achievement inequality include reducing the inequalities between families and increasing the time that children spend in school.

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Read Dr. von Hippel's bio

For those who would like to learn more about this topic, two of Dr. Paul von Hippels recent publications regarding schools and inequality are listed below.

von Hippel, P.T. (2009). "Achievement, Learning, and Seasonal Impact as Measures of School Effectiveness: It's Better To Be Valid Than Reliable." School Effectiveness and School Improvement 20(2), 187-213.

Downey, D.B., von Hippel, P.T., & Hughes, M.M. (2008). "Are 'Failing' Schools Really Failing? Removing the Influence of Non-School Factors from Measures of School Quality." Sociology of Education 81(3), 242-270. *James Coleman Award, Education Section, American Sociological Association, 2009.