Exploring Unequal Achievement in the Schools: The Social Construction of Failure

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One of the most disturbing problems in American education today is the unequal achievement of children in schools. Few problems have sparked greater concern than the question of why students from different social origins differ so significantly in their academic performance. Exploring Unequal Achievement in the Schools explores the role played by families and schools in this troubling problem. It employs a social constructionist approach in considering how ascribed characteristics (race, gender, and class) intersect with the daily interactions of teachers and students in classrooms and with the educational practices and structures within schools (tracking, testing, and teacher expectations) to play an exacting role in the construction of success or failure. It suggests that the new student identity that begins to emerge as a result of these processes provides a self-fulfilling prophesy of expectation and belief, which defines how students see themselves as learners and achievers. Through these practices, schooling becomes a crucial factor in the social construction of academic success.

George Ansalone's final conclusion is inescapable: unequal achievement in school is largely a social construction. But it is a social construction facilitated both by student attributes, including gender, race, and class, and by the educational structures and policies some schools employ. Because of this undeniable fact, parents, educational practitioners, and policy makers must continue to investigate social policies and practices relative to student abilities and make every effort to understand how they may be related to achievement. Informed by research, they must endeavor to see this powerinherent in schooling and the need to affect change.

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Editorial Reviews

September 2009 CHOICE
Diane B. Scricca
This work brings new clarity to the problem of underachievement in our schools. Unlike other books in the field, it explores the important issue through the eyes of a social constructionist, enabling us to appreciate more fully the power inherent in schools to impact student achievement. This multidisciplinary work is informative, thought provoking, and, most importantly, well researched. I recommend it to all parents, teachers, school administrators, and students of sociology and education.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739124680
  • Publisher: Lexington Books
  • Publication date: 3/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

George Ansalone is professor of sociology at St. John's University in New York.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part I Introduction

1 Perplexing Problems in American Schooling 3

Schools in Crisis 3

The Need for Educational Sociology 17

Applying Sociological Theory to Education 18

The Development of American Schooling 28

Does Schooling Really Matter? 31

Part II Previous Explanations for Unequal Achievement

2 Explaining Unequal Achievement 37

The Problem of Unequal Achievement 37

Employing Sociological Theory to Explain Unequal Achievement 40

Three Explanations of Unequal Achievement 41

Conclusions 59

Part III The Role of Family

3 Explaining Unequal Achievement: The Family 63

The Importance of Family Background 63

The Concept of Cultural Capital 65

The Concept of Social Capital 68

Family Characteristics and Academic Achievement 69

Parental Involvement and Academic Achievement 93

Part IV The Role of the School

4 Exploring Unequal Achievement: Differences Between Schools 101

The Fundamental Belief in American Schooling 101

The Challenge to Excellence and Access 102

Differences Between Schools and Academic Achievement 106

Contextual Issues-School and Class Size, Racial and SES Context of the School, Single Gender Schools and Classes 117

5 Explaining Unequal Achievement: Within-School Differences 129

The Significance of Within-School Differences 129

Tracking: A Prime Factor in Unequal Achievement 131

Getting on Track: Is Achievement Related to Specific Track Structure? 135

Tracking Outcomes 139

The Legality of Tracking 147

Conclusions/Implications for Educational Policy 149

Part V A Theoretical Synthesis

6 Explaining Unequal Achievement in School: A Theoretical Synthesis 157

Previous Explanations ofUnequal Achievement 157

Toward a Theoretical Synthesis 161

The Social Construction of Reality 165

Labeling Theory 167

Teacher Expectations 171

The Process of Becoming an Underachiever 182

Part VI Conclusions and Discussion

7 Where Do We Go From Here? Discussion and Policy Implications 187

Solving the Problem of Unequal Achievement 187

What Can Schools Do? Effective Schools Research 189

What Can Families Do? 205

What Can Governments Do? 206

Conclusion 207

Glossary 209

Bibliography 217

Index 241

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