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Family, Neighborhood, and School Settings Across Seasons: When Do Socioeconomic Context and Racial Composition Matter for the Reading Achievement Growth of Young Children?


by James Benson & Geoffrey D. Borman — 2010

Background/Context: Seasonal researchers have developed a theory and hypotheses regarding the importance of neighborhood and school contexts for early childhood learning but have not possessed nationally representative data and precise contextual measures with which to examine their hypotheses.

Purpose/Research Questions: This empirical study employs a seasonal perspective to assess the degree to which social context and race/ethnic composition—in neighborhoods and schools—affect the reading achievement growth of young children. The authors ask, Were there specific seasons when context and/or composition were particularly salient for reading achievement? Also, did accounting for context and composition challenge established appraisals of the relationship between family factors and achievement?

Population: Data for a nationally representative sample of students proceeding through kindergarten and first grade came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). Neighborhood social and race/ethnic measures came from the 2000 Census. Research Design: This quantitative study employs a three-level model that assesses reading achievement at school entry and during three subsequent seasons. The model represents reading achievement as a time-varying process at level 1, conditional upon family socio/demographic factors at level 2, and dependent on social context and race/ethnic composition at level 3.

Findings/Results: Neighborhood social context mattered substantially for students’ reading achievement levels at school entry and for their reading achievement growth during the summer. The proportion of neighborhood residents from minority race/ethnic groups was not associated with reading achievement at school entry or during the summer season. During the school year, school social context was associated with reading growth during kindergarten, and school social context and race/ethnic composition were associated with reading growth during first grade.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The magnitude and frequency of contextual effects found in this national sample have considerable implications for achieving educational equality in the United States. The authors recommend that policy makers attend to the quality of neighborhood and school settings as a means of promoting literacy development for young children.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 5, 2010, p. 1338-1390
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15672, Date Accessed: 12/16/2017 2:29:34 AM

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About the Author
  • James Benson
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    E-mail Author
    JAMES BENSON is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research focuses on determinants of reading achievement for young children, the implications of curriculum and testing policies for high school students, and the relationship between state finance policies and educational outcomes for community college students. Recent publications include “A Randomized Field Trial of the Fast ForWord Language Computer-Based Training Program” with Geoffrey D. Borman (first author) in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (forthcoming), and “Families, Schools and Summer Learning” in The Elementary School Journal, with Geoffrey D. Borman (first author) and Laura Overman.
  • Geoffrey Borman
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    E-mail Author
    GEOFFREY D. BORMAN is professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, educational psychology, and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His areas of expertise include experimental and quasi-experimental design, school reform, and social and educational inequality. Recent publications include “Teacher Attrition and Retention: A Meta-Analytic and Narrative Review of the Research,” with N. Maritza Dowling in Review of Educational Research, and “A Multi-Site Cluster Randomized Field Trial of Open Court Reading,” with N. Maritza Dowling and Carrie Schneck in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
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