While some commentators view education as a social mobility mechanism, many scholars argue that schools reproduce rather than challenge social inequality. A vast literature on the role of family background and educational stratification identifies various factors that help account for how schools contribute to reproducing social inequality. Over the past quarter century local, state, and federal policymakers, motivated at least partially by widening race- and class class-based achievement gaps, have used standards and high stakes accountability to hold schools accountable for student performance. But the available evidence on the efficacy of these policy instruments in reducing the role of schools in social stratification is mixed.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:
This study examines how student assignment to elementary school classrooms is conditioned by teachers’ formal positions and intra-school social networks. We focus on the allocation of teachers to students; teachers are the major resource a school can allocate to influence educational opportunities.
Data for this analysis are drawn from a larger study of school leadership and management in one public school district in the southeastern United States. In the 2006-–2007 school years, the Cloverville district served 33,156 students, including 16,214 students at its 30 elementary schools. The final sample for our study included 309 teachers with at least 10 students, not including Kindergarten kindergarten and first grade students, in self-contained classrooms across 29 elementary schools in 2007 (one school was removed from the sample due to low response rates).
This study is a longitudinal observational study that includes social network data and multiple regression analysis. We surveyed faculty two times in waves conducted in 2007 and 2008.
Data Collection and Analysis:
The primary source of data was a survey that asked teachers to identify colleagues who provided them with advice and information about reading and mathematics instruction. The dependent variables in our analyses were class average language arts achievement in the spring of 2006, class average mathematics achievement in the spring of 2006, and class average free or /reduced price lunch in the spring of 2006. We fit multiple regressions to estimate the extent to which non-random assignment of students to teachers was a function of teachers’ formal leadership positions and their collegial networks.
We found teachers who provided more advice and information to their colleagues and who occupied formal leadership positions were assigned higher achieving students. Further, teachers who occupied formal leadership positions were less likely to be assigned students who received free or reduced price lunch.
Our study findings provide strong evidence that teachers who have more prominent positions in the formal organization of the school and in informal networks are assigned stronger students. Such non-random assignment of students to teachers can contribute to educational stratification.