9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN10 Sociology of Education

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Social Inequalities III Building I, 2E6

School Choice and Social Class: The Impact of Education Systems on Patterns of School Choice

One of the most hotly debated topics in education research and policy making concerns publicly subsidized school choice. The controversy has been probably most prominent in the United States, where a series of studies showing private schools in general, and Catholic schools in particular, were more effective in producing high-achieving students compared to the public sector (Coleman, Hoffer et al. 1982; Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Chubb and Moe 1990; Bryk, Lee et al. 1993) triggered a wave of experiments with school choice and school vouchers. Supporters of school choice argue that it would engender a general increase in educational quality by forcing schools to compete for pupils. Critics have questioned that assumption along with raising equity questions. In particular, some authors have pointed to the class dimension of school choice and its potential for increased segregation and educational inequality (Echols, McPherson et al. 1990; Ball 1993; Ball, Bowe et al. 1996). What is often overlooked in these disputes, however, is the diversity of programs and arrangements under the ?school choice? umbrella.
This paper sets out to test whether school choice does bring about stronger segregation along class lines, focusing especially on the impact of institutional design. It makes use of the three waves of the PISA study to investigate how parental socio-economic status (education, occupation, and wealth) but also the school?s social composition influence the option for a private, but publicly financed school instead of a public one in 18 European countries. Findings confirm that important role played in particular by the school?s social composition in the majority of countries included in the analysis. Yet, they also point to considerable cross-national variation in the impact social class related variables have on selection of a private school when the choice is supported financially from the public budget. The final part of the paper attempts to explain country differences by looking at characteristics of the educational system, such as the size of the subsidized private sector, regulations imposed on schools in exchange for receiving subsidies (such as concerning tuition fees, staff policy, curriculum etc), and the existence of national examinations.