Schools and Inequality: Implications from Seasonal Comparison Research

  • Douglas B. DowneyEmail author
  • Aimee Yoon
  • Elizabeth Martin
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


The traditional narrative posits that differences in school quality are an important source of inequality in the stratification system. Improving the schools attended by disadvantaged children, therefore, is key to reducing inequality. But what if this view is wrong? We discuss the results of seasonal comparison studies that analyze how achievement gaps change when school is in versus out. Contrary to most education research, these studies suggest that the traditional narrative may be partly wrong in some cases and entirely misplaced in others. Indeed, when it comes to understanding socioeconomic-based gaps in math and reading skills, the evidence indicates that achievement gaps are mostly formed prior to formal schooling and that schools probably reduce the growth in gaps that we would observe in their absence. If this is correct, then the implications for battling inequality are profound. School reform efforts are likely to have limited influence; the primary source of the problem is the level of inequality in broader society.


Achievement gaps Schools Inequality Seasonal comparisons 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas B. Downey
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aimee Yoon
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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