Educational stratification and students' social bonding to school

by Mark Berends

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This paper examines the polarization model from qualitative research in both Great Britain and the U.S., which claims that educational stratification practices polarize students into pro- and anti-school orientations. Because few researchers have adequately conceptualized school attitudes and behavior, social bonding theory (Hirschi, 1969) is used to provide a framework for examining the polarization hypothesis. Relying on High School and Beyond data from the U.S., an attempt is made to develop measures of respondents' social bonding to school, including college expectations, absenteeism, disciplinary problems, and engagement. The polarization hypothesis is supported by these U.S. data when examining educational stratification effects on the school bonding measures. Compared with academic-track students, general- and vocational-track students have lower college expectations, more disciplinary problems, and are less academically engaged, controlling for prior school orientations and for selection bias due to dropping out of school. For absenteeism, the general track has a significant positive effect, while vocational-track students do not differ from those in the academic track. In addition, students in the nonacademic tracks are more likely to drop out of school between the 10th and 12th grades compared with academic-track students.

Originally published in: British Journal of Sociology of Education, v. 16, no. 3, 1995, pp. 327-351.

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