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Stratification and Educational Sorting: Explaining Ascriptive Inequalities in Early Childhood Reading Group Placement

Dennis J. Condron
Social Problems
Vol. 54, No. 1 (February 2007), pp. 139-160
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2007.54.1.139
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sp.2007.54.1.139
Page Count: 22
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Stratification and Educational Sorting: Explaining Ascriptive Inequalities in Early Childhood Reading Group Placement
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Abstract

Young students enter school with widely varying skills, and teachers often manage this heterogeneity by instructing students of similar skill levels together in small groups within classrooms. One problem with this practice is that low-socioeconomic status (SES) and non-Asian minority students are disproportionately placed into lower-ranked groups. However, the mechanisms through which this pattern comes about are not well understood. In this study, I view students' academic, social, and behavioral skills as cultural capital that is unevenly distributed across social categories of students and rewarded by teachers such that advantaged students receive higher group placements than their disadvantaged peers. Using data on first graders from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), I find clear disparities in reading group placement by SES, race/ethnicity, gender, and family structure. Most of these inequalities result from the uneven distribution of academic, social, and behavioral skills that matter for teachers' grouping decisions. I conclude by relating these findings to broader institutional processes of concern to sociologists. Keywords: stratification, grouping, cultural capital, and early childhood education.

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