Social Policy and the Achievement Gap: What Do We Know? Where Should We Head?

Issue/Topic: Student Achievement--Closing the Achievement Gap
Author(s): Bower, Corey
Organization(s): Vanderbilt University
Publication: Education and Urban Society
Published On: 2013

Educational research and reforms tend to focus on what happens inside schools, despite research consistently indicating that nonschool factors contribute more to the large achievement gap between races and classes than do in-school factors. There is a growing call for social reform as a solution.

To determine whether social policy can bring about a change in academic performance substantial enough to significantly reduce the achievement gap and whether such changes in social policy are affordable and feasible.


If there is anything on which education researchers agree, it is that student achievement is influenced more by nonschool factors than in-school factors -- and the evidence is overwhelming.

We have plenty of reason to believe that social policy might significantly narrow the achievement gap but little evidence that it has or will.

While it remains eminently logical to argue that social reforms might dramatically affect academic performance in a way that would shrink the achievement gap, the current evidence does not allow for much certainty as to exactly how this might be accomplished. 

The studies reviewed point to a number of ways in which social policy may be able to influence student performance in school. However, for most of the factors identified, although there is substantial evidence of a strong association with achievement, there is little to no evidence that when the characteristic changes, academic achievement will subsequently change as well.

**It is important to note that the factors researchers have identified for study are somewhat limited. 

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

Because we know that nonschool factors better predict academic performance than do in-school factors, certainly research and perhaps policy interventions should be expanded to focus on out-of-school reforms in addition to in-school reforms.

Future research should strive to answer:

  • Whether social policy can influence academic performance in a meaningful way
  • How social policy can influence academic performance
  • If social reform or school reform is more effective
  • Which policies merit further attention.

Full Text: http://eus.sagepub.com/content/45/1/3.abstract

Research Design:
Literature review

Selected research

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Literature review


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