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  • Print publication year: 1996
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Background Characteristics and College Enrollment


Having answered the first question of our study (Does untracking work?) in the affirmative, our next step is to determine the reasons for the success of this untracking experiment. How does untracking help students improve their academic performance? Our first point of departure is an investigation into the background characteristics of the students. In this chapter we consider the influence of two sets of background characteristics: one, parents' socioeconomic status (including their income and education), and two, the academic record of students when they enter the untracking program. In both cases, we want to see if the capital that students bring with them into the program has a greater influence than the capital that the students acquire while they are in the program.


Socioeconomic status (SES) has been found to be one of the most influential factors in student success. Minority students do not do as well in school as white students and low-income students do not do as well as more economically advantaged students. Because the connection between SES and school performance is so strong (Coleman et al., 1966; Jencks et al., 1972; Center for Education Statistics, 1986; Haycock & Navarro, 1988), it is important to see if this factor is influential in our data before we move on to consider more subtle social and cultural factors.

Socioeconomic status is normally measured using some combination of parents' occupation, income, and educational level.