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Does school tracking affect equality of opportunity? New international evidence
Economic Policy (2007)
  • Giorgio Brunello

This paper investigates whether the interaction between family background and secondary school tracking affects human capital accumulation. A widely shared view is that more tracking reinforces the role of parental privilege, and thereby reduces equality of opportunities. This may occur for several reasons, including peer effects (more talented students are gathered together), teacher sorting (better teachers prefer teaching better students), differences in curricula (academic oriented schools – like the German gymnasium, the French lycée, the British grammar school or the Italian liceo – teach abilities that increase the probability of entering college) and/or differences in resource endowment. Compared to the current literature, which focuses on early outcomes, such as test scores at 13 and 15 years old, we look at later outcomes, including literacy, dropout rates, college enrolment, employability and earnings. While we do confirm the common view that school tracking reinforces the impact of family background when looking at educational attainment and labour market outcomes, we do not confirm the same results when studying its impact on literacy and on-the-job training. Overall school tracking has an ambiguous effect in our sample of countries. On the one hand, and consistently with the previous literature, tracking has a detrimental impact on educational attainment, because it prevents some individuals from further progressing to the tertiary level of education (the diversion effect). On the other hand, the curricula offered in vocational schools seem more effective in promoting further training and adult competences (the specialization effect), thereby reducing the impact of parental background on these two outcomes. Thus, reducing the extent of student tracking, either by raising the age of first selection or by reducing the number of tracks available, may be appropriate for increasing intergenerational mobility in educational attainment, but may increase social exclusion for people from disadvantaged background.

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Citation Information
Giorgio Brunello and Daniele Checchi. "Does school tracking affect equality of opportunity? New international evidence" Economic Policy (2007): 781-861