Jane Waldfogel opened the session by outlining differences in associations between family resources and achievement in the US, UK, Canada and Australia before students have had any schooling, or ‘school readiness.’ This was particularly pertinent as many of the gaps in attainment occur before students have started schooling, and their analysis found the largest disparities occurred in the US and UK. Jane stressed the importance of looking at the trajectory of inequality and attainment rather than just differences between the most disadvantaged, and most advantaged students.
Anna Chmielewski and Sean Reardon went on to look at the associations between attainment and family circumstances across OECD countries. Achievement gaps appear to be increasing over time, a pattern that seems particularly large in less developed countries. Anna pinpointed the majority of this growth to disparities between the least advantaged students and their more middleclass peers, further highlighting the need to look at disparities across all students. Sean presented work further confirming that achievement gaps appear largest in the US. He discussed practices of streaming students by ability and/or financial means, and standardising testing across schools, and found that both were associated with the extent of educational inequalities within countries.
Finally, Daniele Checchi concluded the session, presenting work on the changing skills inequalities over time, and focused on the specific effects of educational policies aimed at reducing gaps. He stressed the importance of looking at skills inequalities and educational inequalities separately; although they are closely related, educational assessments cannot not perfectly measure skills. Their work suggested that skills are particularly important in later inequalities in the labour market.
The large differences across countries offers hope that policy can address these inequalities, and a vibrant discussion followed the talks on which particular policies may ensure fairer life chances.