Explaining Race and Ethnic Disparities in Educational Ambitions

Charles Hirschman, University of Washington
Jennifer C. Lee, University of Minnesota
Amon Emeka, University of Washington

The most widely cited interpretation for differences in educational ambitions across race and ethnic communities is that children of the majority population are advantaged because of higher levels of parental education, family income, and other socioeconomic resources. An alternative interpretation stresses cultural factors, broadly defined. The lower educational ambitions of some minority students may result from lower expectations (or encouragement) of parents, peers, and teachers. Other related dimensions of the cultural interpretation include family socialization (parenting styles) and the behaviors and outlooks of students, including absenteeism, completion of homework, and self-images. We examine these hypotheses, and their overlap in a comprehensive model of educational ambitions. Educational ambitions are measured along a continuum from fairly abstract educational aspirations to concrete plans for college right after high school. The data, based on a sample of almost 2,350 high school seniors in a metropolitan school district in the Pacific Northwest, reveal patterns of minority over-achievement as well as under-achievement.

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Presented in Session 13: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Schooling