Parent and Student Expectations Influence School Completion Rates

A new study has found a large gap between rich and poor in completion of high school in Australia. It also found that students from lower income families are less likely to be encouraged by their parents to complete high school.

According to the study about 66% of children from low socio-economic status (SES) families currently complete high school compared to 90% of students from high SES families and 78% for medium SES students.

The study estimated the importance of a range of home, school and individual factors in explaining these completion gaps. It found that over half of the gaps are due to lower educational aspirations by students and their parents and lower tests scores at age 15. These two factors accounted for the large part of the difference in high school completion rates between high and low SES students. Low educational expectations by parents and students themselves accounted for nearly 50% of the difference.

The study notes that the importance of lower educational expectations in explaining the SES gap in completion is consistent with previous studies. It suggests that low SES students and their parents may have lower education aspirations because many low SES parents have not completed school themselves and may not see the benefit of school completion for their children.

The study found that differences in levels of school characteristics (governance, school programs, resources, teachers and students) after age 15 are relatively unimportant in explaining the SES completion gap. However, it did find that a positive school culture does tend to reduce the gap because it has a greater effect on retaining low SES students. This result underlines the particular importance of teachers in promoting a positive learning culture in low SES schools where academic achievement may not be the norm among students and their parents.

The paper says that its results point to potential of policies in two key areas, namely, early intervention programs aimed at increasing academic performance and educational aspirations of students and their parents.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Cain Polidarno; Barbara Hanel & Hielke Buddelmeyer, Explaining the SES School Completion Gap, Working Paper No. 16/12, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.

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