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Inequality and Education: The effect of rising economic inequality on educational attainment and achievement

Activity type: Expert Team
Activity coordinator: Oded Bushrian
Activity period: 2015-2016

Socioeconomic inequality is a given; its scope varies from country to country and from time to time. In democratic countries, increasing the prospect of social mobility for those born into low socioeconomic circumstances is considered a worthy goal. The education system is perceived to be a key policy tool for reducing disparities in opportunity. In recent years, there has been a discernible rise in income disparity and in parallel, a rising gap in educational opportunities. Understanding these mechanisms’ reciprocal influences is important for determining effective policy.

The Spencer and the Russell Sage Foundations in the United States studied a range of issues within the context of inequality and education. The wealth of findings were assembled in a volume published in 2011, entitled Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools and Children's Life Chances, which suggests possible explanations for the increasing impact of economic disparity on the academic achievement gaps in the US.

Inspired by the above study, the aim of the Initiative activity was to delineate an evidence-based framework for policymakers to understand the relationships between socioeconomic inequality and educational opportunities and achievements in Israel and how these are distributed across the population. Another objective was to provide information for public and professional discourse on this topic. The steering committeewas comprised of researchers from the fields of sociology, education, economics and welfare who guide the activity.

The activity had two stages:

Stage 1 (completed): A study session took place in December 2013 with the purpose of familiarizing professionals with the findings of the US study and holding an evidence-based discussion of the situation in Israel. Experts from abroad participated in the session, among them Prof. Richard J. Murnane, one of the two editors of the book and a key contributor to it, and Prof. Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, which supported the book’s preparation. To view the study session lectures, click here.

Stage 2 (completed): During 2015, Israeli researchers examined selected topics in this field. The activity, in the main, had the character of a learning process: In consultation with experts from abroad and stakeholders in Israel, the steering team issued calls for scientific literature reviews to be conducted, and chose the scholars to write reviews on four topics:

  • Socioeconomic inequality, school/class climate and their relationship to achievements in education:Ron Astor, Ruth Berkowitz, Hadass Moore
  • Trends in socio-economic segregation\integration in place of residence: Audrey Addi-Raccah, Yael Grinshtain, Hana Bahak
  • Early childhood education as a means of narrowing inequality and socioeconomic gaps: Research, policy, and practice: David Levi-Faur , Smadar Moshel
  • Trends in resource investment in education for different socioeconomic classes: Nachum Blass

In the spring and early summer (2015), the steering team hosted two study sessions in Israel with the participation of the literature review authors and other invited professionals. In the autumn, George Washington University, located in the US, hosted the steering team members and the review writers, together with expert colleagues from the US, to discuss the research methods and review findings. Towards the end of 2015, a seminar, open to the public, was held in Israel. It focused on the reviews and the possible implications for the situation and policy in Israel. Background materials, including the literature reviews, were distributed to attendees ahead of the seminar. Following the seminar, presentations and videos of the lectures were made available and an activity report has been written.

The Spencer Foundation has been a source of advice and encouragement for the Inequality and Education activity. Yad Hanadiv supported the 'Inequality and Education' learning process. Stage 2 of the activity was supported by the Knesset with the cooperation of the Knesset Research and Information Center.

For more details, please contact the activity coordinator, Mr. Oded Busharian, via