Class Advantage: Social Class and Knowledge Production In Classrooms Under The New Accountability

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Aaron, Philbert
Selden, Steven
ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: CLASS ADVANTAGE: SOCIAL CLASS AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION IN ELEMENTARY CLASSROOMS UNDER THE NEW ACCOUNTABILITY Philbert Aaron, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005 Dissertation directed by: Professor Steven Selden Department of Education Policy and Leadership This study interrogates the relationship between social class and academic achievement. It examines the ways in which social class and the new accountability policy influence teachers' and students' co-production of knowledge in the elementary school classroom. The study analyzes student and teacher talk in two elementary school reading classrooms in a mid-Atlantic state. The first school is categorized as middle-class, having less than 5% of its student body receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARMs). The second is classified as working-class, having more than 60% of its students receiving FARMs. The study draws upon the work of the British sociolinguist, Basil Bernstein. Bernstein's theory of symbolic control provides both theoretical base and method for the inquiry. Using Bernstein's frameworks for classification and framing, language data on teacher-student pedagogical interaction was collected by note-taking during classroom observation in the Spring of 2004. These data were analyzed using a priori codes, including 'visible' (explicit or traditional) and 'invisible' (implicit or constructivist) practice. The study finds that pedagogical practice in the middle class school incorporated both visible (traditional) and invisible (constructivist) practices, while pedagogy in the working class school is of the purely visible type. In addition, the middle class school also achieves a faster pace of learning than does the working class school. Faster pace is indicated by syntactical (elaborated) text whereas in the working class school a lexical (brief utterances) text is produced. The study concludes that social class has unanticipated consequences for academic achievement under the new accountability. By providing identical policy tools to local schools, irrespective of student class location, the new accountability promotes a visible (traditional) pedagogy. Differences in family cultural, social, and economic capital mean that the working class school does not meet the social assumptions of a visible pedagogy and these differences manifest themselves in differentials in achievement.