School Funding in Urban and Rural School Districts

Tax Base and Funding

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School financing is mainly carried out by a number of state owned institutions. These institutions use several methods of not only collecting funds but also distributing them. Major institutions involved in school financing include both the federal and state governments together with county as well as, other transitional elements of the government. These transitional elements include the municipal government as well as the school board (Michael and Tyll, 2004). Educational funds are collected mainly from:

Local property taxes,

Local lottery systems, and

The distribution of education bonds

The funds are distributed in four different but interconnected ways:

Giving categorical and block grants,

General state aid,

State-reimbursement for local spending and Transfers from civic governments to local school boards.

Furthermore, the local school boards, at the district level, are responsible for (1) increasing the taxes and (2) managing the utilization of funds. Such an authority inescapably prompts and induces a number of legal questions (Michael and Tyll, 2004). These questions can be broadly divided into 2 categories:

The first question is purely financial and raises questions related to taxes as well as utilization of educational funds at the district level (Michael and Tyll, 2004).

The second on is founded on educational equity, as well as, adequacy and examines inequalities in:

Per student expenses;

Costs of tuition, books and stationary;

The district school-board’s legal-rights to utilize public funds for a particular educational activity; and the quality of education given to students in these public schools and its influence on student achievement (Michael and Tyll, 2004).

Disparities in Funding

As mentioned above, in the United States educational programs in schools are financed primarily by the local property taxes. This state-based tax system is mainly responsible for producing funding differences between the rich and poor districts. For instance, school operating in the rich New York districts acquire almost $14,000 per student annually and those operating in poor districts acquire $9,000 per student annually. Furthermore, this method not only produces funding inequalities between rich and poor districts, it also is responsible for funding disparities between states. For case in point, schools in New Jersey acquire nearly $9,000 per student annually, whereas schools operating in Utah acquire approximately $4,000 per student annually (Biddle & Berliner, 2002).

The school funding disparity is more deeply studied by Azzam (2005) who reviewed the total amount of money each school district received during the fiscal year 2001/02. He concludes, “It comes as no surprise that the majority of states provided fewer dollars per student to their than to their lowest-poverty school districts and that most states have funding gaps between the schools that have the most minority students and those that have the fewest” (Azzam, p. 93). He asserts that states have got to close the funding gap between the rich and the poor districts in order to close the achievement gap. The tax-based funding system needs to be thoroughly reviewed and appropriate changes should be made to achieve that end (Azzam, 2005). It is clear that without making drastic and immediate changes in the school funding formula, very little can be done to close the achievement gap between not just the rich and poor districts but also the rich and poor states.

Economic Resources/Wealth and Funding

Bronfenbrenner (1986) documented many areas of research that discuss the impact of economics on child development. He writes that finances affect children in their home, in their interactions with family members, at school, and in their neighborhood play area. Communities can suffer tremendous economic stresses when a local business closes, or relocates to take advantage of lower wage costs in another country. These events can impact school district funding as well as student’s families. Socioeconomic status and availability of resources greatly impact the decision-making processes of students (Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Stage & Hossler, 1989). Socioeconomic status dictates:

Educational choices (i.e., which school children attend),

The availability of certain peers,

Limit or permit access to health services, and Influence a host of other social contexts (e.g., church, daycare, recreational activities, etc.).

On a broader level, family income and the economic resources also impacts the choice of parents’ friends, neighbors, coworkers, and the availability of media, legal, and social services. Entire cultures or subcultures are influenced by economic resources in the expectations and accepted standards of living that are made available to members (Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Stage & Hossler, 1989). It is important to note here that besides the economy, the culture of both the family and the neighborhood has influence on the developing persons. We may come together to form one society, yet we maintain different cultures — ethnic, religious, and national. Bourdieu (1999) asserts that the force of the dominant culture in communicating conflicting messages to families of other cultures can create crises of identity in children. Haller and Virkler (1993) agree that cultural message of ideological support that is available for families in the dominant culture can be one of cultural approval or disapproval for developing persons. Bronfenbrenner (2001) stresses that children are affected by their culture through the communication of beliefs and customs parents receive from other structures in the mesosystem and exosystem. Haller and Virkler (1993) suggest that adolescents aspire to what they know or can imagine (p. 171). Due to the lack of role models and career diversity, the achievements of rural youth are limited by geographical and cultural context of their communities. Quaglia and Cobb (1996) state, “expectations and standards of the group significantly impact the aspirations of its members regardless of their level of achievement motivation. This tendency is more pronounced in the more isolated culture” (p.129).

Contrast between Poor and Affluent Neighborhoods

The rich neighborhoods acquire more educational funds per student than poor neighborhoods. This funding dilemma should be attributed to the poor and wretched educational leadership, which pays little attention to this issue. Biddle & Berliner (2002) points out that funding disparity can be seen in the school facilities, curriculum and instructional apparatus, school building, teacher qualification and experience, student teacher ratio, student-class ratio, presence of secondary support staff and additional resources. They further articulate that while the general public is in favor of equity and equality through the public education system, they are by and large unaware of the funding dilemma and therefore accept the abuse from this unfair system (Biddle & Berliner, 2002).

The present education funding system has been put in place by several historical forces and events. Ramirez (2002) in his study points out that the funding gap became evident when rapid industrialization started and with it rapid urbanization. Ellwood Cubberley of Columbia was the first scholar to take note of this funding gap and expose it to the general public in the early 20TH century. As we enter the twenty-first century, the global economic development has a great impact on even individual countries and the gap between the rich and the poor neighborhoods is more evident today than ever before. Furthermore, the advances in technology and the structural changes in the world today means that simply graduating from high school is no longer enough for both males and females to lead meaningful and productive lives. Even a four-year college degree in today’s society does not necessarily guarantee job and/or financial security (Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Stage & Hossler, 1989). As a consequence of the dynamic changes, high economic return and employment opportunities have become a source of cut throat competition amongst the world labor market. Hence, the need to close the gap between the rich and poor neighborhoods is more important today than ever before.

Parents’ expectations about their children’s educational achievements are directly related to their social status and their location. Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt (1989) report that the availability and trend of the labor markets in rural and non-rural communities differ, and these markets influence individuals’ occupational achievements and that occupational objectives shape the educational goals. Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt further account that rural youth believe that their parents are more supportive of them taking full time jobs, attending vocational schools, or joining the service rather than going to a school to acquire full-time education.

Population Density and Location

A number of researchers point out that students from poor rural and urban districts perform less well than students from rich suburban districts (Broomhall and Johnson, 1994; Broomhall, 1993; DeYoung, 1985). These researchers believe that the present funding disparity is responsible for this achievement gap (Mulkey, 1993; McDowell, et al., 1992; Jansen, 1991; Reeder, 1989; and DeYoung, 1985). However, another group of researcher believes that student achievement is dependent mainly upon population density and location (Broomhall and Johnson, 1994; and Hanson and Ginsburg, 1988). These researchers argue that achievement gap differs by location because educational aspirations of parents, students and teachers differ by location. In the rural areas, for instance, limited economic activity and fewer opportunities tempt parents to put their children in a vocational school where they can acquire skills that will help him get a job in the local neighborhood. In suburban areas, on the other hand, the economic opportunities are diverse and the population is less dense. Here parents are motivated to educate their child and the child gets higher individual attention from the teachers than those in the urban areas where population density is very high (Broomhall and Johnson, 1994; and Hanson and Ginsburg, 1988). Since educational aspirations of parents, students and teachers differ by population density and location; therefore, achievement gap differs by population density and location.

It is clear to some scholars that educational aspirations of parents, students and teachers remain the most important determinant of whether and how much a student achieves (Alexander, Eckland, & Griffin, 1975; Astin & Karabel, 1975; Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Geoffrey, 1998; Litten, 1982). For instance, Astin and Karabel (1975) have conducted a research and the regression analyses indicate that measured academic ability is a more powerful predictor of the quality of the school attended though social class has an independent impact. Chapman (1981) asserts that aptitude influences students’ achievement and performance. Students tend to self-select institutions with enrolled students of similar aptitude as themselves because they do not want to be with others whose aptitude is very different than their own (p. 493). Furthermore, Chapman (1981) and Geoffrey (1998) found that students with good academic records receive more encouragement to continue their education from teachers, family, and friends. They are more apt to receive college advising from the guidance counselor. Litten (1982) notes that academic ability is also positively correlated with higher education intention and attendance. In the same line, Jackson (1982) uses sociological research to show that academic aspirations have the strongest correlation with students’ educational achievements. Thus, students who do well in high school will tend to aspire to go to college.

Develop Relationships between Previous Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies

Previous studies in the area of educational funding disparity failed to study this subject in depth. They overlooked vital aspects by simply limiting their point-of-view to a few variables. This study will explore this subject by taking an in depth view that spans across many inter-related disciplines. To achieve this end, we have chosen Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory. Bronfenbrenner’s theory enables research to look not only at the individual and the immediate environment, but also at the interaction of the larger environment as well at a given time systematically. In contrast, before Bronfenbrenner, child psychologists studied the child, sociologists examined the family, anthropologists the society, economists the economic framework of the times, and political scientists the structure (Berk, 2000). Therefore, this theory serves as an appropriate theoretical framework for the study of educational achievements.

Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-ecological Theory

Inspired by his own dissertation, Bronfenbrenner has developed an Ecological System Theory, viewing the person as developing within a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of surrounding environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1977, 1986, 1994). He expands this view by envisioning the environment as a series of nested structures that includes but extends beyond home, school, neighborhood, and work settings in which people spend their everyday lives. Each layer of the environment is viewed as having powerful impact on development. Changes or conflict in any one layer will ripple throughout other layers (Berk, 2000). Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979, 1994) has proposed a conceptualization context of development in terms of a hierarchy of systems at four progressively more comprehensive levels, namely, microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. In addition, his chronosystem refers to the temporal dimension of the ecological model.


This system involves the structures and processes taking place in an immediate setting containing the developing person (e.g. home, classroom, playground) (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). This is the layer closest to the developing person and contains the structures with which the developing person has direct contact. The microsystem encompasses the relationships and interactions a developing person has with his/her immediate surroundings (Berk, 2000). At this level, relationships have impact in two directions – both away from the developing person and toward the developing person. For example, a child’s parents may affect his/her beliefs and behavior; however, the child also affects the behavior and beliefs of the parents. Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1994) calls these bi-directional influences, influences that occur among all levels of environment. The interaction of structures within a layer and interactions of structures between layers is key to this theory. Microsystems are dynamic contexts for development because of the bi-directional influences individuals impart on each other. Many micro-level determinants affecting a developing person’s achievement have been investigated and proved to be significant. At this level, bi-directional influences are strongest and have the greatest impact on the child. However, interactions at outer levels can still impact the inner structures.


The mesosystem comprises the linkage and the processes taking place between two or more settings containing the developing person (e. g. The relationships between home and school, school and work place). In other words, a mesosystem is a system of microsystem (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994). Berk (2000) elaborates it as a layer that provides the connection between the structures of the child’s microsystem, such as, the connection between the child’s teacher and his parents, between his church and his neighborhood, etc. Mesosystems are the interrelationships among settings. The stronger and more diverse the links among settings, the more powerful an influence the resulting systems will be on the child’s development. In these interrelationships, the initiatives of the child and the parents’ involvement in linking the home and the school play roles in determining the quality of the child’s meso-system.


The exosystem encompasses the linkage and processes between two or more settings, at least one of which does not ordinarily contain the developing person, but in which events occur that influence the processes within the immediate setting that does not contain that person (e.g. For a child, the relation between the home and the parent’s work place; for a parent, the relation between the school and the neighborhood peer group) (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). This layer defines the larger social system in which the child does not function directly. However, the structures in this layer impact the child’s development by interacting with some structure in his/her microsystem (Berk, 2000). Parent workplace schedules or community-based family resources are examples. The child may not be directly involved at this level, but he/she does feel the positive or negative force involved with the interaction with his/her own system. The quality of interrelationships among settings is influenced by forces in which the child does not participate, but which have a direct bearing on parents and other adults who interact with the child.


The macrosystem is defined as an overarching pattern of ideology and organization of the social institutions common to a particular culture or subculture. In other words, the macrosystem comprises the pattern of micro-, meso-, and exo-systems characteristics of a given society or segment thereof (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). This layer may be considered “blueprints” for interlocking social forces at the macro-level and their interrelationships in shaping human development. While not being a specific framework, this layer is comprised of cultural values, customs, and laws (Berk, 2000). They provide the broad ideological and organizational patterns within which the meso- and exo-systems reflect the ecology of human development. Macro-systems are not static, but might change through evolution and revolution. For example, economic recession, war, and technological changes may produce such changes. The effects of larger principles defined by the macrosystem have a cascading influence throughout the interactions of all other layers. For example, if it is the belief of the culture that parents should be solely responsible for raising their children, that culture is less likely to provide resources to help parents. This, in turn, affects the structures in which the parents function. The parents’ ability or inability to carry out that responsibility toward their child within the context of the child’s microsystem is likewise affected.


The chronosystem refers to the temporal dimension of the ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Changes in life events can be imposed externally. Alternatively, they can arise from within the organism since individuals select, modify, and create many of their own settings and experiences (Berk, 2000). In other words, elements within this system can be either external, such as the timing of a parent’s death, or internal, such as the physiological changes that occur with the aging of a child. As children get older, they may react differently to environmental changes and may be more able to determine more how that change will influence them. Bronfenbrenner (1994) believes these new conditions can affect a child’s development. It is not just environmental types of changes that affect a child’s development. A child can experience developmental changes due to internal changes.

To sum up, the microsystem and the exosystem are social settings, the mesosystem is the relationships between settings, and the macrosystem is a set of abstract rules emanating from values and ideologies that regulates the micro-, meso- and exosystems. Finally, the chronosystem relates to the cumulative experiences of the child in relation to processes and events occurring in her or his setting as well as the historical period in which the development under examination takes place. In 2001, Bronfenbrenner revised and renamed his theory into a “bio-ecological systems theory.” It is an evolving theoretical system for the scientific study of human development over time. Overall, in the bio-ecological system theory, development is neither controlled by the environmental circumstances nor driven by inner forces. Instead, people are simultaneously products and producers of their environments, both of which form a network of interdependent effects.

Review of Previous Research in the Area and Justification for Further Research

We will review and categorize the previous literature in line with Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model explained above.

Microsystem Factors

This layer is the most basic unit of analysis in the bio-ecological model. It is in these immediate settings that a developing person actually encounters influential factors. This is also a deeply internalized system of outlooks, experiences, and beliefs (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). Commonly, a set of subjective perceptions held by all members of the same group shapes an individual’s expectations, attitudes, and achievements. Those achievements are both subjective assessments of chances for mobility as well as objective probabilities, which are not rational analyses, but rather the ways that children from different groups make sensible choices for their own achievements.

Existing research has posited individual psychological and biological factors, characteristics of the family environment, characteristics of the school environment, and the peer context, as important sources of direct influence. Factors such as the developing person’s gender, academic ability, parental education level, parental occupational status, parental expectations and encouragement, socioeconomic status (SES), peers at school and playground, teachers’ expectations and encouragement, and a positive school environment may be correlated with the outcome or influence the development of a person’s educational achievement (Alexander, Eckland, & Griffin, 1975; Astin & Karabel, 1975; Brown, 1990; Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992; Geoffrey, 1998; Goldenberg, 2001; Goodenow and Grady, 1993; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; McDonough, 1997; Litten, 1982).

Mesosystem Factors

The factors at this level refer to the connections among Microsystems that foster development. Many studies have looked at the interaction between family and school and the influences of these two systems on child development (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Specifically, parents’ involvement within the school in conjunction with teachers’ involvement with families represent mesosystem functioning. In addition, the community at large is also expected to affect a family’s ability to provide the necessary support for their child (Henderson, 1994; Wilson and Wilson, 1992; Bourdieu, 1977, 1999)

Exosystem Factors

The exosystem refers to social settings that do not contain the developing person, but that affect experiences in immediate settings. In other word, it consists of contexts that children are not a part of, but which nevertheless influence their development. For example, flexible work schedule, paid maternity leave, sick leave for parents whose children are sick, and parents’ workplaces do not include the child, but nonetheless may influence and impact the child’s development (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). A school board that sets educational policies that are relevant to the child is reflective of exosystem influences (Geoffrey, 1998; Goldenberg, 2001).

According to Haller and Monk (1993), educational policies adopted by the local school boards to prepare students for adulthood can also affect students’ educational achievements. Haller and Monk have identified the potential conflicting implications for educational policies adopted by local school boards to prepare students’ for their pathways to adulthood. If local boards believe the out-migration of rural youth to metropolitan areas is inevitable, they may feel more obligated to prepare students for metropolitan jobs. Conversely, some boards may interpret such actions as community suicide and attempt to counter out-migration by modifying curricula around rural living and local job markets. Some local policies (such as, tracking system, government funded programs for GATE students, or grants for various policy implementation) are created to fuel the achievements of the elite groups at the sacrifice of the majority of the students. Haller and Monk (1993) also report students are sorted according to ability, past academic achievement, and behavior to form homogeneous classrooms. Traditionally, the results from research studies has been that lower incoming students are placed in lower-track classes, where they receive an education that prepares them for low-status jobs. On the other hand, the high-income students are placed in higher-track classes that prepare them for high-status jobs (Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; McDonough, 1997; Litten, 1982).

Macrosystem Factors

This layer is composed of the values, law, customs, cultural milieu, subculture, economic change, and labor market (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). A number of research studies have shown that they can be the source of influence most remote from the developing person’s immediate experience but nevertheless the source that impacts the child through the attitudes, practices, and convictions shared throughout society at large (Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt, 1989; Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Stage & Hossler, 1989).

Justification of the study

During the past two decades, the United States economy has grown rapidly. The tremendous economic development has stimulated reforms in education, especially in secondary education. Unfortunately, the fast economic growth and educational expansion are like any double-edged sword. Coming side-by-side with it is the escalated disparity of economy between America’s rural and urban areas coupled with the widening educational opportunity disparity between the rich and poor regions of the country. Regional contrast between the urban America and suburban America has become a national concern. The great economic stratification between these regions has intensified the inequality in educational opportunity, especially in secondary and high school education (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004).

Even though a plethora research reports about educational achievements at various age levels are available in the United States and other developed countries, little empirical research about educational achievements of the youth has emerged beyond studies documenting gaps in enrollment, inequality, or attainment. Given the fact that achievement is not static, variations in education system, social culture, economy, family structures, and even personal values may raise questions as to the relevance of current understanding of the models and concepts based on the studies conducted in United States and other developed countries, the urge for researchers to continually monitor the changes and trend of such a social behavioral phenomenon demands further study of the concept of achievement (Chenoweth & Galliher, 2004). This study is designed to understand the factors affecting the educational achievements of students living and studying in the Common wealth of Virginia.

Support for the use of the Survey Method of Gathering Information

The most fruitful method to conduct this form of research will most likely be the survey method. The most commonly used form of survey is the distribution of questionnaire and it is considered to be one of the most efficient and popular ways of collecting data. Wilson and McLean suggest that the reason behind the popularity of questionnaires is that they allow the researcher to not only carry out a survey but also gives them structured or statistical information that make the overall evaluation of the response easy. The researcher has to keep in mind before choosing the format of questionnaire that it’s assembling is not only time-consuming but the direction and refinement after the information has been collected can also be tricky and the overall response expanse can be very restricted (Wilson and McLean, 1994).

This study will follow the guidelines given by Wilson and McLean (1994) as empirical evidence has clearly shown that the questionnaire will provide us with accurate and statistical data to carry out our analysis on the funding disparity.


As mentioned before, this study investigates the impact of financial commitment on student achievement in the following public schools: Alleghany County, Floyd County, Glouster County, Greene County, Hopewell City, Isle of Wight County, Powhatan County, Prince George County, Pulaski County, Rockbridge County, Warren County, and Winchester City. The qualitative method has been chosen as the research design because it allows the researcher to be subjective and include his or her personal opinion. The Likert scale which is a psychometric response measuring scale will be used in the study to measure the response of the subjects. The survey will be taken online and regression analysis will be used as the data analysis technique. In order to clearly and implicitly illustrate and achieve the goals of this research, the methodology will be categorized into ten of subsections. The main subsection in the methodology will include: 1) Research Philosophy, 2) Research Approach, 3) Research Strategy, 4) Time Horizons and Research Type, 5) Data Collection Methods, 6) Semi-structured Interview, 7) Sample Description, 8) Data Quality Issues, 9) Analyzing the Data and 10) Conclusion (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000).

Student Achievement in Urban and Rural School Districts

Impact of Class Size on Student Achievement

A number of experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental research studies have been carried out to measure the impact of class size on student achievement. One experimental study carried out by Finn and Achilles (1999) proved that smaller sizes affects students in a positive way and increases their achievement grades be a visible margin. Another study carried out by Grissmer (1999b) also supported the same view. Nonetheless, many non-experimental studies have rejected this view; in fact that claim quite the opposite. These studies have shown that smaller size classrooms can prove to be worse for students (Nye, Hedges, and Konstantopoulos, 1999; Hanushek, 1999; Grissmer, 1999b; Ehrenberg et. al. 2001, Bohrnstedt and Stecher, 2000). In an investigation of 277 distinct approximates of the impact of class size as well as teacher-pupil ratios on student achievement, Hanushek concluded, “ignoring the statistical significance, or the confidence that we have that there is a true relationship, we find that the estimates are almost equally divided between those suggesting that small classes are better and those suggesting that they are worse.” (Hanushek, 1999: 147). Therefore, it is safe to say that the results of these experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental research studies that investigated the impact of class size on student achievement have not shown consistent results.

Community Resources, Partnerships, and Achievement

Establishing community partnerships to utilize, more productively, the resources available has been a positively linked to student achievement. Schools that have high quality community partnership programs show more parent activism. More and more parents engage in various activities at schools. This also results in more extensive utilization of student homework activities that needs student-parent involvement (Sheldon, 2003b). In addition, results shows that schools that are involved in community-based partnerships produce students who rank and score highly in standardized achievement tests (Sheldon, 2003a). Lastly, studies have also shown that schools that have sustained and grown their community partnerships have accounted steep declines in the percentage of punishing acts taken by school staff with students (Epstein et al., 2002). The results from these studies propose that growth and development of well thought-out community-based partnerships can influence many areas of student achievement.

Age of Public School Facilities and Student Achievement

School environment, its age and facilities are as important as family environment in the microsystem. An effective school should be a place to raise students’ achievements. Researchers also suggest that students in different types of schools have different levels of academic achievement due to the disparity school resources (Cowling, 2004). Rural students suffer an early disadvantage, which greatly hinders their educational achievements (Cobb, McIntire, & Pratt, 1990). Conversely, Haller (1993) utilizes the same set of database (High School and Beyond) while focusing more precisely on the discrepancy’s magnitude and causes. The findings prove there is only a small difference in the educational achievements of rural and non-rural youth, approximately half of this small difference is due to the lower SES of rural families and most of the remainder is a consequence of adolescents’ tendency to aspire less often to the highest level professional jobs — to jobs that are relatively uncommon in rural regions (p. 177). He has further explained that this was not to suggest that previous research findings, especially, Cobb, McIntire, and Pratt (1989) were incorrect in finding that the achievements of rural youth are lower than those non-rural counterparts. It is not the findings themselves but the interpretations placed on research findings that have practical consequences for rural students and their communities.

In addition, research has shown that teachers’ expectations, peer influence, and school policy are related to educational achievements. Hossler, Schmit, and Vesper (1999) argues that if we believe that the teachers’ high expectations for students improve their learning, and the same must hold true with student achievements. They suggest that beginning during the junior year and more prominently during the senior year, peers, teachers, counselors become more influential.

The influence of peers in the school setting has been documented widely (Brown, 1990; Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992) and adolescence is the developmental period in which individuals are most influenced by their peers (Goodenow & Grady, 1993). Carpenter and Western (1982) investigate the influential factors on education achievements in relation to the gender difference and aspirations and claim that peer influence has a major impact on educational achievements of all students regardless of their gender difference. Hallinan and Williams (1990) stress the impact of the peer-influence process on higher educational achievements. They examine how characteristics of students and of students’ close friends affect the students’ educational achievements and actual attendance. Individuals tend to have close relationship with those who share common values and attitudes. In discussing the values of peers which tend to influence the motivation and achievement of adolescents, Goodenow and Grady (1993) argue the ecological nature of motivation to achieve by noting that academic motivation develops from personal values and attributes and influences from close others, culture and ethnicity, and society as a whole. Peers influence academic achievement in positive and negative ways, and for many students of lower socioeconomic status, academic success may be viewed contemptuously.

With the same notion, Hallinan and William (1990) assert that tracking has an impact on the peer-influence process. The tracking system in high school provides students with the opportunity for interaction with students with similar academic ability and goals. Consequently, students are expected to be influenced by peers who are in the same track and therefore are more likely to aspire and achieve higher grades. Correspondingly, Collier (1994) states that the expectations and standards of the group significantly impact the achievements of its members regardless of their level of achievement motivation. Quaglia (1996) further explains that the approach of social comparison theory describes the achievement level of individual group members is buoyed by the prevailing group standard and their aspirations (p. 130). Thus, even those with an inner drive to achieve might limit their accomplishments to the success level of the group; they fear being ostracized or alienated from the group. This tendency toward uniformity is more pronounced in a more isolated community.

Population Density and Student Achievement

Population density can be both positively and negatively related to student achievement. Areas with high population density and low tax output will result in less per student expenses; costs of tuition, books and stationary will be higher for students; the district school-board will not have adequate funds for extra curricular educational activities; and in some places they may not even have adequate funds for fundamental educational activities; lastly, the quality of education given to students in these high density areas will negatively influence student achievement. The same is true for high population density areas with high tax output and/or low population density areas (Coleman, 1990; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992; Putnam, 1993).

The Influence of Family Background and Wealth on Student Achievement

Various aspects of the family background have also been found to have a large impact on student achievement. For instance, research by Hossler, Schmit, and Vesper (1999) suggests that, throughout most of the developmental years of schooling, the postsecondary achievements of youth are shaped primarily by parents and to a lesser extent by siblings or other significant others (p. 86). They have also specified that during the time frame of eighth through tenth grade, parents are most influential in higher student achievements.

Unexpectedly, Teachman and Paasch (1998) in their research address the extent to which variation in the educational achievements of children resides in the family. The authors have identified the importance of the family for educational achievements by using data on sets of siblings to model the degree of sibling resemblance. The results indicate that nearly three quarters of the variation in educational achievements lies between families, but the standard indicators of family socioeconomic status (parental income and education) can only explain a fraction of this variation. There is also substantial similarity in the degree of sibling resemblance across pairs of siblings defined by sex and ordinal position. Sex and ordinal position of siblings do not alter this relationship (p. 704).

Over the years, parents’ education, parental expectations, and the dynamics of family interactions have emerged as major factors in academic achievements. One consistent finding in research (Brooks, 2003; Conklin & Dailey, 1981) suggests that adolescents’ achievements are influenced by their parents’ achievements or expectations for them. When adolescents perceive their parents to have high educational expectations for them, adolescents are likely to have higher achievements for themselves. Brooks (2004) and Stage and Hossler (1999) report that father and mother’s educational aspirations are important factors affecting parents’ educational expectations for their children. Stage and Hossler (1999) state that such parental expectations have been shown to influence students as early as junior high school. Similarly, Coleman (1976) reported that parents are the predominant influence on young children’s achievements. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, parents are influential figures with children through exposing them to occupations or career opportunities and implied expectations. Overall, the majority research supports the influence of parental expectations on the academic achievements of their children. These expectations lay a foundation for parents’ behaviors and interactions with their children, which then indirectly or directly influences their results. One exception is found in Brantlinger (1992) research. He found that 70% of the minority junior and senior high school students were fairly certain their parents did not want them to attend college, even though only 40% had actually discussed college with their parents.

Recent studies of students’ educational achievements have emphasized the role of social capital, as a family resource, in shaping students’ future plans and achievements. These studies have found that students who are part of a family with strong relationship ties (rich in social capital) between parents and themselves are more likely than others to develop high academic achievements and later on ambitious education plans. This social capital influences students’ educational achievements, for the most part, through the parents’ norms and values, and their expectations and perceptions of education (Khattab, 2002). In families where social relationship ties between parents and children are strong, students are more likely to adopt their parents’ values, norms and perceptions (McDonough, 1997). If parents in these families perceive education as an important means of social mobility, and that educated people, regardless of their ethnic origin or race, have equal opportunities within the labour market, students are likely to have higher academic achievements (Khattab, 2002).

Social class or socioeconomic status (SES) has been proved to be another salient factor that affects educational and vocational achievements (Devine, 2004; Karen, 1988). Many agree that both rural and urban youth are affected to a great extent by parents’ social class. Stage and Hossler (1989) report that family income affects parents’ educational expectations for their children and consequently affects children’s educational achievements. Similarly they also indicated that compared with urban youth, rural young people felt their parents were much more supportive of their taking full-time jobs, attending trade schools, or entering the military rather than attending college. These lower educational achievements accompanied lower values for a high income and higher values for simply making good incomes, having secure jobs, and maintaining friendships. The circumstances that contribute to lower educational achievements among rural youth include strong relationship between socioeconomic status and educational outcomes, i.e., students who come from low-income circumstances have lower educational achievements than do their more economically advantaged peers, a poverty rate that is higher in rural America than elsewhere, and the low educational level of rural parents which tends to influence the educational achievements of their children (Stage and Hossler, 1989). However, Cosby (1978) finds that the rural youth he studied have high educational and occupational achievements, countering the contention that lower achievement among the rural youth results from lack of achievements or ambition. He comments, “rural youth, even the most disadvantaged, participate psychologically in the ‘American Success Dream’ if not in terms of actual behavior or attainment” (p. 137). His results concur with another research, in which researchers categorized the samples into two groups — agricultural and white collar. The findings show that actually there is no significant difference among children from different social classes with respect to their educational achievement (Stash and Hannum, 2001).

In terms of students’ educational choices, there is agreement among existing research that SES is a manifested important factor (Chapman, 1981; Conklin & Dailey, 1981; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Stage & Hossler, 1989). Students from families of different SES status not only acquire education at different rates, they also distribute themselves differently across types of traditional and non-traditional educational institutions. Students from homes with higher SES are more likely to go to four-year colleges and universities than from homes with average or below average SES (Chapman, 1981). Research also observed that families possessing high-status cultural capital have clear strategies of how much and what kind of schooling each generation should have. Parents transmit cultural capital by informing off springs of the value and the process for securing a college education. Conklin & Dailey (1981) strongly believe that a student’s cultural capital will affect how much and what quality of education that student intends to acquire, and that a student’s choice of school will make sense in the context of that student’s habitus (p. 3).

District Size and Student Achievement

The district size has been positively associated with student achievement. When the district size is large, students benefit from larger schools, variety in curriculum, superior school facilities and more diverse program offerings (Goldsmith, 2004). Similarly, students in slammer sized districts benefit from more in-class hours and close contact of teachers with both student and his/her parents (DeBaryshe, Patterson & Capaldi, 1993).

Develop Relationships between Previous Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies

Studying educational achievements through Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological perspective enables an examination of the phenomenon with combined aspects of sociology and developmental psychology. It is evident from the literature review that a number of factors that influence the educational achievements for students attract more attention from researchers while some remain unexplored.

In school settings, a number of factors have been identified that account for a strong or weak association with students’ educational achievement. At microsystem level are gender, parental education level, parental occupational status, parental expectations and encouragement, socioeconomic status (SES), peers at school and playground, and teachers’ expectations and encouragement. At the mesosystem level, parental relationship with school is recognized as an important factor that can either foster or suppress students’ educational achievements. At the exosystem level, educational policies can also affect students’ educational achievements. Finally, at the macrosystem level, subculture, economic change, and labor market remotely affect the development of students’ educational achievements. Some findings are consistent across nations while some are found very controversial even within the same state. This indicates the need for further and current studies before making any generalizations with regard to the issue of educational achievements.

Review of Previous Research in the Area and Justification for Further Research

As with any social construct, the term “achievements” lends itself to a variety of interpretation and examination. On one hand, the concept of achievements is rooted in psychology and guided by the theory of achievement motivation. On the other hand, the study of achievements is rooted in sociology and guided by social comparison theory (Ainsworth, 2002). The issue of educational achievements is of national and international importance. It is a concept that has no geographic or language boundaries. A group of researchers state that educational achievements are important and the differences in achievements across groups of youth and reasons for such differences are also important to consider. Achievement, especially, educational achievement, is an acquired trait. It is multi-dimensional and very dynamic (Ainsworth, 2002).

Expected Outcome of Research

The purpose of this study is to understand the factors affecting the educational achievements of students living and studying in Common Wealth of Virginia. Since educational achievement is an important social and behavioral phenomenon, this study can be significant at regional, national, and international levels. The intention of this study is to explore the following research question: What are the students’ achievements in school education and the underlying factors of funding that affect educational achievements of the students in the Virginia?

It is expected that this study will confirm that while funding disparity does influence student achievement; other environmental factors can offset low funding to some extent. The findings of this study will expand the knowledge about developmental influences over educational achievements of the students. It will provide valuable information for the policy makers both in the central government and local government to make effective decisions to support and fund programs to raise student achievement in all domains. This study and its findings will become an addition to and update of the international research of educational achievements of youth.


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