Questions for comps

Comprehensive Exam
Sociology of Education (General)
Spring 2012
1. Schools can be viewed both as formal organizations that structure opportunities to learn as well as
normative contexts which also influence student learning. Drawing on empirical evidence, discuss the
ways in which both the formal and informal contexts of schools have been shown to influence students’
academic achievement. Additionally, discuss how both the organizational and contextual aspects of
schools may influence individuals’ non-academic outcomes, being sure to specify what those outcomes
might be and why they may be important.
2. Identify and discuss major theorists in the literature on cultural capital and social capital. Be sure to
explain similarities and differences between the two concepts. Next, discuss specific contributions of
literature on these concepts towards understanding either racial/ethnic (or immigrant) or social class
inequality in educational outcomes. Finally, offer a critique of the shortcomings or limitations of work in
this area.
1. Students’ experiences in schools are a product of the formal curriculum (like the courses they take and
what is taught in them) and the social relationships and school culture, with implications for students’
outcomes. In other words, the individual student must be considered in the context of the school and also
brings to school his or her family and neighborhood background. Choose at least two theoretical
perspectives and discuss the roles that schools play in exacerbating and/or disrupting intergenerational
transmission of advantage and disadvantage, with particular attention to the formal and social experiences
of students in school. Please make sure that you give attention to points of similarity and difference in the
theoretical perspectives.
2. Schools face enormous challenges in trying to serve the educational needs of its students. When
thinking about the literature you have read on elementary, middle, and high school, at what stage of K-12
schooling do schools carry the most significant unfulfilled potential to provide quality education to its
students? In discussing your answer, be sure to clearly articulate an argument for why you have chosen one
stage of schooling versus the others. What kinds of policies need to be enacted to capitalize on this
unfulfilled potential.
1. Stratification in Education. Educational inequality and stratification are the focus of much of the
research in the field of sociology of education. In the U.S. where schools are charged with providing
opportunity for all children, they operate in a stratified society in which complete equality of opportunity is
difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Two forms of social stratification—racial/ethnic and social
class—are persistent yet also distinct. Consider our K-16 educational system and, in particular, the
different stages in the system (e.g., elementary, middle school, high school, college) as well as transitions
into, out of and between them. Discuss which dimension of stratification (race/ethnicity or social class) is
more important in determining educational outcomes. It is reasonable to suggest that these two forms of
stratification may interact (e.g., that social class effects may vary by race and race effects may be different
according to social class), but please be specific in your discussion of such interactions. What policies are
most promising for addressing points of inequality in the system?
2. There have been many discussions in the educational literature about how to narrow the differences
between economic groups in high school graduation rates. Many studies have highlighted the complexity
of this issue by pointing out the contributions of familial, educational, and individual factors. Discuss (3)
theoretical perspectives that can help us understand economic variation in graduation rates. Do the three
perspectives (collectively) adequately summarize why kids from some economic groups graduate at higher
rates than others? If not, discuss one major component they are missing (collectively) that would enhance
our understanding of this issue.
Transition to Adulthood