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Children of Richer Parents Do Better at School

The more books in the family and the richer and more educated the parents, the more likely it is that the children will do well at school.

Children of Richer Parents Do Better at School


Elena Kardanova, Director, Centre of Education Quality Monitoring, HSE Institute of Education.

Inna Antypkina, Research Assistant, Centre of Education Quality Monitoring, HSE Institute of Education.

Elena Kardanova, Inna Antypkina and Alina Ivanova , researchers at the Centre of Education Quality Monitoring of the HSE Institute of Education, presented their paper 'The Progress of Grade One Students in the First Year of School: Perpetuating Inequality in Primary Education' at the HSE's XVII April Conference .

Advanced Schools Attract Children from Better-off Families

Using contextual information, the researchers assessed the cultural capital and financial situation of first-graders' families. The number of books in the home library is often considered a measure of a family's culture. According to the study’s authors, many children in ordinary schools have just a hundred books or fewer at home, while students of high-status schools tend to have larger book collections in their home libraries.

Children in advanced schools, such as lyceums and gymnasiums, also tend to have better-educated mothers, including 71% with university degrees and 22% with vocational training; in contrast, about half of ordinary school students’ mothers hold university degrees and about one-third have vocational training.

Along similar lines, the fathers of lyceum and gymnasium students tend to work in prestigious, well-paid occupations (which correlates with responses about families' financial situation) and hold executive positions (director, chief physician), and many work as teachers, civil servants, mid-level managers, engineers, creative professionals or business owners. In contrast, the fathers of students in ordinary schools often work as shop assistants, construction workers, drivers, etc.

In addition to the above, the parents of children attending advanced schools report higher levels of material wealth.

The study data was obtained using the iPIPS (international Performance Indicators in Primary School) assessment methodology developed by the University of Durham, U.K., and adapted for Russia; the authors surveyed 1,297 first-graders from 38 schools in the Republic of Tatarstan, including 21 ordinary secondary schools and 17 high-status schools, such as gymnasiums and lyceums.

Using the iPIPS tool, the researchers tested first-graders' cognitive and physical development twice – in the autumn of 2014 at the time of enrollment and in the spring of 2015 at the end of their first school year – assessing their skills in Russian language (writing, vocabulary, reading) and mathematics (simple counting, addition and subtraction, puzzles). The differences in test results reflected each student's progress in mastering the said subjects.

The researchers also assessed children's social and emotional development and examined broader contextual information about the children's families (parents' educational, occupational and financial status and child-rearing practices) and schools by giving questionnaires to both parents and teachers. The data thus collected provided a comprehensive picture of the child's schooling experience.

Student Performance Differs across Schools

According to the researchers, children's academic progress differs significantly depending on the school's status. Table 1 shows first-graders' average scores in mathematics and reading for both rounds of tests (with 50 as the scale's mean value). Children in high-status schools show better test results compared to students of ordinary schools in all areas of assessment. In addition to this, one can see from the baseline (autumn) test results that students enrolled in gymnasiums, lyceums and similar advanced schools show better performance to begin with.

Table 1. First-graders' average scores in reading and mathematics in two types of schools.


Ordinary school

High-status school




St. deviation



St. deviation

Mathematics (autumn)







Mathematics (spring)







Reading (autumn)







Reading (spring)







Source: Kardanova, Antipkina and Ivanova's paper.

Preschool Learning Contributes to Success

The researchers examined the role of family background and school status in first-graders' academic success by first calculating their families' socioeconomic status (SES) index using a factor analysis of variables such as the mother's education, the father's occupational status, the number of books in the home library and the family's average monthly income.

Then they used the children's scores in mathematics at the end of the first year of school as a dependent variable and baseline scores in mathematics and family's SES index as independent variables; they also included school-specific factors in the analysis, such as location (urban or rural) and type, and the average score in mathematics of all children enrolled in grade one.

The researchers found that a child's starting level in mathematics and his or her family's SES have the strongest effect on their score in mathematics at the end of the first school year.

According to Kardanova et al., the higher the baseline performance and family SES (with other variables controlled), the better the students' first-year results.

School location was also found to make a difference. With other variables controlled, the average scores of rural students stood at two points lower than those of their urban peers.

The study's authors note in particular that children's progress in mathematics varies considerably from school to school and much less so from student to student in the same school. "Indeed, student performance in mathematics at the end of their first school year is largely determined by their starting level of proficiency and also by the type of school they attend," note Kardanova, Antypkina and Ivanova.

Overall, they found substantial heterogeneity in terms of first-graders' cognitive skills and family contexts. They also observed certain differences between ordinary and high-status schools in terms of students' performance at the end of their first school year,

The study’s authors argue, however, that the type of school does not really determine a child's progress (at least in mathematics). Even though descriptive statistics suggest that first-graders in high-status schools are at an advantage in terms of academic success, "if controlled for students' baseline performance and socioeconomic status, no such advantage is observed," according to Kardanova et al. In fact, at the moment of enrollment, one can fairly accurately predict each student's academic success by the end of the first school year.