Research Theme 1

Social and academic conditions of sucess

  • 1.1. Knowledge, competence and success of students
  • 1.2. Role of socio-economic resources and educational institutions in inequalities of success
  • 1.3. Public educational policies, modes of regulating inequalities, and actors.

Theme Supervisors: S. Garcia and S. Morlaix.

Statuary participants: Halim Bennacer, Sandrine Garcia, Sophie Genelot, Marielle Le Mener, Denis Meuret (emeritus), Sophie Morlaix.
Associates: Marie Duru-Bellat, Daniel Janichon, Alain Mingat, Cathy Perret, Thierry Troncin, Adeline Seurat

The research projects developed in this first theme are aimed at better understanding the pathways of success in the educational system, from elementary school to higher education. As highlighted by Forquin (1994)[2], this notion of success is tied to norms imposed by academic institutions, which may vary at every level and with every course. The possibilty of exceeding the expectations of these institutions depends on an individual’s cultural heritage, as was demonstrated in the 1960’s and 70’s (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1964) but also on the ways in which institutions are able to reduce initial inequalities (Duru-Bellat and Mingat, 1997).

The objective is therefore to understand what the role of the school can be in improving the conditions of success, taking into account heritage and family socialization which contribute to these inequalities. In this context, and despite the large disparities that exist in terms of resources, both at the level of students and their families and at the institutional level, we eaxmine the conditions of an effacacious school which favors the success of all (Demeuse et al., 2005). Three complementary approaches are used.

The first approach focuses on the manner in which students’ knowledge and competences develop and evolve in different contexts and how they can be used to explain success. This begins with deveolpoing definitions for and mesurements of these competences. The notion of competences tends to produce reluctance in the educational system and has yet to be consolidated under a theoretical framework (Crahay, 2006). However, as underlined by Duru-Bellat (2015), this notion presents the interest “d’ expliciter les objectifs que l’on vise et par conséquent d’ouvrir le débat sur ce que doit être le projet éducatif de l’école,” in articulation with the world that awaits students and which is not limited by the job market. Numerous studeies like those of Farkas (2003) in sociology or of Heckman et al. (2006) in economics, highlighted how certain competences can affect academic pathways, success at different levels of the educational system, and social stratification. In this context, the works which have been undertaken and which will continue on this theme will concern the development of those skills which may be considered academic, non-academic, social, and behavioral belonging to both students and teachers.

The second approach allows us to take in to account the resources students have been given and the effect of these resurces on their success. This takes into account different social inequalties (Meuret, Morlaix, 2006) as well as the collective resources tied to educational institutions, wich can also produce inequalities of success. Particular attention is paid to familial educational practices contributing to the construction of academic difficulty or excellence and the resources that can be deployed in the production of these practices (Garcia, 2013)[9], as well as the “context effects” that weigh on the appreciation of students’ academic value in the class setting.

The third approach complements the two previous approaches and is centered on an analysis of public educational policy initiatives. This approach focuses on the developement of reforms implemented in a given political context and the contextualized measures that they can impel (like the Plan Réussite en Licence, or the measure “Plus de maîtres que de classes” in the context of the global struggle against failure). This apporach also studies the modes of regulation, or the manner in which the state, in accordance with its rules, succeeds in eliminating or reducing the inequalities between social groups, or on the contrary, re-enforces them, as well as the mechanisms through which these processes coccur (Amstromg, 1995)[10]. This theme looks at the roles that the state confers to different actors, the relationships between these actors, and the public powers that actively participate in fashioning and orienting educational policy.

1.1. Knowledge, competence and success of students.

From a conceptual point of view of evluating students, the notion of competences as well as attempts to measure them provoke a number of controversies. The polysemous nature of the term and the risk of essentializing invite a clarification of terms, especially if the approach, at the level of competences, is susceptible to influencing the analysis of the inequalities of success in the academic context (Letor and Vanderberghe, 2003). The debate has also been taken outside of the strictly scientific world by institutions like l’OCDE who, having launched an investigation into the discipinary competences of university graduates, just published a report advocating for the importance of social competences on life trajectories, both in and out of school, the latter being presented as “a way to understand social and economic inequalities” (OCDE, 2015). If certain studies confer important weight to cognitive competences, notably in higher education or on the transition in to the workforce, seveal studies like those of Heckman et al. (op.cit) highlight the important influence of other competences, sometimes qualified as non-academic, social, or emotional, on an even larger array of social results. However, if these competences appear to expain, in part, success, their conceptual context relies on diverse theoretical approaches that render measuring and evaluating them difficult. It is in this perspective and taking into account these difficulties, that we will engage several studies, by questioning, on the one hand, the concept of competences, and on the other hand, focusing on the problem of measuring the acquisition and effects of these competences on students’ success and orientation.

A project that began in the academy of Dijon, lead in partnership with the rectorate and financed by the BQR of l’ESPE, looks at the effect of non-academic competences on certification and orientation at the end of middle school, notably in priority education establishments. This study examines the ways in which these competeces can influence success, the academic ambitions of students, and their actual trajectory (Giret, Morlaix). In addition, the scientific partnership initiated with the IDEFI TalentCampus project will continue examining the effects of programs designed to develope non-academic competences on academic and univeristy pathways within the logic of evaluation (Giret, Morlaix). Another more specific project concerns the envrionmental and personal determinants of the behavior of students who are considered asocial and the development of certain social competences by these students (Bennacer). The principal objective in this case is to understand the dynamic psychosocial mechanisms relative to the social climate of the class by which the socio-ecological environment is determined, alone and in interaction with the personal characteristcs and asocial behavior of the student (agression, bad relationships with others, and social retreat). Other studies focusing on higher education are interested in the different factors necessary for the developemnt of academic and non-academic competences required for success at univeristy (Érard, Le Mener). Finally, from an international perspective, the social competences of teachers will be analyzed, updating the incentive systems of countires participaing in the TALIS study, and will enable teachers to delevop different competences that are condusive to student learning processes (Duguet, Morlaix).

1.2 Role of socio-economic resources and educational institutions in inequalities of success.

The second sub-theme focuses more particularly on the inequalities of success and the role of different educational institutions on the creation of these inequalities. If it is generally established that social, demographic, and economic characteristics structure the learning process and, in fine, the inequalities of success, the organization and functioning of the school play an equally important role in the construction of these inequalities. The characteristics of the class, like the characteristics of the teacher and his or her learning practices or the characteristics of the establishment, constitute factors that can affect the level of acquistion attained by students.

This sub-theme integrates works aimed at understanding how inequalities of success form and accumulate at different levels. The research focuses, for example, on the educational strategies of parents following the implemntation of the new school rhythm, extracurricular activites and their connection to academic success, the different approaches of agents in the educational system to orienting struggleing students or reducing academic difficulties (Garcia). The use of digital technology by institutions and teachers at various levels in the educational system (elementary, secondary,and higher education) will also be studied from the point of veiw of the inequalities of learning processes that it may create for students, as well as between institutions (Duguet, Giret, Morlaix). From a perspective of international comparison, another project seeks to better understand the internal and external factors at academic institutions that explain the development of more or less important competences in math among 15 year olds (Meuret, Morlaix, Le Mener) using PISA surveys from 2003 to 2012.

1.3 Public educational policies, modes of regulating inequalities, and actors.

This sub-theme is dedicated to public action in educational matters. The goal is to better understand the work focused on the categorization of educational problems by the state, the respondes that are formulated for these problems, and the subsequent measures. From a theoretical point of view, the originality of this project consists of analyzing how these policies are made, which depends on how problems are selected, the manner in which they are framed as “public problems” (Gustield, 2009), and the struggles and strategies of actors to put one problem or another on the agenda. This research hopes to take into account the course of collective mobilization, media coverage, and politicization. This frame of analysis relys on on-going research concerning the difficulties relates to the implemenation of certain policies at the local level, like the adjustment of the rhythm of schooling (Bonnard, Perret) or the development of extra-curricular offerings (Farges, Garcia).

Based on a study of certain measures considered to favor success, it will be necessary to understand how certain mobilized social groups intervene and acheive the recognition and adoption of their expertise in “problem” solving. The goal is also to avoid the somewhat naive vision of public authorities as “neutral” holders of the solutions that are the most in-line with the collective interest while “front-line professionals” (Dubois, 1999) are either assigned sucessfully implenting change or resisting it. Many empirical feild studies in Burgundy and Franch-Comté as well as of the Plan Reussite en Licence (Morlaix and Perret), and the measures “Plus de maîtres que de classe” (Garcia), “les classes sans notes” (Genelot), and the welcome measures for students who have recently arrived in France (Garcia) will help nourish this consideration. On the national and international level, the examination of the efficacy of measures like Rased en France (Bonnard, Giret) or, internationally, on the educational projects developed by the program “Education Pour Tous” (Mingat, Poirier, Seurat) can help to capitalize on these issues. Finally, these considerations will be extended to the various actors in the field of pedagogical perscription as well as to the markets that intervene to prescribe the standards of public policy, such as in textbook publishing (Garcia).

[1] The majority of research professors collaborate on the two themes. However we have tried to classify them accoring to their principla contributions while mentioning in the text their contributions to the other theme;
[2]Forquin J. C. (1982). L’approche sociologique de la réussite et de l’échec scolaires : inégalités de réussite scolaire et appartenance sociale. Revue Française de Pédagogie, 59(1), 52-75.
[3] Duru-Bellat M., Mingat A. (1997) La constitution de classes de niveau au collège ; les effets pervers d’une pratique à visée égalisatrice. Revue Française de Sociologie, 38(4), 754-789.
[4] Demeuse M., Baye A., Straeten M-H., Nicaise J., Matoul A. (2005). Vers une école juste et efficace. Bruxelles : De Boeck
[5]Crahay M. (2006). Dangers, incertitudes et incomplétude de la logique de la compétence en éducation. Revue Française de Pédagogie, 154, 97-110.
[6] Duru-Bellat M. (2015). Les compétences non académiques en question. Formation emploi, 130, 13-29.
[7] Farkas G. (2003). Cognitive skills and noncognitive traits and behaviors in stratification processes. Annual review of sociology, 541-562.
[8] Heckman J. J., Stixrud J., Urzua S. (2006). The effects of cognitive and noncognitive abilities on labour market outcomes and social behaviour. Journal of Labour Economics, 24(3), 411–482.
[9] Garcia S. (2013). A l’école des dyslexiques. Combattre ou naturaliser l’échec scolaire. Paris : La Découverte.
[10] Amstromg D. (1995). Power and partnership in Education. London : Routledge.
[11]Letor C., Vandenberghe V. (2003). L’accès aux compétences est-il plus (in) équitable que l’accès aux savoirs traditionnels ? Cahier de Recherche du GIRSEF, 25.
[12]L’enquête AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes)
[13]OCDE (2015). Skills for social progress. The power of social and emotional skills. Paris : OECD.
[14] This will be done in the context of the interdisciplinary research program COGSTIM (COGSTIM/Cognitive stimulation, locomotion, and virtual reality: Applications to health and education) initated by the University of Burgundy in the context of scietific specialization around the learning processes and health and financed by the Regioanl Counsel of Burgundy (program PARI).
[15] Gusfield J. (2009). La culture des problèmes publics : L’alcool au volant : la production d’un ordre symbolique. Paris : Economica.
[16] Ce projet bénéficie également d’un financement dans le cadre du programme PARI inter-laboratoire et financé par le Conseil Régional de Bourgogne sur l’attractivité des territoires.
[17] Research on these first measures is financed by BQR of l’ESPE.
[18] This research is conducted under the purveiw of EVASCOL.