Creating Choice: Families’ Efforts to Transform the Rules of the Middle School Admissions Arena in China

Natalie Young , University of Pennsylvania

Much empirical research within the sociology of education field portrays the conversion of socioeconomic resources into advantages at school as a relatively natural, seamless process. Largely overlooked is how social actors struggle to shape the “rules of the game” within the education field to their advantage, despite the importance Bourdieu assigned to this process. In this paper, I draw on nationally representative survey data to reveal that despite official restrictions on school choice, almost a quarter of Chinese middle school students’ families used social connections, special testing, unsanctioned fees, or other strategies to gain access to preferred middle schools, and that engagement in these strategies is strongly associated with social class. I argue that these strategies represent an effort to transform the “rules of the game” in the education field, although findings also suggest that there may be differences among high SES families in their incentives to change existing structures.

See paper

 Presented in Session 8. Economy, Labor Force, Education, & Inequality