I use sociological and demographic approaches to study the sources and implications of education stratification. Selected topics include:

Public Education Policy

In recent and ongoing work, I examine the causes and consequences of variation in schooling policies at the district, state, and national levels. With support from the William T. Grant Foundation, the California Public Education Policy Analysis Lab uses computational text analysis methods to study a large, longitudinal database of California school districts’ funding and equity-focused programming policies, with a particular focus on variation between communities and over time (including before and during the COVID-19 pandemic). Of particular interest are the connections between local immigration trends and student access to special education, gifted/talented, and English language support services.

In another line of research with Daphne Penn, we analyze an untended consequence of accountability-focused school reform policies: standardized test cheating. In mixed-methods findings published in Sociology of Education, we demonstrate that large-scale cheating outbreaks emerge primarily through coordinated, organizational deviance as opposed to malfeasance on the part of individual teachers.

Immigration and Educational Inequality

With over a quarter of school-aged children in the U.S. currently living in immigrant households, it is essential that public schools effectively serve this large and growing segment of the American population. In recent decades, immigrants to the Unites States have become increasingly geographically dispersed across a growing number of new immigrant gateway destinations. These communities lack the strong immigrant social networks and culturally responsive institutions typical of established gateway communities, creating challenges for immigrants seeking access to important institutional resources, including high-quality education.

With Matt Hall, I am examining  the educational consequences of large-scale immigration for children, communities, and school systems. Findings from this project have been published in Social ProblemsPopulation Research and Policy Review, and presented at meetings of the Population Association of America, the American Sociological Association, and The American Educational Research Association.

Special Education Inequalities

While many people think of disability as a permanent, intrinsic, personal characteristic, my work on special education placement demonstrates that children’s pre-school experiences, family backgrounds, the languages they speak, the schools they attend, and the classmates with whom they are surrounded all influence their likelihood of being diagnosed with a learning-related disability. Findings from this project have appeared in Sociology of Education, Social Forces, Harvard Educational Review, The Journal of Special Education, and Learning Disabilities Quarterly.

School Readiness and Early Educational Stratification 

Children’s early years play a crucial role in establishing achievement trajectories that carry them through high school and beyond. Understanding the sources of early-life academic disparities is thus an essential component of efforts to equalize educational and life opportunities among children from diverse backgrounds. My collaborative work in this area has appeared in the Journal of Early Childhood Research, Twin Research and Human GeneticsSociological Studies of Children & Youthand the edited volume Being Unready for School: Factors Affecting Risk and Resilience.

Education Expansion and Social Change in Contemporary China

Chinese society has recently witnessed unprecedented expansion of higher education opportunities, with the number of college graduates nearly tripling over just seven years between 2003 and 2010. What are the consequences of this immense, rapid shift in the number of college-educated individuals in the world’s most populous nation? With Anning Hu, I am investigating the implications of China’s higher education expansion for social equality, individual health and happiness, and the science- and technology-based workforce. Findings from this project have been published in Social Science Research , Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, and The Social Science Journal (1, 2).