Empirical research on educational inequalities and its normative implications: An interdisciplinary perspective


In this project, we develop an interdisciplinary reflection on the normative implications of empirical research on educational inequality. Which theories of justice underlie the empirical work on international comparative education carried out in sociology, educational science, economics and political science? The definitional and operationalization choices imply a distinction between some instances of educational inequalities that are considered as legitimate and some that, on the contrary, are “unfair” and call for a compensatory intervention from policy-making. To what extent are researchers explicit – or even conscious – of the normative implications of their analytical choices?
By using large scale assessments of cognitive skills carried out at different life stages (TIMSS, PISA, PIAAC), we aim at testing whether different operationalizations of educational inequality (e.g. dispersion of test scores, association between ascriptive characteristics and individual scores, proportion of variance explained by such characteristics…) affect the resulting “size” of inequalities, and which are the implications for cross-country and over-time comparisons.
The project is partly funded by the College for Interdisciplinary Educational Research (CIDER), a joint initiative of the BMBF, the Jacobs Foundation and the Leibniz Association.