The authors report on a research study to address rising inequality in many Western societies by asking whether childhood intervention programs, such as mentoring, can improve educational outcomes for disadvantage children and abate educational disparities.
This report describes a study of inequality implications of the tracking process, in the context of the German school system, where tracking occurs after elementary school, around age 10. The authors first explored the extent to which selection into academic (high) or vocational (low) track programs reflect merit versus socio-economic status (SES) and parental background. Building on those findings, the authors ask whether and how a randomized childhood intervention can reduce the observed inequalities and help improve equality of opportunity. The authors’ data came from the briq family panel (bfp), which combines comprehensive yearly interviews of children and their families with a randomized intervention in the form of a one-to-one mentoring program implemented at the start of the panel in 2011. Results indicated that a child’s socio-economic background is an important determinant of track selection, i.e., inequalities in opportunity arise from early tracking. The authors report finding a positive causal effect of mentoring on high-track attendance among low SES students. They suggest that having a mentor as a role model introduces the notion of high-track attendance, and higher education in general, to a family context that is often rather unfamiliar with hose concepts. As a result, the authors suggest that it is likely that children are motivated and encouraged to “imitate” the mentor while parents are also made familiar with high track education.