In what ways does social origin influence scholastic performance ?
Using PISA 2000 data, this study presents an international comparison of the way social origin influences reading comprehension performances, looking at a variety of variables, some external to the school system, others internal. A variable’s effect is strong in proportion to the strength of its association to father’s occupation and degree to which it favors performance. The study uses the method of path analysis to distinguish between these two aspects. The French situation is presented, then compared to twelve other European Union countries. In all countries, social origin influences performance much more strongly through external variables than variables internal to the educational system : the data used demonstrate that quality of teaching varies little by pupils’ social origin. The article draws theoretical conclusions from the comparison concerning resistance of traditional forms of social advantage, as well as practical consequences regarding choice of variables to act on in order to diminish the effect of social origin on scholastic performance.