Does experience in school increase or reduce social inequality in skills? Sociologists have long debated this question. Drawing from the counterfactual account of causality, we propose that the impact of going to school on a given skill depends on the quality of the instructional regime a child will experience at school compared with the quality of the instructional regime the child would receive if not at school. Children vary in their benefit from new instruction, and current skill increases this benefit. We hypothesize that the expansion of free, universal schooling promotes social equality in part by equalizing access to school, but also because disadvantaged children benefit more from access. However, we predict that this equalizing effect will be more pronounced for younger children than for older children. To test these hypotheses, we review empirical evidence regarding the impact of () increasing access to universal kindergarten and preschool, () interrupting schooling with the summer recess, () extending the school day, and () extending years of compulsory schooling. We consider implications for the potential of school reform to reduce educational inequality.


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