Dynamic measures of primary and secondary school characteristics: Implications for school effects research

Andrew Halpern-Manners, John Robert Warren, Jennie E. Brand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In this paper we introduce a new way to conceptualize and measure the educational resources that young people encounter as they make their way from kindergarten to high school graduation. Using recent methodological advances in group-based modeling and a unique data set, we empirically test for and identify a series of categorically distinct school characteristic trajectories. We find that these trajectories vary significantly in terms of their intercept and slope, their prevalence within the sampled population, and in the sociodemographic makeup of their constituent members. We then present an extended empirical example illustrating relationships between school characteristic trajectories and important post-secondary educational outcomes, both before and after controlling for static, single-year measures of primary and secondary school characteristics. Our results suggest that the chronology of students' exposures to different educational resources is significantly associated with college enrollment, college selectivity, and, in some instances, college completion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-411
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 meetings of the American Sociological Association, the 2007 summer meetings of the Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility, and in substantially revised form at the 2008 meetings of the Population Association of America. This research was conducted with generous support from the Spencer Foundation, using facilities provided by the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, and data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS). Since 1991, the WLS has been supported principally by the National Institute on Aging, with additional support from the Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. We are grateful to Joe Savard for his assistance in collecting portions of the data used in our analysis; to Daniel Nagin for his technical advice; and to Karl Alexander, Jennifer C. Lee, Samuel Lucas, Thomas Luschei, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous drafts. Any errors or omissions, however, are solely our responsibility.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Education
  • Group-based trajectory models
  • Life-course perspective
  • School characteristics
  • School effects


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