Does Sorting Matter for Learning Inequality? Evidence from East Africa
Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research
Inequality and Stratification
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Inequalities in children’s learning are widely recognized to arise from variations in both household and school-related factors. While few studies have considered the role of sorting between schools and households, even fewer have quantified how much sorting contributes to educational inequalities in low- and middle-income countries. We fill this gap using data on over 1 million children from three East African countries. Applying a novel variance decomposition procedure, our results indicate that sorting of pupils across schools accounts for at least 8 percent of the total test-score variance, equivalent to half a year of schooling or more. This contribution tends to be largest for children from families at the ends of the socio-economic spectrum. Empirical simulations of steady-state educational inequalities reveal that policies to mitigate the consequences of sorting could substantially reduce inequalities in education.