Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988-1994 are analyzed with logistic regression to test three sociological explanations of high school completion. The first explanation, derived from meritocracy theory, holds that educational credentials are won by academically deserving students. Thus, students who demonstrate better cognitive skills and make better grades are more likely to receive a high school diploma. The second explanation, derived from social reproduction theory, hypothesizes that high school graduation depends on the resources within the student’s family, such as family income and parent’s education level. Students from more advantaged families are more likely to graduate. The third explanation, taken from social bond theory, proposes that social attachments, commitments, and time involvement related to school activities bind the student to normative expectations of the school and increase the probability of graduation. Social attachments that alienate the students from school have the opposite effect. The results of the analyses find unequivocal support for the social reproduction and social bond explanations. Meritocracy theory garners no support. Practical implications of the findings are discussed.
Occasional Research Paper, no. 4, October, 1999.