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Policy and Research Issues: Introduction

ELS:2002 will serve the development and evaluation of educational policy at all governmental levels and inform decision makers, educational practitioners, and parents about the changes in the operation of the educational system over time, and the effects over time that elements of the system have on the lives of the individuals who pass through it.

The policy issues to be studied through ELS:2002 include the identification of school attributes associated with achievement; the influence of parent and community involvement on students' achievement and development; the dynamics and determinants of dropping out of the educational system; changes in educational practices over time; and the transition of different groups (for example, racial and ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic status groups) from high school to postsecondary institutions and the labor market. ELS:2002 will inquire into the influence of students' values and goals; investigate home, school and personal factors affecting risk and resiliency; gather information about the social capital available to sample members; delineate students' curricular and extracurricular experiences and determine their later impact; and comprehensively catalogue students' school programs, course taking experiences, and cognitive outcomes.

Basic elements that are encompassed in the ELS:2002 research instruments can be classified in three broad categories: background information (normally collected in the base year only), process information (information about dynamic influences on the student, in the home, school, and community environment, as he or she moves through secondary school and beyond into the world of postsecondary education and the adult workforce), and outcome information (the eventual outcomes of the transition process). Below are examples of the content of the ELS:2002 research instruments:

Social Background

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Family income
  • Family structure & composition
  • Parent education & employment
  • Languages spoken
  • Parental aspirations for child
  • Health history
  • Prior school experience

Home Educational Support System

  • Involvement in education
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Discipline and monitoring

School and Classroom Characteristics

  • Student and teacher composition
  • School climate, safety
  • Programs and services
  • Teacher characteristics

Postsecondary Education Choice and Enrollment

  • Postsecondary institutions applied to and accepted by
  • Financial aid offered
  • Postsecondary enrollment
  • Financial aid received while enrolled
  • Work and earnings while enrolled


  • Jobs held and salaries
  • Working conditions and benefits


  • Tested achievement in reading and math
  • Achievement growth over time
  • Grades
  • Retention/promotion
  • High School persistence/dropout
  • Socioemotional development
  • Engagement in school
  • Postsecondary access and entry, persistence, and attainment
  • Labor market outcomes
  • Family formation and citizenship

While the content blocks above can be taken as the basic constituents of the ELS:2002 instruments, one can also view the study through a more policy-oriented perspective. This can be achieved by looking at examples of specific policy issues that ELS:2002 can address, across the broad policy domains of equity/access/choice, cognitive growth and its correlates, course-taking opportunities and choices, school effectiveness; and parental and community involvement. In addition, the 2006 survey will focus on post-high school transitions, including issues of access and choice in postsecondary education. More detail is provided about each of these areas, immediately below.