Can Every School Be a Good School? Unranking and Its Implications for School Status
Jacqueline Ho

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Cornell University

Primary Discipline

In many education systems, families compete for admission to good schools. Well-resourced families invariably have the upper hand, which contributes to segregation and inequality. Proposed solutions tend to focus on equalizing access to good schools. Less commonly studied is whether it may be possible to reduce the competition in the first place, by changing the definition of what a ?good? school is. If we broadened our measure of ?goodness? beyond academic excellence, would families come to see more schools as good, thus flattening the school status hierarchy? This is the logic behind policy efforts that reduce the focus on academic metrics in favour of holistic approaches to evaluating students and schools. Yet we lack an evidence base for this logic, as work on school choice tends to treat perceptions of school quality as static, rather than investigating how they may evolve. To fill this gap, I examine the case of a decade-long ?unranking? effort by the Singaporean government, which attempts to shift parents? attention from academic to holistic aspects of school quality so they may see that every school is ?good.? Drawing on policy debates, 13 years of school application data, and 50 interviews with parents, my dissertation will offer a theoretical understanding of what drives unranking, as well as empirical evidence on whether and how an expanded definition of school quality can moderate competition for schools.
About Jacqueline Ho
Jacqueline Ho is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Cornell University. Beginning with the premise that how we evaluate ?merit? can both generate and legitimate inequalities, her work examines the processes through which such evaluative practices are sustained or challenged. She is especially interested in practices of evaluation in the education system, given their major role in shaping inequality in modern meritocracies. Her dissertation examines how parents evaluate schools in Singapore, where there have been active policy efforts to broaden measures of student and school success beyond academic grades. These efforts echo attempts in other educational settings to adopt more ?holistic? practices of evaluation in the name of equity. They offer an opportunity to study how people cope with the removal of rankings and quantitative metrics, and with their implications for inequality. Jacqueline?s other projects examine why disadvantaged Singaporean youth may paradoxically believe that their society is meritocratic, and how actors on a college campus challenged or justified the morality of grading during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is drawn to cultural approaches to understanding how people make meaning of their social worlds, and interviewing as a method for excavating such meanings and how they shape action. Before graduate school, Jacqueline worked in environmental policy. Her experience of watching economists price nature led her to her current interest in how value is socially constructed, legitimated, and contested. Jacqueline is a native of Singapore, which means she loves cooking, and a resident of Ithaca, which means she loves spending time in nature.

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