Evaluating Race-Ethnic Differences in the”Strategic Center:” A Test of Status Attainment and Bayesian Learning Theories of Educational Expectations

Andrew, Megan, and Robert M. Hauser
Working paper no. 2009-12


Educational expectations measure a youth’s plans for further educational attainment and have been dubbed the “strategic center” of a model of educational and occupational outcomes. Research on educational expectations has been invigorated of late with increasing interest in decision-making theories in sociology and economics. In this paper, we compare long-standing theories in the status attainment literature about the static nature of expectations with ideas drawn from Bayesian learning theory about the importance of experiential learning in educational expectations. In this comparison, we focus on race-ethnic differences in the formation and effects of educational expectations, another long-standing but problematic finding in the literature on educational expectations. Contrary to early status attainment research, we find relatively little support for a static latent construct driving students’ reports of educational expectations. However, we also find there is minimal updating of expectations based on rather large changes in grade point average. These processes do not vary by race-ethnic group in a correctly specified model with appropriate academic achievement measures and errors in variables. We conclude that educational decision models cannot be monolithic in their conceptualization of the decision-making process, a fact that invites the continued development of appropriate and rigorous social psychological models of the education process.