Yoko Yamamoto is a faculty member at the Department of Education at Brown University. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Education from University of California at Berkeley. She has conducted research projects that examine socialization and educational processes across diverse cultural/ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the U.S. and Japan. She has served as the publicity committee chair and a steering committee member for the Society for the Study of Human Development.
Reducing educational inequality associated with student backgrounds has been a crucial yet challenging goal for policymakers across the globe. Indeed, socioeconomic status (SES) has remained a powerful determinant of student academic achievement in most countries, including Japan and the United States. While ample evidence demonstrates socioeconomic gaps in family investment and resources provided to students, little is known about how students from varying SES groups develop beliefs about learning such as purpose for learning, feelings toward school, value of education, and eagerness to learn. Especially scarce are studies on SES and development of learning beliefs during early school years, after students' initial entry to school. Students' early beliefs about learning are found to operate as forces to motivate and guide their later learning attitudes, and an early gap in students' views grows over time. Thus it is crucial to identify whether there is a SES difference in students' beliefs about learning in early school years, and if so, why such a gap occurs. The goal of the proposed research is to examine first graders' beliefs about learning and educational processes in high-SES and low-SES groups in Japan and the United States. I will also examine what types of family beliefs and academic socialization processes promote or hinder students' positive beliefs about learning in Japan and the United States and how early beliefs guide their later educational experiences. This study uses a mixed-methods approach by collecting and analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data. I will collect data by interviewing 160 first graders (40 low-SES and 40 high-SES students in Japan and the United States, respectively) and conducting surveys with their parents to ask questions regarding demographic information, home environment, and students' engagement in learning. I will statistically analyze similarities and differences between the two SES groups and the two countries as well as relations between beliefs about learning and various family factors. I will also follow-up 24 students (12 low-SES and high-SES students) when they are in the second grade and conduct naturalistic observations and in-depth interviews. By conducting qualitative analysis using field notes and interviews, I will examine how students' early beliefs about learning influence their academic experiences in Japan and the United States. If there is a SES discrepancy in students' beliefs about learning and eagerness to learn at an early stage, new policy measures are needed to reduce the gap. Findings of this study may suggest risk and preventive factors in low-SES students' early academic processes in Japan and the United States. The proposed study will substantially contribute to ongoing studies of social stratification and education in a comparative context. An examination of two countries with different educational systems will help us understand whether a country's educational system and practices (e.g., Japan's emphasis on egalitarianism) play a role in reducing or increasing SES gaps in students' beliefs about learning and their educational processes at an early stage.