, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 25-53

Opportunities For Learning: Course Sequences and Positional Advantages

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Course sequences are strands of courses in particular content areas that span a student's educational career. Courses that are differentiated and sequentially organized, such as mathematics and science course sequences, create opportunities for positional advantages in a school's curricular structure. When students make a nonroutine change of schools – that is, transferring to a school outside of the regular attendance zone – they are at risk of changing their positional advantage. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988–94 (NELS:88–94), we examine the educational outcomes of sequences and explore curricular dislocations within the context of school choice. We find that the strongest predictors of 12th-grade mathematics and science course sequences are a student's course sequences at 10th grade. With regard to outcomes, students in higher mathematics and science sequences show greater achievement gains. Furthermore, students in higher mathematics sequences are less likely to have behavior problems and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. Students who make a nonroutine change of schools are more likely to be in lower course sequences than students who do not transfer. Thus, course sequences in mathematics and science are tangible experiences with real consequences for students' lives during and beyond high school and are sensitive to transitions which disrupt the continuity of students' high school careers.