Scott Davies

More about Ontario Research Chair Scott Davies and his work

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Dr. Scott Davies, a professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University, works in both the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Health. Dr. Davies is one of Canada’s leading sociologists specializing in the sociology of education. His research has explored the linkages between education, deviance and health. He has pursued a vigorous research program related to change and equity in education, and is well-positioned to further develop public policy in this field. Dr. Davies has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto.

The perils of summer

If you’re a parent of an “at risk” student, your child might have to face a greater challenge than schoolyard bullies, underfunded schools and dated textbooks: your child’s summer vacation. According to a widely documented trend in the U.S., during this period, the skills of disadvantaged children drop off.

Known as “summer slide,” it’s also the focus of research by Dr. Scott Davies, a McMaster sociologist and holder of the Ontario Research Chair in Educational Achievement and At Risk Students. In practice, this means that students improve during Grade 4, but by the time they start Grade 5 after being away for the summer, their skill sets are back to where they were at some point in Grade 4. The problem is especially pronounced when summer slide compounds over several years, setting students even farther back.

According to American research to date, summer slide overwhelmingly affects the disadvantaged – more privileged children typically see their skills improve or at least stay the same over the summer. Most sociologists point to the fact that privileged children are more likely to receive intellectual stimulation through their summer activities than disadvantaged ones. Once the data points to a firm trend, Davies hopes to make a recommendation on how summer programs can be used to rectify this slide.

Davies’ work on this issue is just one facet of the research program he is overseeing as Chair. He knows better than anyone that the challenges he faces are both pressing and growing. “Educational attainment has never been higher,” he says. “But as more and more people enter the higher education system, the average skill sets of this population tend to drop. We’re looking at how to raise average skill sets at the K-12 level and, especially, to help disadvantaged students.”

The program has two core mandates. The first is to compile longitudinal data about students (where the same student is tracked over a period of time), and the second is to do policy-specific research that will ultimately lead to making recommendations to the provincial government.

Another key focus of the program is necessitated by a pending change in provincial legislation that will make schools accountable for the overall “well-being” of students, which begs the question of exactly what constitutes well-being. Answering that question has fallen to Davies and his team.

Read coverage of Scott Davies' research in the Toronto Star

Click here to watch Dr. Davies’ presentation at the Ontario Research Chairs in Public Policy symposium on May 23, 2013