Erin McCauley receives funding for dissertation project

Erin McCauley

Project Summary

Background and Purpose
Education is considered the gateway to mobility in the United States. In reality the
education system is somewhat of an “unequal contest”. Scholars have focused on inequality in
opportunity, arguing that characteristics such as race and class, shape students’ paths. Parental
incarceration has widely been ignored in this area, despite its prevalence among disadvantaged
children. More than 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration and African
American children face particularly acute risk. The fastest growing rate of incarceration is
among females yet the majority of research examining parental incarceration focuses on
fathers. The inclusion of maternal incarceration in the determinants of educational inequality is
necessary to better understand how and for whom the “contest” of education is unequal.
This study will explore stigma as a mechanism behind the educational disparities for
children of incarcerated mothers, focusing on how maternal incarceration affects teachers’
expectations and evaluations of students. Teacher expectations act as self-fulfilling prophesies;
low expectations materialize due to differential treatment, behavior, and opportunities. This
study will focus on stigma due both its importance and potential for intervention. Although
researchers have demonstrated the negative association between parental incarceration and
youths’ educational outcomes, little is known about how this happens.


  • Sponsor: New York Community Trust aka Community Funds, Inc
  • Title: “Detained Potential: Associative Stigma as a Core Mechanism Behind Educational Inequality for Children of Incarcerated Mothers”
  • Award Amount: $5,000.00