Social Equity and Clientele Participation: A Cross-National Study of Immigrant Education

Published date01 August 2023
AuthorMiyeon Song,Seung-Ho An,Kenneth J. Meier
Date01 August 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(7) 1369 –1401
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231166001
Social Equity and
Clientele Participation:
A Cross-National Study
of Immigrant Education
Miyeon Song1, Seung-Ho An2,
and Kenneth J. Meier3,4,5
How public participation shapes effective and equitable service outcomes
has been extensively discussed but rarely tested in the public administration
literature. This article examines how parent participation in schools affects
overall student performance and whether socially marginalized students
benefit more or less when schools involve greater participation. Using
a 63-country cross-national educational dataset, we show that parent
involvement in school activities is not significantly related to overall student
performance, but such efforts reduce the performance gap between
immigrant and native-born students. This finding suggests that direct
participation can reduce social disparities in program outcomes.
social equity, clientele participation, public participation, comparative public
1Rutgers University - Newark, Newark, NJ, USA
2University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
3American University, Washington, DC, USA
4Cardiff University, UK
5Leiden University, Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Seung-Ho An, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, 315 Social
Sciences Bldg, P.O.Box 210027, Tucson, AZ 85721-0001, USA.
1166001AAS0010.1177/00953997231166001Administration & SocietySong et al.
1370 Administration & Society 55(7)
Engaging citizens in policy making and implementation is a key element of
public management and democratic governance (Amirkhanyan & Lambright,
2017; Fung & Wright, 2001; Nabatchi, 2012; Neshkova & Guo, 2018). Public
participation involves the direct or indirect involvement of citizens, such as
in public hearings, community meetings, and citizen advisory boards, not just
simply casting a ballot (Amirkhanyan & Lambright, 2017). Advocates of par-
ticipatory governance consider public participation as a means of enhancing
government performance and accountability (Damgaard & Lewis, 2014;
Fung, 2006). A large body of research, however, has also discussed the
administrative and perceptual costs of public participation and the potential
bias in participation opportunities (Irvin & Stansbury, 2004; Moynihan,
2003). Despite our growing understanding of the role of public participation,
empirical evidence related to its effects on program outcomes is scarce. In
particular, its impact on outcome equity remains largely unknown.
This article examines how public participation affects service effective-
ness and equity, focusing on outcomes in education. Specifically, we investi-
gate how parent participation in schools affects student performance and
whether it leads to better outcomes for socially marginalized groups or alter-
natively increases disparities in outcomes. Based on the literature on the ben-
efits of public participation in public programs (Amirkhanyan et al., 2019;
Moynihan, 2003; Muhlberger & Weber, 2006), we first posit that parent par-
ticipation can increase overall program performance. Programs that engage
service users are more likely to reflect user preferences, address their con-
cerns, and increase the possibility of coproduction among service recipients
(Andersen et al., 2020). These benefits should outweigh the transaction costs
of participation and the conflicting demands of different stakeholders.
In linking public participation to social equity in our specific case, we
focus on equity in outcomes rather than in terms of procedural fairness,
access, or quality of services (Baker & Johnson, 2021, pp. 20–22). We recog-
nize that public participation can affect other elements of social equity and
outcomes through them and then argue how participation in some cases might
either increase or decrease the equity of outcomes by affecting access.
Scholars recognize that inequity in public participation exists (Clark, 2018).
Structural barriers and inequity in participation can widen the outcome gap
between socially privileged and marginalized groups by limiting equitable
access (Schlozman et al., 2012). In contrast, others argue that greater public
participation can provide an institutional venue that could amplify the voices
of marginalized groups that would not otherwise be present, leading to more
equitable outcomes (Baiocchi, 2001; Hong & Cho, 2018; Touchton &
Song et al. 1371
Wampler, 2014). Despite the extensive theoretical debate, few studies have
empirically investigated this effect of participation (see Paarlberg & Ghosh
Moulick, 2017).
This study presents a cross-national analysis of the education of immi-
grant children, a relatively vulnerable group that is present and growing in
numbers in many countries. Specifically, we focus on two important perfor-
mance dimensions—effectiveness and equity—and test (1) whether parent
participation promotes overall academic performance and (2) whether parent
participation reduces the performance gap between native-born students and
immigrant students (those either born in foreign countries or whose parents
were foreign-born). The empirical strategy involves cross-national data on
10,824 schools in 63 countries and regression models with clustered standard
errors by school and country fixed effects.
This research contributes to the public participation literature in public
management by providing systematic evidence on the relationship between
one specific type of public participation and service outcomes (Daley, 2007;
Fung & Wright, 2001; Hong & Cho, 2018). No research, to our knowledge,
has investigated this relationship using large samples and quantitative analy-
sis in a cross-national context. Our findings provide meaningful implications
for the role of the public in an inclusive, participatory system of governance
(Andersen et al., 2020; Blijleven & van Hulst, 2021; Jakobsen & Andersen,
2013). Addressing the concerns surrounding unequal outcomes of public par-
ticipation, we also examine equity as a dimension of performance and explore
whether public participation can lead to more equitable service outcomes.
Lastly, our study probes the generalizability of public participation theories;
empirical findings from 63 countries could provide compelling evidence for
the effects of public participation on program outcomes in one policy area.
The Definition, Forms, and Consequences of Public
Given its significance and wide scope, the role of public participation has been
an active and ongoing area of inquiry and debate. Public participation is a
broad umbrella term that captures “the activities by which people’s concerns,
needs, interests, and values are incorporated into decisions and actions on pub-
lic matters and issues” (Nabatchi & Leighninger, 2015, p. 14). Public partici-
pation can be either indirect or direct. Indirect participation is when citizens
influence policies via voting or donating money, while direct participation is
when citizens are personally involved in decision making or service processes
through participation in public meetings or the provision of feedback (Nabatchi
& Leighninger, 2015; Neshkova & Guo, 2018). In this article, we focus on

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