"The Social Science Evidence on the Effects of Diversity in K-12 Schools,"by Roslyn Arlin Mickelson September/October 2007 issue of Poverty & Race
Racial segregation of students in public schools is increasing. Ironically, schools are resegregating just as the responsibility to provide high-quality, equitable education to all children is becoming more complicated because of the ongoing demographic transformation of our society. Findings from recent social science research are consistent and persuasive: Integrated schools are an important component of high quality, equitable education. In the Supreme Court’s recent Louisville and Seattle cases, the four-Justice plurality opinion dismissed the social science evidence on the benefits of integration as insufficiently compelling to support race-conscious school integration practices. A majority of five Justices, drawing upon the corpus of social science research that shows school racial composition influences outcomes, decided that race-conscious school integration and reduction of racial isolation are important goals (while a different 5-4 majority rejected two voluntary school plans that achieved these goals by giving preference to individual students on the basis of their race).
PRRAC’s Small Grants program supported part of my work in compiling hundreds of scholarly articles on the effects of school and classroom composition on educational outcomes and translating the findings from this compilation for public access and dissemination. This work allowed me to contribute to the amicus brief of 553 social scientists submitted by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, as well as the amicus briefs filed by the American Educational Research Association, the Swann Fellowship and the NAACP.
The Larger Research ProjectThe work supported by PRRAC is part of a larger project I began in late 2005 with support from the American Sociological Association’s Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Social Policy. The Spivack Project is a survey and synthesis of research about the effects of school and classroom composition on educational outcomes. Currently, this work continues with support from the National Science Foundation’s REESE program.
During the last few decades, the social science evidence on the educational benefits of integrated education for all students has become more definitive. Social science research methods have improved our ability to investigate the complexity of the real world in which students learn. For example, we all know that a “3.8 GPA” from one high school is not necessarily the same as a “3.8 GPA” at another high school. Schools differ in ways that matter for achievement.
These new research tools model the fact that students are nested in schools. They allow us to examine the interrelationships amongst the student, family, classroom and school factors that shape achievement. One of the most valuable of these statistical tools is called multilevel modeling (or hierarchical linear modeling). Multilevel modeling offers a clearer interpretation of the relative effects of school characteristics (including racial composition) and family background (including race/ethnicity and social class) on students’ academic outcomes. The preponderance of findings from this newer social science, behavioral and educational research indicates racial composition matters for educational outcomes in the following ways:
The Social Scientists’ StatementThe findings summarized above are presented in great detail in the social science statement signed by 553 scholars whose expertise covers the issues of race, education and life course opportunities. The social science statement concluded:
As part of my work for PRRAC, I developed several PowerPoint presentations on the benefits of school and classroom diversity and the harms of racial isolation (see Resources box). These can be used by local researchers and trainers to help spread the word on the continuing importance of school and classroom diversity. The Power Point presentations include resources for school leaders seeking to implement diversity programs.
The Spivack ArchiveWhen the Spivack Project is completed in 2008, a searchable electronic database—called the Spivack Archive—with detailed summaries of all the social, behavioral and educational research surveyed will be available at the American Sociological Association’s website, www.asanet. org. The Spivack Archive will serve as a resource for people who wish to use social science evidence in efforts to foster diverse, integrated schools.
The Supreme Court has given a green light to school districts to continue to support racial diversity in education. Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion in the Louisville and Seattle cases means the majority of the Justices accepted the vital principle that overcoming racial isolation in public schools is a compelling interest. Local communities and their school district leaders should respond to the invitation from Justice Kennedy and take the actions necessary to foster diversity in their schools and the classrooms within them.
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson , a member of PRRAC’s Social Science Advisory Board, is on the sociology faculty of the Univ. of North Carolina-Charlotte. She holds adjunct appointments in Public Policy, Information Technology and Women’s Studies. email@example.com
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