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The Effect of High School Socioeconomic, Racial, and Linguistic Segregation on Academic Performance and School Behaviors


by Gregory J Palardy, Russell W. Rumberger & Truman Butler — 2015

Background/Context: The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education concluded that segregated schools were inherently unequal and therefore unlawful. That decision was not based solely upon the notion that segregated black schools were inferior in terms of academic instruction, curricular rigor, resources, etc., but also on research that showed segregating black children had negative social-emotional and behavioral consequences. However, the vast majority of the research on school segregation over the past 50 years, has focused on its effects on academic achievement and opportunity to learn. As a result, little is known about the effects of school segregation on social-emotional and behavioral outcomes. This is a critical gap in the literature because other research indicates that school behaviors are as strong or stronger predictors of long-term educational, social, and employment outcomes as academic achievement.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of three forms of school segregation—socioeconomic, ethnic/racial, and linguistic—on school behaviors (i.e., attendance, grade retention, and suspension) and academic performance (reading and math achievement test scores and GPA) in high school. The study also examines the degree to which each of three school mechanisms (school inputs, peer influences, and school practices) mediates the effects of segregation on student outcomes.

Research Design: The study uses survey data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:02). A sequence of multilevel models are fit to the data to address the research objectives.

Conclusions: American high schools are highly segregated by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and English language status. Racial/ethnic and socioeconomic segregation are strongly associated with school behaviors and academic performance. The negative effects of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic segregation on school behaviors and academic performance inordinately effect black, Hispanic, and low SES adolescents because they are far more likely to attend segregated schools. School practices that reduce disorder and disruption and emphasize academics strongly mediate of the effects of segregation as does having friends at school with an academic focus. Adopting positive behavioral practices to reduce behaviors that interfere with learning without increasing suspension and expulsion are likely most critical for ameliorating the effects of segregation. Reducing academic tracking is also recommended, given that it likely contributes to negative within-school peer influences among low SES and minority adolescents. However, greater integration is likely necessary to fully address the consequences of segregation.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 12, 2015, p. 1-52
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18151, Date Accessed: 12/17/2017 12:52:32 PM

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About the Author
  • Gregory Palardy
    University of California Riverside
    GREGORY PALARDY is on the education faculty at University of California, Riverside. His research focuses on teacher and school effectiveness particularly pertaining to educational equality. Recent studies have examined: the association between socioeconomic segregation in high schools and educational attainment; the effects of inequitable access to effective teachers on achievement gaps; and summer biases on value-added model estimates of teacher and school effectiveness.
  • Russell Rumberger
    University of California Santa Barbara
    E-mail Author
    RUSSELL RUMBERGER is a professor of education at UC Santa Barbara and Director of the California Dropout Research Project. His research interests include: education and work; the schooling of disadvantaged students, particularly school dropouts and linguistic minority students; school effectiveness; and education policy. He is author of the widely acclaimed book, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It (Harvard University Press, 2011). He received a Ph.D. in Education and a M.A. in Economics from Stanford University and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University.
  • Truman Butler
    University of California Riverside
    E-mail Author
    TRUMAN BUTLER is a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside. His background is in teaching and his research interests center on the role of noncognitive skills in student outcomes.
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