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Race and Academic Achievement in Racially Diverse High Schools: Opportunity and Stratification


by Chandra Muller, Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Kathryn S. Schiller, Lindsey Wilkinson & Kenneth A. Frank — 2010

Background/Context: Brown v Board of Education fundamentally changed our nation’s schools, yet we know surprisingly little about how and whether they provide equality of educational opportunity. Although substantial evidence suggests that African American and Latino students who attend these schools face fewer learning opportunities than their White counterparts, until now, it has been impossible to examine this using a representative sample because of lack of data.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study uses newly available data to investigate whether racially diverse high schools offer equality of educational opportunity to students from different racial and ethnic groups. This is examined by measuring the relative representation of minority students in advanced math classes at the beginning of high school and estimating whether and how this opportunity structure limits the level of achievement attained by African American and Latino students by the end of high school.

Setting: This study uses data from the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study (AHAA) and its partner study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a stratified, nationally representative study of students in U.S. high schools first surveyed in 1994–1995.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Two samples of racially diverse high schools were used in the analysis: one with African Americans, Whites, and Asians (26 schools with 3,149 students), and the other with Latinos, Whites, and Asians (22 schools with 2,775 students).

Research Design: Quantitative analyses first assess how high schools vary in the extent to which minority students are underrepresented in advanced sophomore math classes. Hierarchical multilevel modeling is then used to estimate whether racial-ethnic differences in representation in advanced math have an impact on African American and Latino students’ achievement by the end of high school, relative to the Whites and Asians in the school. Specifically, we estimate the effects of Whites’ and Asians’ overrepresentation in sophomore-year math (or Latino or African American underrepresentation) within the school on students’ senior-year grades and their postsecondary enrollment.

Findings/Results: Findings show that schools vary in the extent to which African American and Latino students are underrepresented in advanced sophomore math classes. This pattern of racial inequality in schools is associated with lower minority senior-year grades and enrollment in 4-year postsecondary institutions, net of students’ own background.

Conclusions/Recommendations. Evidence consistently suggests that schools can play an active role in the provision of opportunities for social mobility or in the exacerbation of social inequality, depending on how they are structured. It is important to consider racial stratification within schools as a mechanism of inequality of educational opportunity.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 4, 2010, p. 1038-1063
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15659, Date Accessed: 7/30/2014 11:19:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Chandra Muller
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    CHANDRA MULLER is a professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests are in the effects of high schools on adolescents’ transitions to adulthood. She is principal investigator of the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study. Her recent publications (with colleagues Frank, Riegle-Crumb, Schiller, Wilkinson, and others) concern the effects of social relationships on math and science course-taking in Sociology of Education and American Journal of Sociology, and the course-taking patterns of immigrant students (with Rebecca Callahan and others) in Social Science Quarterly and Theory and Research in Social Education.
  • Catherine Riegle-Crumb
    University of Texas at Austin
    CATHERINE RIEGLE-CRUMB is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and a faculty research associate at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include how social contexts influence gender and racial/ethnic inequality in educational trajectories from high school into postsecondary, with a particular focus on the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Recent publications include “The Role of Gender and Friendship in Advanced Course-Taking” (with coauthors George Farkas and Chandra Muller) in Sociology of Education.
  • Kathryn Schiller
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    KATHRYN S. SCHILLER is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies and the Department of Sociology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her main fields of interest are social stratification, math and science curriculum, academic trajectories, and school transitions. Recent publications include “Raising the Bar and Equity? State Policies and High School Students’ Mathematics Course Taking” in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and “Economic Development and the Effects of Family Characteristics on Mathematics Achievement” in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
  • Lindsey Wilkinson
    Portland State University
    LINDSEY WILKINSON is an assistant professor of sociology at Portland State University. Her research interests include educational inequality, immigrant adaptation, and the transition to adulthood. She has recently coauthored articles in Educational Policy and Social Science Quarterly that address the impact of high school ESL placement on math and science course-taking among immigrant youth. She is currently working on a project that examines the impact of high school processes on the language use of Asians and Latinos in young adulthood.
  • Kenneth Frank
    Michigan State University
    KENNETH A. FRANK is a professor of measurement and quantitative methods, counseling, educational psychology, and special education, and an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University. His substantive interests include the diffusion of innovations, study of schools as organizations, social structures of students and teachers and school decision-making, social capital, and resource flow. His substantive areas are linked to several methodological interests: social network analysis, causal inference, and multilevel models. Recent publications, with collaborators, include “The Social Dynamics of Mathematics Coursetaking in High School” in American Journal of Sociology, and “Extended Influence: National Board Certified Teachers as Help Providers” in Education, Evaluation, and Policy Analysis.
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