Although past research has linked academic achievement gains to socioeconomic desegregation in schools, a new analysis reveals some hidden academic and psychological risks of integrating low-income students in schools with predominantly middle- and upper-class student populations that might chip away at these achievement gains.
According to a new study led by sociologist Robert Crosnoe at The University of Texas at Austin, low-income students were more likely to be enrolled in lower-level math and science courses when they attended schools with mostly middle- and upper-class students, than in schools with low-income student bodies. For example, low-income students, on average, completed geometry by the end of high school when attending schools with predominantly poor or working class student bodies. Their comparable low-income counterparts in predominantly middle- or upper-class schools, however, tended to reach only as far as algebra I.
Likewise, low-income students who attended schools with wealthier student populations were more likely to feel isolated and have negative feelings about themselves. These results were even more pronounced for black and Hispanic students.
Using a sample of low-income public high school students from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Crosnoe finds support for the theory that students’ academic success is a function of how they view themselves and how others evaluate them relative to the academic skills and performance of their peers.
“Desegregating schools by social class or race is an important society goal that also seems to promote achievement for young people from historically disadvantaged populations,” says Crosnoe. “Yet, the reality is fairly complicated, with some risks to social and psychological functioning as well as course placement for these students.
“If we can fix these risks, then perhaps the achievement gains of desegregation would be even bigger. Desegregating schools, therefore, cannot end when statistical integration of various student groups is achieved. We also have to foster the social integration of these groups to realize the full potential of desegregation.”
Crosnoe’s findings are published in an article titled “Low-Income Students and the Socioeconomic Composition of Public High Schools” in the October issue of the American Sociological Review.