Research on Economic Segregation, Student Achievement and Student Well-Being

Decades of research has made clear that students from all backgrounds achieve at higher levels in lower-poverty schools than in high-poverty schools.

The importance of socioeconomic composition was a key finding of the first major comparative study of American schools, the 1966 Coleman Report. Research on more recent developments has produced similar findings. Studies have found school composition to be the major school-related factor affecting the achievement levels of individual students at elementary, middle and high schools.

Researchers have identified a number of school conditions that improve as poverty levels drop, including overall teacher quality and stability, teacher expectations, peer interactions, access to advanced classes and extracurriculars, sense of safety, parent involvement and parent political power.

They have identified other aspects of education that improve as school diversity grows, among them engagement in active thinking, construction of a strong sense of individuality and development of deeper understandings of society.

In addition, while research studies show that children from all backgrounds generally log the highest test scores at the lowest-poverty schools (20 percent or less), they also document significant mental health and substance abuse issues that can arise when well-off children live and learn in isolated high-wealth settings.

Key studies

Geoffrey D. Borman and Maritza Dowling, Schools and Inequality: A Multilevel Analysis of Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity Data, Teachers College Record Volume 112, Number 5, May 2010, pp. 1201–1246

School Composition and the Black–White Achievement Gap, NAEP, US Department of Education, 2015

Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, Martha Cecilia Bottia, Richard Lambert, Effects of School Racial Composition on K-12 Mathematics Outcomes of School Racial Composition on K–12 Mathematics Outcomes: A Metaregression Analysis, Review of Educational Research, March 2013, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 121–158

Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, Twenty-First Century Social Science on School Racial Diversity and Educational Outcomes, OHIO STATE LAW JOURNAL, Vol. 69:1173, 2008

Stephanie Southworth, Examining the Effects of School Composition on North Carolina Student Achievement over Time, Education Policy Analysis Archives, Volume 18 Number 29 November 30th, 2010

J.S. Coleman, et al., Equality of Educational Opportunity, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966.

David Rusk, “Classmates Count: A Study of the Interrelationship between Socioeconomic Background and Standardized Test Scores of 4th Grade Pupils in the Madison-Dane County Public Schools,” 2002. http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/Unifiedfinalreport.pdf

Patricia Gurin, et al., “Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes,” Harvard Educational Review 72 (September 2002), 330-367.

Suniya Luther and Chris Sexton, “The High Price of Affluence,” in Advances in Child Development 32 (San Diego: Academic Press, 2004), 125-62.

Jack Boger, “The Socioeconomic Composition of the Public Schools: A Crucial Consideration in Student Assignment Policy,” U.N.C. Center for Civil Rights, 2005.

Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee, “Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality,” The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, 2005.

Russell W. Rumberger and Gregory J. Palardy, “Does Segregation Still Matter? The Impact of Student Composition on Academic Achievement in High School,” Teachers College Record 107 (September 2005), 1999-2045.

Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (New York, Harper, 2006). Excerpt.