By Julissa Catalan
A new study confirms that racially segregated schooling is a disadvantage to young learners.
The study, conducted by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, compiled data from the Department of Education in order to track the fluctuation in reading levels of first-graders, depending on whether they are enrolled in an integrated or segregated school.
“When the minority composition of schools was 75 percent or more, the growth in African-American first-graders’ reading skills lagged behind their African-American peers in more integrated schools,” said Kirsten Kainz, FPG’s Director of Statistics. “This alone wasn’t news. Numerous studies have shown how the performance of African-American students suffers in segregated schools.”
The researchers used nationwide data from the 199899 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study on close to 4,000 first-grade students in the public-school system.
Because “the economic, social and academic backgrounds of the students who attend segregated schools could be the cause of differences in achievementand not aspects of the segregated settings themselves,” Kainz used a statistical technique called “propensity score matching,” which specifically aims to measure reading growth in segregated and non-segregated schools, while also accounting for numerous differences in the child’s background.
After much research, Kainz determined that it was not a race-related circumstance, but rather the actual schooling.
“When similar groups of first-graders do better in one type of school than another, then it must be some aspect of the school that accounts for the difference,” Kainz said. “This study goes further than any other in being able to say, ‘It’s not the kids.'”
The study’s authors also point out that although their research accounts for the impact a teacher’s experience level might have on a student, it does not account for the broader effects high teacher turnover rates might have on segregated schools. Because of this, the study says, “it is important to consider alternative specifications of individual teacher experience and school-wide teacher experience as potential explanations for the negative effects of segregation on student achievement.”
“It may be that segregated schools affect African-American students in particular because these schools have fewer resources to devote to high-quality instruction, experience more teacher turnover, and are more likely to employ novice teachers,” Kainz explained. “In addition, the communities surrounding segregated schools may not have as many supports for reading development outside of the school day and year.”
“We found no reason to believe that the negative impact in first grade is a function of [Black students’] background characteristics,” Kainz told The Huffington Post. “It’s another piece of evidence that the context in which kids learn really matters. Local and national policies that want to launch kids in successful literacy directions should be attending to these contexts.”
Interestingly, the research also concluded that this trend did not apply to Latino or white students. Kainz has yet to determine a reason for this.
However, the study does reference other research on Latino students that indicates that school poverty might have a greater influence on the academic achievement of Latino learners, as opposed to a school’s racial structure.
Kainza Research Associate Professor of Education at UNChas studied effective education practices, especially for economically disadvantaged students.
“Many communities have direct local control over processes that can ensure they don’t inadvertently promote segregation,” she said, advising for segregated neighborhoods to utilize the resources available to them, such as residential planning.