A Synthesis of Research on the Effects of School and Classroom Composition on Math and Science Achievement and Related Outcomes

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Since the 1960s, social scientists and educational researchers have examined the relationships among the racial and socioeconomic composition of schools (typically discussed in terms of integration, segregation, or desegregation) and classrooms (typically discussed in terms of ability grouping and tracking) to various achievement outcomes. However, research on the social context of math and science teaching and learning rarely directly investigated the effects of school and/or classroom composition on outcomes. Until the 1990s, the larger body of research on compositional effects could be considered ambiguous or largely silent with respect to math and science outcomes. Since the 1990s, research has shown integrated schools and diverse classrooms are related to positive outcomes for students. This study’s synthesis of the social and behavioral science literatures seeks to systematically review the extant record—especially the higher quality studies conducted since 1990s—in order to evaluate and synthesize their conclusions regarding compositional effects on math and science outcomes.


The study is a synthesis of research on school and classroom compositional effects on math and science outcomes conducted since the 1960s. The study places an emphasis on research conducted since 1990 because of the generally superior research designs, data, and statistical tools available since then compared to earlier research.

Research Design: 

The research designs of studies included in this project are both longitudinal and cross-sectional. The project is a synthesis of the extant literature on math and science outcomes, in relation to school and classroom composition. Given that this is a synthetic study that examines both mathematics and science outcomes, I am employing two approaches to data analysis. Initially, I am conducting a narrative review of the findings for (a) school and (b) classroom by discipline, grade level, ethnic group, gender, and social class. The second, and ongoing phase of the data analysis is a formal meta-analysis in order to refine and clarify the relationships that the narrative review presented.


During the last few decades, the social science evidence on the educational benefits of integrated education for all students has become more definitive. Social science research methods have improved our ability to investigate the complexity of the real world in which students learn. These new research tools model the fact that students are nested in schools. For example, multilevel modeling offers a clearer interpretation of the relative effects of school characteristics (including racial composition) and family background (including race/ethnicity and social class) on students’ academic outcomes.

The preponderance of findings from this newer social science, behavioral and educational research indicates racial composition matters for educational outcomes in the following ways:

  • Desegregated schools and classrooms have positive effects on mathematics and science achievement.
  • Positive effects can occur at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
  • Students from all racial and social class backgrounds are likley to demonstrate higher achievement in racially balanced schools. To be sure, there are variations in the size of the effects by state, by subject matter, school level, student social class, and ethnic group.
  • Racial isolation has harmful effects on the achievement of African- American and many Latino students. Research is less clear about harmful effects of racial isolation on Whites and Asian Americans, although there are some studies that indicate racially-isolated White schools may not be optimal for Whites either.
  • The ways that schools and classrooms are organized contribute to the opportunities to learn within them. Compared to racially-isolated minority schools, diverse schools and classrooms are more likely to offer higher quality and greater equity in opportunities to learn in terms of:
    • Teacher quality and material resources.
    • Depth and breadth of curricular coverage, including more AP courses and other forms of enrichment.
    • A positive academic climate in terms of higher expectations from teachers and peers.
    • Stability of teaching staff and student populations.
  • Academic tracking, ability grouping and special education programs (including those for gifted children) often resegregate desegregated schools. Tracking within desegregated schools can dilute the effects of school integration on achievement because African-American and Latino students are more likely to be found in lower tracks than their White and Asian-American peers with comparable prior achievement, family background and other characteristics.
  • A school’s racial composition is related to but not equivalent to its socioeconomic composition. Both the racial and socioeconomic composition of a school affect achievement outcomes.
Publications & Presentations: 


“Integrated Education and Mathematics Outcomes.” Forthcoming, North Carolina Law Journal, with Martha Bottia, 2010.

“Twenty-first Century Social Science Research on School Diversity and Educational Outcomes.” Ohio State Law Journal 69: 1173-1228, 2008.

“School Choice and Segregation by Race, Class, and Ability” in Gary Miron and Kevin Welner (eds). School Choice, 2008, with Martha Bottia and Stephanie Southworth.

“The Effects of School and Classroom Diversity on Educational Outcomes” in Education for Social Cohesion in Democratic and Multiethnic Societies: A Glolocal Dialogue . Edited by J. Jansen, S. Vandeyar, & M. Nkomo, Forthcoming 2008.

"The Social Science Evidence on the Effects of Diversity in K-12 Schools" in Poverty and Race. Sept/October 2007, 12-14.


“Why Diversity is a Compelling Interest: Social Science Evidence Since 1990” Invited Address at Passing the Torch. The Past, Present, and Future of Interdistrict School Desegregation. National Summit on Interdistrict School Desegregation. Jan. 16-18, 2009 Harvard Law School. Cambridge, MA.

“21ST Century Social Science Research on School Diversity and Educational Outcomes” Invited presentation at the Ohio State Law Journal 2007-2008 Symposium on The School Desegregation Cases and the Uncertain Future of Racial Equality. Moritz School of Law, The Ohio State University. February 20-21, 2008.

“Diversity, School Choice, and Opportunities to Learn Math and Science: Policy Challenges in a Post-Seattle and Louisville Legal Landscape” Keynote Address. Policy Goes to School: Promoting Educational Success. January 11, 2008. Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Social Science and Educational Research Evidence on the Effects of School Composition on Achievement” Presidential Session. American Educational Research Association. April 13, 2007, Chicago, IL.

“The Effects of Classroom and School Composition on Higher Education Eligibility: Implications for Underrepresented Minorities”, Invited Speaker, “Equal Opportunity in Higher Education: The Past and Future of Proposition 209.” October 27-28, 2006 Boalt Law School, University of California, Berkeley.

“Findings from the Spivack Project: The Effects of School and Classroom Composition on Educational Outcomes” American Sociological Association Annual Meeting August 8, 2007, New York, New York, with K. Borman.

Target Population: 
Research Design: 


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