How do students’ changing relationships with parents, teachers, and peers influence their math/science achievement and course taking? How do these influences shift over time and within contexts defined by their level of economic disadvantage, race/ethnicity, and immigration status?
How do students’ changing relationships with parents, teachers, and peers influence their math/science achievement and course taking? How do these influences shift over time and within contexts defined by their level of economic disadvantage, race/ethnicity, and immigration status? This William T. Grant Scholar used nationally representative data sources that integrate extensive data on social context with academic information from high school transcripts and in-depth qualitative work in a high school. Over the course of this study, the investigator integrated two concepts: the academic consequences of peer relations in high school and the role of relationships with others in socioeconomic disparities in academic progress. He developed a conceptual model in which social relationships influence the degree of informed decision-making about young people’s educational careers and their ability to capitalize on such informed decision-making, in ways that widen disparities. Social relationships channel information and support to youth and shape youth’s general social experiences that support/distract from the concentration and confidence that they need to do well scholastically and meet short- and long-term goals. The investigator found that youth select into convoys of social relations through their own traits and are selected into these convoys through larger group, community, or institutional dynamics. The importance of social relations is heightened during institutionalized periods of transition (e.g., changing schools) and ambiguity (e.g., choice) that favor having insider knowledge of how the system works, strong home-school connections, and higher social status. The cumulative nature of the system heightens the power of social relations to create inequality early and to maintain inequality later, and it means that social relations can have lasting consequences for youth even after any particular social relationship is over. Early findings showed that academic supports designed to help close the achievement gap with between socioeconomically disadvantaged and advantaged youth can actually widen that gap. Findings indicate that socioeconomic disparities in academic outcomes are more pronounced at the low end of the ability/progress continuum. Positive school values did not differ significantly by socioeconomic status. Instead, socioeconomically advantaged parents were better able to instill the value of coursework and other tangible credentials than their more disadvantaged peers. Findings also show that the link between social marginalization and lower academic progress is similar for girls and boys, but it can be more concretely tied to specific stigmatized traits for girls than boys. The mechanisms for these links are primarily psycholoigical and identity-based, but they are created by more subtle social feedback and comparison than the overt forms of bullying that tend to receive the most attention.