Reducing Inequalities through Student Networks: Social Network Influences on Academic Engagement and Achievement

Can students’ peer networks be leveraged to reduce racial and ethnic inequalities in academic outcomes?

Students’ relationships with one another may be an important untapped resource for promoting learning and reducing racial and ethnic academic inequalities. Tolan and colleagues suggest that cross-ethnic relationships in ethnically diverse classrooms may facilitate students’ access to resources necessary for academic success. The team hypothesizes that when Black, Latino, and Native American youth are connected to their peers, they may be more motivated to learn and achieve better academic outcomes. The learning opportunities they are offered may also be more equitable. The proposed study will test whether classrooms with well-integrated, egalitarian, and cohesive networks of racially and ethnically diverse students have fewer disparities in student achievement than classrooms that are ethnically segregated, more hierarchical, and less cohesive. The team will also examine whether instructional practices are a potential pathway to shape within-class peer networks and thereby reduce racial and ethnic achievement disparities. The investigators will draw on observations, network assessments, and interviews with students from 80 classrooms, and follow-up observations, network assessments, and surveys with 40 classrooms. The investigators will assess how network characteristics relate to individual and group academic achievement. Outcomes will include standardized test scores, course grades, GPA, disciplinary referrals, and attendance. They will then examine associations between the classroom networks, teaching practices, and student achievement, and for half of the sample, look at changes over time.

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