Does Diversity Matter?: The Impact of School Racial Composition on the Academic Achievement of Elementary School Students in an Ethnically Diverse, Low-Income Sample

Jameela Conway-Turner

Advisor: Adam Winsler, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Timothy W. Curby, Joseph Williams

Research Hall, #92
April 25, 2016, 03:30 PM to 12:30 PM


Since 1954 when segregation of schools became illegal, educators and parents have wondered how diversity impacts children’s outcomes.  While some research studies have shown that schools with more equal representation of racial groups have more positive academic outcomes for students, other studies show that as minority concentration increases within a school, students tend to perform worse academically. The different bodies of literature use different methods of measuring diversity within schools and no one has yet looked at comparing multiple methods within one study. Additionally, much of the research compares only Black and White students, and the experiences of Hispanic students are often left out. The goal of this dissertation is to examine how the racial diversity schools affects ethnically diverse student outcomes by combining multiple methods of measuring school racial composition. Data will come from 3rd graders in the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP), a large 5-cohort longitudinal study which includes an ethnically diverse sample from Miami Dade County in Florida. Our sample 3rd Graders: N = 33,857 (51.8% male; 57.2% Latino, 32.6% Black, 5.3% White, 4.9% other), Schools: N = 278. Data was analyzed using a multi-level model. The research questions included: 1) What is the association between school racial composition and academic outcomes? Do different methods (e.g., diversity = more equal representation of racial groups; and a continuous measure of minority concentration) of measuring the diversity of schools predict students’ academic outcomes differently? 2) How is the percentage of same-race peers (percent like me) associated with students’ academic achievement and does the effect of same-race peers depend on the school racial diversity? 3) Is there a non-linear relationship between diversity and academic performance? 4) Does the association between school racial diversity and academic outcomes depend on race/ethnicity (Black, White, and Latino youth)?