Beyond Classroom Diversity: How Community Context Conditions Student Achievement in New York State

Diversity in New York State’s Public Schools
Aram Hur

Over the past 30 years, an interesting phenomenon has taken shape in education systems in the United States: despite rising levels of national diversity, public schools have become increasingly racially segregated. While previous studies link greater diversity to better student performance, the focus remains largely on classroom diversity. Yet a large educational and psychological body of literature suggests that relational diversity—the discrepancy of diversity experienced in one’s surroundings versus the classroom—is an important factor in educational performance. A Capstone team provided the first empirical test of this hypothesis in the context of New York State, where blacks and Hispanics face the highest rates of educational segregation in the country. Using geocoded data on public schools merged with Census data on diversity in the surrounding area, the team found that a one-unit increase in a school’s relational diversity is associated with a 7 percentage point increase in the proportion of students who pass the State English Language Arts exam. The findings have important implications for how policies on school redistricting, zoning, and integration relate to academic performance.