Different Teachers, Different Peers
Large urban school districts serve increasingly diverse student bodies. Although many studies have described racial segregation among schools, and the causes and consequences of such segregation, far fewer have examined the extent to which students are sorted across classrooms within schools by race and ethnicity, or by family income or achievement. Attendance at the same school does not ensure that students from different backgrounds will share classrooms or have equivalent educational experiences.
In this study, we examine patterns of sorting across classrooms within schools in three large urban school districts. Although the literature on tracking and segregation is vast, few studies have examined sorting of students within schools with the level of detailed data that used in this study. The study addresses three research questions. First, to what extent are students sorted across classrooms within schools along the lines of race and ethnicity, poverty status, and prior achievement? Second, does the extent to which within-school sorting occurs vary across grade levels? Third, to what extent can sorting by race and ethnicity and poverty level be explained by differences in prior achievement? The study finds some evidence of sorting by student race and poverty status across classrooms at all grade levels, some (but not all) of which is accounted for by differences in prior achievement. Sorting within schools is smaller than sorting across schools, but within-school sorting is nontrivial, particularly at the middle and high school levels. We also find that students are sorted by their prior achievement across classrooms within schools, even in self-contained elementary school classrooms. Classes made up of lower achieving students tend to have more poor and minority students and less experienced teachers. Given the evidence suggesting that teachers and peers can affect student outcomes, the within-school sorting we document likely exacerbates inequalities.
This article was originally published in Educational Researcher by SAGE Publications.