Desegregation and the Achievement Gap: Do Diverse Peers Help?

WCER Working Paper No. 2010-3

Jane Cooley

February 2010, 58 pp.

ABSTRACT: Understanding peer effects is critical to evaluating the effect of public school segregation on the achievement gap. This paper develops a new approach to identifying the effect of peer behavior on achievement, using a framework that integrates previously unexplored types of heterogeneity in peer spillovers. Applying the strategy to North Carolina public elementary school students, I find peer effects exist primarily within race-based reference groups, and the magnitude diminishes across the percentiles of the achievement distribution. While on average desegregating peer groups only narrows the achievement gap marginally, this masks important distributional effects, particularly gains for lower achievers.

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keywords: Identity Development; Positive Development; Arts Education