Exploring the Transformative Potential of Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Schools and Classrooms: The Role of Social Interactions

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-7522-5552
Johnson, Haley, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna, EDLF, University of Virginia

As the US education system becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, there is a need understand the pathways in which racial-ethnic diversity may or may not be beneficial in order to optimize benefits and minimize harm. This manuscript style dissertation, Exploring the Transformative Potential of Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Schools and Classrooms: The Role of Social Interactions, utilizes different analytic techniques to explore the pathways in which classroom diversity is and is not beneficial for adolescents. Paper 1, Leveraging Social Network Analysis in the Study of Ethnically & Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms, answers the call to better understand how diversity is related is related to outcomes. Drawing from diversity research, four commonly evoked theories that explain the relationship between diversity and positives were identified. Common among the four theories was the role of social interaction to spark growth. Social network analysis is proposed as an analytic technique that should be leveraged to operationalize the social interactions that catalyze the benefits of racial-ethnic diversity. In Paper 2, The Transformative Potential of Classroom Racial-Ethnic Diversity: Using Social Network Analysis to Investigate How Diversity is Associated with Academic Outcomes, the relationship between working in a diverse classroom and academic outcomes are explored, per the cognitive dissonance perspective discussed in Paper 1. The current study leverages social network metrics (network integration and network density) and multilevel models to explore how cross-group help-seeking interactions are related to academic outcomes in racially/ethnically diverse middle school classrooms. Integrated classrooms – classroom with more cross-race academic helping connections – were hypothesized to be associated with academic outcomes. Counter to expectations network density was negatively associated with academic outcomes; while the pattern of the relationship between network integration and academic outcomes was inconclusive. In Paper 3, Unpacking the Intersection of Social Structure and Social Processes in Racially-ethnically Diverse Classrooms: A Comparative Case Study, the nature and complexity of peer interactions in racially-ethnically diverse classrooms are explored by examining both structure (i.e., network integration) and process (i.e., observed peer interactions). Two questions guide the analysis: (1) How do integration scores map onto observed peer interaction within the racially-ethnically diverse classroom, and vice versa? (2) How, if at all, do teacher practices and classroom activity structures vary as a function of integration scores? To answer these questions, a comparative case study approach (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014) of two racially-ethnically diverse middle school English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms is employed. The classroom with the higher integration score did in fact have more observed peer interactions. But the classroom with the higher integration also had a wider range in the nature and tone of peer interactions. Teacher practices, such as how classroom time is structured, may shape the racial integration within the classroom but future research is needed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Diversity, Early Adolescence, Peer Relationships, Social Network Analysis, Qualitative Methods, Social Interactions
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