Youth-Nex Receives $550,000 to Study Reducing Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in Academic Achievement

The William T. Grant Foundation awarded Patrick Tolan, Joanna Lee Williams, Lauren Molloy Elreda, and Tabitha Wurster of Youth-Nex a $550,000 research grant to study if students' peer networks can be leveraged to reduce racial and ethnic inequalities in academic outcomes.

Tolan and colleagues suggest that cross-ethnic relationships in ethnically diverse classrooms may facilitate students' access to resources necessary for academic success.

They hypothesize that when Black, Latino, and Native American youth are connected to their peers, they may be more motivated to learn and achieve better academic outcomes.

“We know peer influence is important in middle school,” said Tolan, “but the focus has been on negative influence, there is great potential in positive influence particularly in reducing ethnic group disparities in performance and felt inclusion in schools. We’re very excited about this opportunity to explore this new application of positive youth development.”

The three-year study, Reducing Inequalities Through Student Networks: Social Network Influences on Academic Engagement and Achievement will test whether classrooms with well-integrated, egalitarian, and cohesive networks of racially and ethnically diverse students have fewer disparities in student achievement than classrooms that are ethnically segregated, more hierarchical, and less cohesive. The team will also examine whether instructional practices are a potential pathway to shape within-class peer networks and thereby reduce racial and ethnic achievement disparities.

The investigators will draw on observations, network assessments, and interviews with students from 80 classrooms, and follow-up observations, network assessments, and surveys with 40 classrooms. The investigators will assess how network characteristics relate to individual and group academic achievement. Outcomes will include standardized test scores, course grades, GPA, disciplinary referrals, and attendance. They will then examine associations between the classroom networks, teaching practices, and student achievement, and for half of the sample, look at changes over time.

This grant falls under the WTGrant Reducing Inequality focus area and funds high quality, empirical projects that examine programs, policies, and practices that can reduce inequality among young people in the U.S. Research Grants target early- to mid-career researchers for high-quality empirical projects that fit one of our two focus areas. The largest of our three programs for researchers, Research grants are awarded three times each year.  The Foundation awarded five grants in June for projects that will address inequality in youth outcomes. The Foundation is interested in inequality by race, ethnicity, economic standing, and immigrant origin status as it plays out across a range of systems, including the education, child welfare, and justice systems.