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Adolescents' Educational Outcomes: Racial and Ethnic Variations in Peer Network Importance

NCJ Number
Journal of Youth and Adolescence Volume: 38 Issue: 9 Dated: October 2009 Pages: 1264-1279
Franklin Goza; Igor Ryabov
Date Published
October 2009
Students attending 132 high schools and middle schools (grades 7-12) composed a nationally representative sample of 13,738 youth (51-percent female) who were surveyed to determine how their peer networks impacted educational outcomes.
The study found that in addition to factors typically associated with academic outcome (e.g., school composition), two individual-level peer network measures, socioeconomic status and heterogeneity, had significant effects on educational outcomes. Although educational attainment was generally lower in schools located in communities with low socioeconomic status, higher educational attainment for all ethnic groups was linked with attending schools with higher concentrations of minority students. At the individual level, however, membership in integrated peer networks was negatively associated with high-school graduation for Asians, Latinos, and non-Hispanic Whites, and to grade-point-average (GPA) for Asians and Latinos; only African-American achievement increased in more racially/ethnically heterogeneous peer networks. The study concludes that school policies aimed at socioeconomic desegregation are likely to have beneficial effects on academic outcomes for all racial/ethnic groups. The findings also suggest that co-ethnic and co-racial peer friendship networks should not be viewed as impediments to the educational achievements of youth. In many cases, the opposite was true, as results generally supported the ethnic social capital hypothesis, while finding little corroboration for oppositional culture theory. Co-racial and co-ethnic ties may mediate the negative effects of school choice, or more specifically of between-school socioeconomic segregation. Study data came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This nationally representative data set was administered in three waves, in 1994-95, 1996, and 2001-2002, respectively. The dependent variables were educational achievement, measured as GPA in wave one, and educational attainment, measured as the odds of high-school graduation, at wave three. Independent variables were race/ethnicity, the race/ethnic heterogeneity of the peer network and the mean network socioeconomic status, and school-level variables (race/ethnic heterogeneity and socioeconomic composition of the student body). 5 tables, 69 references, and appended questions pertaining to parents' educational expectations, parents' involvement, and parents' supervision