SMMUSD HDQTRS — A pair of UCLA professors are seeking permission to use Lincoln and John Adams middle schools as laboratories to study the effects of racial diversity on students at urban middle schools.

The two campuses would be part of a 25-school, 6,000-student study designed by professors Sandra Graham and Jaana Juvonen — both developmental social psychologists with UCLA — that follows a group of children from sixth grade through eighth grade to see how their perceptions of race change during that time.

Juvonen is also the researcher behind Cool Tools, a program used by every school in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District except Will Rogers Learning Academy to teach children how to relate and interact with their peers.

The two professors hypothesized that diversity decreases the perceived risk of being bullied, helps the formation of interracial friendships and aids in the development of a nuanced social identity.

“Because of where we live in an urban area, we’re trying to understand how racial and ethnic diversity affects kids’ social development,” Graham said. “Kids are going to have to learn in this contemporary world how to get along with people who are different from them in a lot of dimensions.”

The two schools appealed to the researchers not necessarily for their breadth of diversity, but for their different flavors of diversity.

Lincoln’s student body is primarily Caucasian, with nearly 60 percent of its students identifying as white in the 2010-11 school year, but it has a sizable Latino population as well at 16.9 percent.

Less than 5 percent of students were African American.

JAMS, on the other hand, was 50.6 percent Latino, 32 percent white and 11.5 percent African American that year.

“We’re looking at all the different kinds of combinations of diversity,” Graham said.

If approved by the Board of Education, the two professors will get the project underway within one to two weeks.

Each participating student will get a 55-minute survey to begin. Data will be collected twice during the sixth grade year, and then once during seventh and eighth grade.

Teachers will also be asked to give behavioral ratings for students whose parents agreed to let them participate in the study.

The study comes with incentives. Participating teachers get $2 per student, which averages out to between $40 and $60.

Parents who return signed consent forms, regardless of whether or not they gave permission for their children to participate, will be entered in a raffle for a chance to win one of two $50 Target gift cards.

Students aren’t left out of the fun. Each school will get three iPod products to raffle off to students with signed consent forms.

Lincoln and JAMS would be part of the final wave of schools to take part in the study. The two rounds that already started one and two years ago, respectively, showed a remarkable participation rate of 81 percent, Graham said.

“We’ve been ecstatic,” she said. “Some schools say no, they’re too busy, or they don’t like the topic, it makes them nervous. But most schools approached have been very interested.”

The goal of the study, which won grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, is to provide new research about the benefits of diversity to help defend against a recent trend in court decisions which have undermined desegregation efforts, according to a report to the school district.

In June 2007, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in a case called Meredith vs. Jefferson County Board of Education, which prohibited the use of “race-conscious policies” in the assignment of students to public schools in Louisville, Ky. and Seattle.

It’s difficult to combat those decisions using existing research pointing to the benefits of a diverse educational climate because it suffers from some major flaws.

“Well, it’s old,” Graham said. “You’re only going to convince policy makers if you have good research.”

The emphasis in education is shifting more and more to neighborhood schools and a concept that parents should have control over what’s happening in those schools, Graham said.

If those neighborhoods are segregated, the only way to get diverse schools is to have policies focusing on it, and that won’t happen without foundational research, she said.

The Board of Education is expected to approve or deny the research at its meeting Thursday night.

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