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Education Law Prof Blog: New Research on Public Schools' Singular Role in Intergroup Contact

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The National Coalition for School Diversity has released a new research brief by Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena. So much of today's education research focuses on standardized scores, but his brief goes back to one of Brown v. Board's key premises the need for intergroup contact and the harm of not getting it.  And as Anda Adams, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction of Cambridge Public Schools, explains integrated schools alone won't ensure intergroup contact: “It is clear to me that racially integrated schools are necessary but not sufficient. We must ensure that our classrooms are integrated, and even beyond that, activities are intentionally designed to bring students from different racial or ethnic groups, socio-economic groups, and special education status together into regular, meaningful contact that can lead to the ultimate outcomes of empathy and caring for others to achieve social change.”

The new research brief offers this summary:

Schools remain one of the few social institutions that have the potential to bring youth together across racial and ethnic lines. New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society. This brief aims to summarize much of this new evidence, with special attention to its practical implications for the social relations and contexts within schools.

Key Takeaways:

In order to prepare youth to thrive in a multiracial society, social science demonstrates the importance and value of increasing opportunities for youth from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to have sustained contact with one another.

Fostering cross-racial friendships, implementing cooperative learning strategies, and promoting supportive norms in schools and among peers are some of the factors that are likely to enhance the positive effects of contact.

Providing youth with opportunities to experience meaningful intergroup contact is especially important because children’s early life experiences can have long-term consequences for their developing intergroup attitudes and beliefs. It also helps to reduce anxiety about difference, builds capacity for empathy and caring about others, develops leadership competencies and plants seeds for social change.

To foster effective interracial contact in schools, ensure that policies and practices make integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact easy to achieve, and prioritize racially integrated classrooms and high-quality intergroup contact within the processes of teaching and learning.

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Derek W. Black

Derek Black is one of the nation’s foremost experts in education law and policy.  He focuses on educational equality, school funding, the constitutional right to ...