Diverse learning environments benefit students

Two recent literacy studies highlight the importance of creating learning environments that reflect a diverse population.

Grouping like with like – it is a common concept. Historically, people have often chosen to live and work near the people that are most like themselves. But recent educational research points to the value of diversity, especially when it comes to school settings. Two research studies published this year highlight the importance of creating learning environments that reflect a diverse population, a concept supported by Michigan State University Extension research.

In the first study, published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly, researchers looked at the reading scores of first graders in schools that are racially segregated compared to the scores of first graders in racially-diverse schools. Kristin Kainz, principle investigator and director of statistics at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that the scores of African American children were lower at schools that had a 75 percent or greater racial make-up of minority pupils. This finding persisted even when researchers used statistical tools to control for the economic, social and academic backgrounds of the children. “When similar groups of first graders do better in one type of school than another, then it must be some aspect of the school that accounts for the difference,” Kainz says. “This study goes further than any other in being able to say, ‘It’s not the kids.’”

Kainz went on to suggest that perhaps schools with a diverse student population have access to better resources or teachers that are more experienced. Research supports the notion that teacher quality can directly affect student success and this hold true for all racial or ethnic groups. Whatever the cause, Kainz goes on to suggest ways communities can be more intentional in the efforts to provide equal education for all students.

A second study addressed segregation of students by ability rather than racial or ethnic group. Conducted by researchers at two Ohio universities, this study examined another aspect of literacy - oral language. Researchers found that preschool children with special needs who attended inclusive classrooms benefited from associating with typically-developing children with strong language skills. It was also noted that the typically-developing children with strong language skills did not suffer any language set-backs from the diverse setting. Lead author Laura Justice and her colleagues suggest that, since children learn language through imitation, the children with special needs were able to imitate the language skills by playing and working with competent language users.

Both studies highlight the importance of giving all children learning environments that reflect the diversity of communities, whether that be racial/ethnic diversity, socio-economic diversity or diverse abilities. Census data indicates that the U.S. is becoming more diverse each year, however schools continue to segregate children by plan or by coincidence. From the results of these studies, however, it would appear that U.S. educational institutions serve students and the community better when learning environments take diversity and inclusion into account.

Related Articles