School Demographics, Marginalization, & Academic Progress
Aprile D. Benner

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Texas at Austin

Primary Discipline

Human Development
Promoting school diversity has been a major legislative goal, but the unintended consequences of such policies are often ignored—diversity has empirically established academic benefits, yet it is not without its challenges, particularly regarding the socioemotional well-being of children and adolescents whose lack of demographic “fit” with their schools puts them at risk for social marginalization. This research suggests that a common school desegregation method—sending minority and/or low-income students into predominantly White and/or middle class schools—might come with socioemotional risks even as it supports academic progress. Protection against socioemotional risks, according to a recent NAEd report, can be promoted by ensuring students have a critical mass of same-demographic peers (15% at minimum). The general goal of this project is to examine whether, why, and when students who do not have a critical mass of same-demographic peers are more likely to struggle both socioemotionally and academically. I use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to explore three areas of inquiry. First, do adolescents who are at the numeric margins of their schools racially/ethnically and socioeconomically struggle academically when compared to adolescents with greater same-demographic representation? Such research will highlight the potential unintended risks of major academically-focused school reforms. Second, does marginalization initiate feelings of distress that, in turn, contribute to academic challenges? Third, does the NAEd marginalization threshold (15%) effectively capture the critical mass necessary for protection against academic struggles and emotional distress? As a departure from previous, small-scale studies that explore the critical mass question, this project uses a large, nationally representative sample to empirically identify the critical mass needed to protect against social marginalization. By elucidating the mechanisms by which marginalization affects academic success, the project will highlight critical points of intervention, and by identifying the contextual antecedents of academic challenges, the project will inform educational policy efforts that seek to better promote the full academic benefits of diversity in America’s public schools.
About Aprile D. Benner

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