Disruptive Change: Student Mobility and the Influence of Neighborhoods, Schools and Peers on Educational Achievement
Joscha Legewie

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Yale University

Primary Discipline

Student mobility is pervasive across school districts in the United States and has important implications for low-income and minority students. The negative consequences for students, teachers, and schools have been a persistent concern among educators and researchers alike. At the same time, student mobility is at the center of many policy initiatives such as school choice, voucher programs, the closing of under-performing schools, and others. It provides students with the opportunity to move to better schools and neighborhoods with the prospect of a fertile learning environment. This project integrates research on residential and school mobility with work on neighborhood, school and peer effects. The purpose is three-fold. First, the study examines the effect of residential and school mobility on student performance. The central argument is that student mobility not only has a temporary negative effect on test-score growth, but that it also alters the influence of neighborhoods, schools, and peers in the years after students move to a new context. Second, the empirical support for the success of policy interventions that aim to place families in low-poverty neighborhoods or move students to better schools is mixed despite evidence for neighborhood, school, and peer effects. One possible explanation is that previous research largely ignores the role of changes in family residence and related school transitions. Indeed, most theories of context effects attribute a critical role to the social integration of students and the influence of their peer networks. This project focuses on the adjustment process of mobile students, which helps us to understand the mixed results about the success of policy interventions that aim to place families in low-poverty neighborhoods or move students to better. Third, integrating research on residential and school mobility with work on context effects is important for a number of concrete policy interventions that rely on the relocation of students such as school choice, school closures, and desegregation or voucher programs. To address these questions, this project uses large-scale administrative data that tracks students as they progress through school. The analyses are based on a difference-in-difference matching approach that compares the test-score growth of students who change schools or move to a different neighborhood with the growth of similar students who remain in the original school or neighborhood. The project contributes to research on neighborhood, school and peer effects. It helps us to understand the lack of positive effects for many residential relocation or school desegregation programs, and speaks to educational policy that relies on school transfers.
About Joscha Legewie
Joscha Legewie (Ph.D. Sociology 2013, Columbia University) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University. His research focuses on social inequality, education, racial/ethnic relations, gender, and research methods. His current research on education examines the role of student mobility for the influence of neighborhoods, schools and peers on education outcomes, and the effect of peers on the gender gap in education using two quasi-experimental case studies and detailed data on students’ friendship networks. Other projects include work on the effect of extreme violence against police officers on the use of police force against racial minorities, and research on the conditions under which New Yorker’s complain about their neighbors making noise, blocking the driveway, or drinking in public. Throughout his work, Joscha’s research combines natural or quasi-experimental research designs with a keen interest in “big data” as a promising source for future social science research – including administrative student records, millions of time and geo-coded NYPD stop-and-frisk operations or 311 service requests from New York City. His findings were published in the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, Sociology of Education and other journals.

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