Examining Disparities in Non-Cognitive Educational Outcomes in the United States
Maithreyi Gopalan

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Indiana University

Primary Discipline

Despite widespread acknowledgement of factors other than cognitive ability in fostering beneficial life outcomes (Almlund et al., 2011; Durlak et al., 2011; Heckman & Kautz, 2013), research on educational inequalities have largely focused on achievement gaps as measured by standardized test scores, GPA, and other metrics of cognitive skills. Thus, the causes and consequences of disparities in students’ non-cognitive outcomes (known variously as socioemotional skills, character skills, social skills, and 21st-century skills), remains under-studied. My dissertation will consist of three studies with each study focusing on a different aspect of inequality in students’ non-cognitive outcomes at three different stages of education. In the first study, I examine the antecedents of racial and special education-based disparities in disciplinary outcomes using statewide, student-level panel data on all students attending pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Indiana, between 2009 and 2014. In the second study, I evaluate the effects of a social-psychological intervention on increasing freshmen students’ sense of social belonging at two large public universities in Indiana. Similar interventions have previously shown to reduce racial achievement gaps and disparities in rates of college persistence in smaller private universities and highly-selective public universities. The last study investigates the differential effects of neighborhoods on disparities in children’s behavioral school-readiness outcomes using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS)—a rich longitudinal data that follows nearly 5,000 children between birth and nine years of age. Collectively, my dissertation research explores the barriers encountered by disadvantaged students in their pursuits of a quality education.
About Maithreyi Gopalan
Maithreyi Gopalan is a Ph.D. Candidate at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research interests lie in bringing psychological insights to bear on education policy. She is interested in examining the inequalities in students’ educational outcomes, specifically for vulnerable group members, across the Pre-K-16 education spectrum. She is currently examining the causes and consequences of racial (and socioeconomic) disparities in achievement and school discipline in the US using quasi-experimental and field-experimental methods. She holds a Masters in Economics and a doctoral minor in Psychology from the IU Psychological and Brain Sciences Department.

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