Mastery of mathematics and science by this nation’s youth is essential for the nation’s future development as well as students’ personal growth and economic well-being. Yet the performance of U.S. students in mathematics and science is unimpressive compared to other advanced industrialized nations. In addition, stark racial and socioeconomic status (“SES”) disparities in mathematics knowledge, skills, and achievement compound the predicament presented by the overall mediocre performance of U.S. students. A growing corpus of social science research indicates school racial and socioeconomic segregation are institutional sources of the disparate outcomes. Ironically, while the empirical evidence regarding the positive effects of racially and socioeconomically integrated learning environments has grown clearer and more definitive, the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District Number 1 (Parents Involved) has made it more difficult to create diverse schools.
This Article clarifies the social science record about school composition effects on mathematics outcomes in K–12 schools by presenting a comprehensive synthesis of the educational, behavioral, and social science literatures on the topic. It combines narrative and vote-counting approaches to synthesize fifty-nine articles that met inclusion criteria that included: research disseminated in 1990 or later; reported effects of school racial and/or socioeconomic composition on mathematics outcomes; utilized a quantitative measure of any type of mathematics outcomes as a dependent variable; and employed appropriate statistical techniques given the structure of the data. Together, the fifty-nine articles demonstrate the relevance of school racial and socioeconomic diversity for enhancing mathematics outcomes for elementary, middle, and high school students. Mathematics outcomes are likely to be higher for students from all grade levels, racial, and SES backgrounds who attend racially and socioeconomically integrated schools. Given these findings, parents, educators, policy makers, and jurists should address the role of school racial segregation and concentrated poverty in the persistence of achievement gaps in mathematics outcomes.