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Neighborhoods and Schools as Competing and Reinforcing Contexts for Educational Attainment

Scholars hypothesize that both neighborhood and school contexts influence educational attainment, but few have considered both contexts simultaneously. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the author analyzes how school and neighborhood contexts are jointly related to high school and college graduation. She finds that the absolute level of neighborhood resources positively predicts earning a bachelor’s degree, while relative neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES) compared to school peers’ neighborhood SES predicts high school graduation. Interactions between school and neighborhood characteristics reveal that low odds of educational attainment among students from lower-SES neighborhoods are reduced even more when a student attends school with more white and high-SES peers. Conversely, the high odds of educational
attainment among students from higher-SES neighborhoods are further enhanced by
attending school with more white and high-SES peers. Findings suggest that
neighborhood SES may be a basis for relative deprivation within schools. Policy makers need to determine how students from different neighborhoods are integrated into a school’s structure and culture in order for policies that mix students from different neighborhood backgrounds to succeed. Attending a high-SES, largely white school does not eliminate (and may even exacerbate) the disadvantages of coming from a low-SES neighborhood.


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