Variation in Exposure to Early Elementary Classroom Racial/Ethnic Diversity and Child Development in a Nationally Representative Sample

Christina L Rucinski, Fordham University


The population of school-age children in the United States is becoming increasingly multicultural; yet, decades after Brown v. Board of Education, schools are increasingly segregated by race/ethnicity. Furthermore, there is evidence that children are also segregated by race/ethnicity across classrooms within the same schools (Conger, 2005; Juvonen, Kogachi, & Graham, 2018). Little is known about how racial/ethnic heterogeneity or homogeneity in children's elementary classrooms impacts their development in social-emotional, executive function, and academic domains. This study explored (1) the extent of variation in children's exposure to racial/ethnic diversity in their kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade classrooms, (2) how such variation in exposure to diversity was related to children's developmental outcomes, (3) whether such associations differed based on children's individual race-ethnicity, and (4) whether such associations differed based on the average proportion of same-race/ethnicity classmates to which children were exposed over the same grades. This study used a nationally representative sample of 6,740 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Cohort of 2010-2011, which followed children over their kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade classrooms. Exposure to classroom racial/ethnic diversity over time was operationalized by a) averaging classroom diversity indices over time and b) categorizing children into Consistently Low, Consistently High, and Moderate/Inconsistent diversity exposure groups. Findings suggest that children experience considerable variation in their exposure to racial/ethnic diversity in their early elementary classrooms. Multilevel modeling, nesting children within their kindergarten classrooms, indicated that diversity exposure was significantly, positively related to directly-assessed cognitive flexibility and was significantly, negatively related to teacher-reported internalizing and negative peer interactions, though effect sizes were small. Several significant moderation effects were found for child race/ethnicity in predicting social-emotional and academic outcomes, and proportion of same-race/ethnicity classmates significantly interacted with diversity exposure in predicting cognitive flexibility. These findings may inform debates regarding the purposeful integration of children from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds and the implementation of ability tracking during the early elementary school grades.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Early childhood education|Educational psychology|Developmental psychology|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Rucinski, Christina L, "Variation in Exposure to Early Elementary Classroom Racial/Ethnic Diversity and Child Development in a Nationally Representative Sample" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13880442.