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Study led by Thurston Domina wins award

Paper documents academic gains stemming from socioeconomic diversity program

A paper written by a team led by faculty member Thurston “Thad” Domina has won the Raymond Vernon Memorial Award, given by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

The paper — “Kids on the Bus: The Academic Consequences of Diversity-Driven School Reassignments” — was published by the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management in August. The study looked at ten years of data from a school reassignment program in North Carolina’s Wake County and how the desegregation program positively affected student achievement and other factors.

The award seeks to recognize excellence in research by annually selecting a paper published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. The award was created in 1985 and honors Raymond Vernon, who contributed to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II. He served on the faculty of the Harvard University Business School and the Kennedy School of Government, and was the founding editor of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Domina, the Robert Wendell Eaves Sr. Distinguished Professor in Educational Leadership, leads a research agenda that documents educational inequalities while also seeking to identify and develop educational policies and strategies that help create more just, equitable, and inclusive learning environments. He has devoted a focus on understanding the relationship between education and social inequality in the U.S.

Other authors of the paper were Deven Carlson, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma; James Carter III, a Ph.D. candidate at the UNC School of Education and a research analyst for the Wake County Public School System; Matthew Lenard, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University; Andrew McEachin, director of Collaborative for Student Growth at the Northwest Evaluation Association; and, Rachel Perera, a doctoral fellow at RAND Corporation.

Moving to socioeconomic diversity

The study examined a desegregation program in Wake County that during the period between 2000 and 2010 reassigned approximately 25% of K-12 students with the goal of creating socioeconomically diverse schools.

The components of the Wake County program reflected a shift from racial desegregation to socioeconomic desegregation after court rulings rejecting race-sensitive desegregation efforts. School districts across the U.S. are adopting or considering socioeconomic reassignment policies as courts increasingly restrict race-based desegregation efforts.

Thurston Domina, Deven Carlson, James S. Carter III, Matthew A. Lenard, Andrew McEachin, and Rachel Perera. 2021. “The Kids on the Bus: The Academic Consequences of Diversity-Driven School Reassignments.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

The Wake County program, using socioeconomic factors to diversify schools through student reassignments, only modestly changed socioeconomic and racial composition in most district schools. But it did diversify some of the district’s most segregated schools, prior research had found.

The Domina-led study found that reassignment modestly boosted reassigned students’ math achievement, had a smaller positive effect on reassigned students’ reading achievement, no effect on reassigned students’ probability of chronic absenteeism, and a small short-term reduction in students’ probability of suspension.

Wake County’s socioeconomically based desegregation program was discontinued after a 2009 election in which voters elected a slate of school board candidates that had campaigned against the reassignment policy.

However, the authors conclude that the decadelong effort provides an important model for other school desegregation efforts.
Read more about the Raymond Vernon Memorial Award here.