Professor of economics at Paris-Dauphine University, Elise Huillery is a member of the scientific council for national education. She is one of the authors of a note published in April, “Social mix in college: first results of experiments”, which analyzes the effects of the social mix policies launched in 2015 by the ministry. By comparing, throughout the territory, the 56 middle schools involved in the initiative (“pilot” middle schools) with students from similar middle schools not involved (“control” middle schools), the authors wonder about the effects of gender diversity academic achievement, personal well-being and social well-being of advantaged and disadvantaged students.
You have chosen to distinguish school and “non-school” effects. What were the effects of the actions of diversity on the “school” results of the pupils?
In reality, we have observed very few effects on student learning, regardless of their social background. Some feared that the grades of favored students would suffer from greater diversity, but that was not the case. On the other hand, if the political leaders hoped for better learning for disadvantaged students, this is not what we note either. Finally, the school environment does not really affect learning – much less, in any case, than family and individual determinants. This shows that, if we wish to reduce social inequalities at school, greater diversity is not the solution.
However, the social mix has had effects on the students?
Looking at student well-being was fairly new, in the sense that almost no scientific study had done it before, because it’s time-consuming and expensive research. However, we had very interesting results: a greater social mix has positive effects on the social and personal well-being of both disadvantaged and advantaged students – although to a lesser extent. The improvement in the well-being of some has therefore not come at the expense of others.
What positive effects are we talking about for disadvantaged students?
The increase in social diversity in the pilot colleges has led to an improvement in perceptions: they perceive their social environment as being of better quality (+18% of a standard deviation (i.e. the mean deviation from the mean)), feel safer (+26%) and report having better relationships with their friends (+30%). The attitude towards group work has also improved.
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