ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION
Socioeconomic Diversity in Independent High Schools
Doctor of Education
University of California, Los Angeles, 2016
Professor Wellford Wilms, Chair
Most California independent schools are failing to meet the benchmark set by National
Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to enroll 20%-25% of their students on financial aid. The evidence is clear that many school leaders do not fully understand the impact of socioeconomic diversity on their students’ experiences; thus, they cannot make the most informed decisions possible regarding their school’s financial aid budgets, policies and programs. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact socioeconomic diversity has at independent secondary schools that exceed NAIS benchmarks.
The study builds on research from higher education on the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on student learning outcomes. Through a qualitative comparative case study design, the researcher sought to answer the research questions of how socioeconomic diversity influences students’ learning experiences; their civic, professional, and educational lives after high school; and the schools’ policies and programs. To answer the research questions, the researcher interviewed students, alumni, teachers, and administrators at three schools in Los Angeles and San Francisco, using individual, face-to- face, semi-structured interviews. Themes from the interviews included that attending schools with socioeconomically diverse peers helped students gain comfort interacting with different people from different backgrounds, helped dispel negative stereotypes, and contributed to students’ understanding of complexity and nuance in course content. The results indicate that diversity can enrich learning for all students, and that more school communities should create spaces and policies that support students and teachers exploration of different perspectives based on their social and cultural backgrounds.