Ethnic Classroom Composition and Minority Language Use Among Classmates: Do Peers Affect Students’ Educational Achievement?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Julian SEURING, University of Bamberg, Germany
International large-scale assessment studies commonly report an achievement gap between immigrant and majority students. These ethnic disadvantages are often linked to minority language use. The main argument here is that students who frequently use the minority language are less exposed to the language of instruction, which might hamper the acquisition of proficiency in that language and ultimately impede their educational achievement. While minority language use within families has repeatedly been shown to affect immigrant students’ educational achievement, the role of other contexts, such as the school environment, is still unclear. Ethnically segregated classrooms are assumed to provide additional opportunities to use the minority language which might negatively affect students’ language-related achievement, and, thus, reinforce existing ethnic inequalities. At the same time, students’ who have ample contact to their minority language in school should profit from this exposure and acquire higher levels of proficiency in the minority language. In the light of research suggesting favorable effects of bilingual language proficiency on educational achievement, a higher proportion of minority language students in classroom, thus, might counteract ethnic inequalities.

The present contribution addresses suchlike arguments and examines the relationship between ethno-lingual classroom composition and immigrant students’ language-related achievements. We employ multilevel models using data from a sample of ninth grade students of the German National Educational Panel Study to estimate ethno-lingual composition effects on students’ German reading comprehension and their minority language proficiency. Our findings indicate that the proportion of minority language students in classroom is negatively related to students' German reading comprehension, yet the effect is small. Hence, influences of ethno-lingual classroom composition do not seem to reinforce the achievement gap between ethnic minority and majority students to a substantial degree. However, the ethno-lingual classroom composition positively correlates with minority language proficiency, which might foster their educational achievement and reduce ethnic inequalities.