Sorting Decisions and Peer Processes in Schools (SPINS)

Funding agency: German Research Foundation
Fundling line: Emmy Noether Program
Duration: 2022-2028

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Sorting practices in school have a crucial impact on students’ peer processes – often producing substantial disparities along demographic categories like gender, ethnicity, and social class. SPINS offers a new perspective on the emergence of students’ social networks, collective identities, and academic self-concepts by focusing on the role of local school administrators and their consequential decisions on school admissions and classroom placements.

SPINS builds on the notion that headmasters and teachers have a much greater influence on local peer processes at their schools than they are currently aware of. Besides aiming for balanced classroom compositions, they can affect the extent to which different demographic categories align with or crosscut each other in a classroom – an often-overlooked compositional feature with profound social consequences.

In the coming years, we will conduct a large-scale field experiment targeting headmasters and teachers in their sorting decisions at 300 secondary schools in Germany. The field experiment will be followed by a (network) panel survey addressing local school administrators and students as well as by the collection of administrative data from local school authorities.

Combining these various data sources holds the potential for groundbreaking insights into the social impact of local school administrators and their sorting decisions. In doing so, SPINS aims to contribute not only to a better general understanding of the social consequences of sorting but also to the design of effective practical interventions in secondary schooling – in support of more inclusive identities, cohesive networks, and positive academic self-concepts among the students.