Collaborative Research: Education Policy Studies - Empirical Research: Urban High School Opportunity Structures, Figured Worlds of STEM, and Choice of Major and College Destination
Lois Weis Principal Investigator
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This longitudinal, empirical, collaborative research study seeks to identify the influence of expanded "opportunity structures" in high school for preparation in mathematics and science on choice of college destinations by non-privileged high school students and their selection of STEM majors. Students studied in this longitudinal study will initially be sophomores in two geographically different urban settings - Buffalo, NY and Denver, CO. The students in the sample have math grades that place in them in the top 20% of their class but have limited social, economic, and cultural capital (for example, parents whose education ended with little or no-college attendance). Because prior work has found that matriculation in good colleges and selection of STEM majors has varied widely in comparing students who seem to come from comparable high schools in terms of socioeconomic status, this study will add to our understanding of underlying factors. Also, the extensive investment across US Public high schools in AP, IB, magnet schools, after-school programs, science competitions, and other enrichment activities indicates that improved understanding of the impact of these investments would be likely to be valuable to many school districts.<br/><br/>Prior research has shown that expanded opportunity structures in science and math facilitate greater college attendance, including at elite colleges. But there is not sufficient research on which types of students are helped by this and on how such structures influence student choice of academic major. <br/><br/>This study builds upon extensive prior research including those that employed anthropological and sociological investigations of indicators that influence personal perceptions and subsequent decisions regarding students' roles in society. This study is grounded by theoretical support from Bourdieu's Theory of Social Practice (1977) and Arum, Gamoran, and Shavit's Theory of Educational Expansion and Differentiation (2007). Answers to the research questions guiding this study are expected to advance understanding of the impact of school structures to expand educational opportunities in science and math to non-socially and non-culturally capitalized students. The PIs hypothesize that when such opportunities for educational expansion are implemented they should contribute to the reduction of inequalities associated with STEM pursuits and outcomes.