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Mark D. Hayward, Director 305 E. 23rd Street, Stop G1800 78712-1699 • 512-471-5514

Educational Inequality and Opportunity

Area Projects


The Role of Academic Achievement and Social Inclusion in Broadening STEM Participation: Intended and Actual Attainment at the Intersection of Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Principal Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb; Co-Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller 
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Despite decades of prior research investigating disparities in STEM participation, much remains unknown about how to overcome the obstacles to equality. This study will make an important new contribution to the literature by examining the STEM trajectories of different gender and racial/ethnic subgroups with an explicit focus on the experiences of minority females as well as those of minority males to gain a more comprehensive and comparative picture of contemporary patterns of inequality. Specifically, it examines differences between subgroups in intended as well as actual STEM attainment, and investigates how patterns of academic achievement and social inclusion contribute to such disparities. The project will utilize data from five large-scale and longitudinal datasets that collectively provide the chance to investigate STEM trajectories at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender from 6th grade to the end of college.


Social Demographics, Marginalization, and Adolescent Substance Use

Principal Investigator: Aprile D. Benner
Funded by: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Substance use during adolescence is an oft-studied phenomenon, but this research generally fails to take an ecological perspective on etiology. Schools are a primary context of socialization during adolescence, and understanding how school composition matters for substance use is critical for prevention efforts. Promoting school diversity has been a major legislative goal, but the unintended public health consequences of such policies are often ignored-diversity has empirically established academic benefits, yet it is not without its challenges, particularly regarding the socioemotional well-being of children and adolescents whose lack of demographic "fit" with their schools puts them at risk for social marginalization. Whether this demographic misfit (i.e., having few same-race/ethnic or same-socioeconomic peers in school) is risky for substance use has yet to be explored, although both theory and empirical evidence suggests that it might. The general goal of this project, therefore, is to examine whether, why, and when students who do not have a critical mass of same-race/ethnicity peers or peers of similar SES in school are more likely to drink and use drugs. Here, I use data from Add Health to explore three specific areas of inquiry. First, I will identify adolescents who are at the numeric margins of their schools both racially/ethnically and socioeconomically and compare their substance use to that of adolescents who have greater representation of same-demographic peers. Such research will highlight the potential unintended health risks of major academically-focused school reforms. Second, I will test two mechanisms by which marginalization might influence substance use: a) whether marginalization initiates feelings of misfit that, in turn, contribute to adolescents' substance use and b) whether the link between marginalization and substance use is stronger for students in schools and peer groups in which substance use is more normative. Third, the project will explore the extent to which the marginalization threshold (defined as 15% or more same-demographic peers) effectively captures the critical mass necessary for protection against substance use and lack of fit. Although the National Academy of Education recommends the 15% same-demographic peer threshold to protect against the harmful effects of marginalization, their report acknowledges that this estimate needs empirical validation. As a departure from previous, small-scale studies that explore the critical mass question, this project uses a large, nationally representative sample to empirically identify the critical mass needed to protect against social marginalization. Early substance use and abuse exert pernicious effects across the life course, and this project has the potential to expand our understanding of the implications of school composition for such risky health behaviors. By elucidating the mechanisms by which marginalization affects substance use, the project will highlight critical points of intervention, and by identifying the contextual antecedents of early substance use, the project will inform educational policy efforts that seek to better promote the full academic benefits of diversity in America's public schools.


Adolescents and the Social Contexts of American Schools

Principal Investigator: Aprile D. Benner
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

Adolescents spend roughly half their waling hours in school, an institution that serves as a central setting of socialization and peer relations and a major playing field for competition and stratification.  For these reasons, the academic and social climates of schools (e.g., how well youth perform at school, what the prevailing norms and values are) matter.  The implications of school norms extend to both the short- and long-term outcomes of young people above and beyond formal instructional and structural aspects of schools traditionally targeted by educational policy and studied by researchers.  Developmentally-oriented scholars have made strides to characterize the social-psychological dimensions of school settings, helping to expand conceptualizations of school effects to areas of trust, marginalization, and prosociality.  This project builds on this foundation seeking to comprehensively characterize schools’ social contexts into distinct profiles of norms—or the typical and expected set of group-level beliefs and behaviors—across academic, social, and behavioral domains.  Such an approach taps into various undercurrents in the student body that represent how potentially beneficial and possibly harmful facets of school settings come together to influence young people’s development.  This project uses a sequential mixed-methods design with two decades of nationally-representative data from MTF and collection and analysis of ethnographic data in two Texas schools.


Early Social Settings and Pathways to Economic Opportunity in Uncertain Times

Principal Investigator: Robert L. Crosnoe
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

What are the policy amenable settings of childhood and adolescence that influence how American youth enter college and/or work?  Answering this question has become increasingly important as economic restructuring magnifies returns to higher education and delayed labor force entry, especially among working/middle class youth whose futures are more reactive to economic fluctuations.  This project, therefore, links the school/work pathways in young adulthood that have different future prospects to longitudinal configurations of school, family, and activity settings across childhood and adolescence.  It will do so by adding data to and analyzing the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which has followed a predominantly working/middle class birth cohort through 9th grade and contains rich multi-method setting data.  Funds have been requested or already secured from various sources to collect survey and transcript data at the end of high school (2009 modal year) and two years later.  William T. Grant funds will add to this enterprise by supporting the collection of high school course catalogs, the merging of data from national schools and colleges databases, and development of weights to address sampling biases.  Latent class analysis and multinomial regression will be applied to the final data set, as will tools that promote causal inference by addressing measured and unmeasured variable bias (e.g., instrumental variables, propensity scores, robustness indices).  Data will be made public, and results will be disseminated to diverse audiences.  This multidisciplinary policy-oriented study is aligned with the Foundations' interest in the social settings that promote positive youth development.


The Dynamic Nature of Classroom Quality in the PK-3 Years

Principal Investigator: Robert L. Crosnoe
Funded by: Foundation for Child Development

Universal pre-K (UPK) is a major policy agenda in the U.S. that is fueled by concerns about race/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in educational attainment and supported by extensive evidence that early educational intervention is one of the highest-return strategies for reducing these disparities.  As this agenda gains momentum and is implemented in more and more states, its potential to realize its promise is vulnerable to one reality of early education-the benefits to children from disadvantaged segments of the population of pre-K enrichment may be lost if these children transition from pre-K into low-quality elementary classrooms.  PK-3, which calls for explicit and concrete alignment among pre-K, kindergarten, and the primary grades, is an early education approach intended to remedy the problems posed by this quality fade. 

The purpose of this project is to dig into the fade in classroom quality between pre-K and subsequent elementary school grades by examining how it varies across multiple process-focused dimensions of classroom quality, by demographic risk factors targeted by UPK policies, and as a function of various strategies for achieving alignment during the PK-3 years.  More specifically, cross-sectional data (encompassing pre-K, kindergarten, and first-third grades) and longitudinal data (following children from pre-K to kindergarten) will be collected through classroom observations, teacher interviews, and school records in the public pre-K program in the socioeconomically and race/ethnically diverse school district in Austin, TX.  Growth curve modeling techniques will be applied to the data from approximately 100 classrooms-derived from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) coupled with other protocols designed to measure curricular content and structural/physical environment-to track trajectories of classroom quality across the modal sequences of classrooms within schools that children in the Austin pre-K program take after they leave pre-K classrooms.  These models will control for school, classroom, and teacher characteristics.  They will be analyzed to determine differences in trajectories across groups defined by demographic status (low-income English language learners, low-income non-English language learners), alignment strategies (i.e., vertical vs. horizontal, as defined by holistic ratings based on teacher reports of coordination/contact with peers within and across grades), and organizational arrangements (e.g., whether pre-K programs are housed within their "parent" elementary schools or on Austin's unique all pre-K campus).


Preschool, Home, and School Contexts as Determinants of the Impacts of Head Start

Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Gershoff
Additional Investigator: Aletha Huston
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Head Start is the largest federal program providing an enriched early childhood education for children from low income families. A substantial body of non-experimental and quasi-experimental research has linked Head Start participation with (often modest) gains in children's developmental outcomes. Yet research to date has failed to examine how variability across Head Start centers is associated with variability in children's developmental outcomes, and how the quality of home and school environments experienced after Head Start might sustain, or curtail, the impacts of Head Start over time. To address this knowledge gap, the proposed project goes beyond questions of simple impact to consider the conditions and contexts which make Head Start more or less effective. Specifically, we will examine the extent to which the structure and quality of Head Start centers, parenting behavior and the home environment, and the structure and quality of elementary schools might mediate or moderate program impacts over time. Our interdisciplinary team (from the fields of human development, education, economics, and social work) will utilize two large, national Head Start studies--one of which used an experimental design--to address the following aims: Aim 1: To identify to what extent, and by what processes, aspects of Head Start quality promote children's cognitive development, social-emotional skills, and physical health; Aim 2: To determine the role of parents in creating and sustaining positive long-term impacts of Head Start on children's cognitive development, social-emotional skills, and physical health; and Aim 3: To examine the extent to which subsequent school experiences moderate the persistence of Head Start effects on children's cognitive development, social-emotional skills, and physical health. The project involves secondary data analysis of two large, federally sponsored data-sets, namely the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, 1997 Cohort (FACES-97), and the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS). Each study included a nationally representative sample of 3- and 4-year-old low income children attending Head Start, along with one control group of children on waiting lists for Head Start in the HSIS. Research questions will be addressed using a combination of multiple regression, piecewise regression, latent class growth analysis, and multiple group analysis. Of particular interest will be interactions between treatment condition in the HSIS and center quality in the preschool year and school quality in the elementary school years.


Emerging Educational Inequalities in Health: New Health Events and Social Relationships

Principal Investigator: Elaine Hernandez
Faculty Sponsor: Robert Hummer
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Educational inequalities in morbidity and mortality are wide and growing, in spite of goals to eliminate them. People with more education are better positioned to avoid deleterious health effects when they are given new health information. Over time, as people act upon novel information differentially, educational inequalities in health outcomes emerge. Although research has been devoted to observing trends in education and health, less is known about the process by which they are produced. An emerging literature has attempted to understand how novel health information and technological advances influence people to behave differently depending on their socioeconomic status. Given the dearth of data on individual health knowledge levels, though, most often research is limited to observing changes in behavior after recent advances in biomedical research or exogenous shocks of health information. How can we understand the process by which educational inequalities in health emerge at the individual-level? The overall objective of this research is to understand how educational inequalities in health are produced among individuals, using a new approach: It focuses on people's health behaviors after they learn that they are pregnant or diagnosed with a chronic illness for the first time. Early decisions about health behaviors during these periods may serve to stratify later health behaviors among people of varying educational backgrounds. To understand how people behave differently after a new health event, this research proposes an innovative approach by focusing on the role of social relationships. It anticipates that these relationships provide people with new health information and influence their decisions about health behaviors. This conjecture builds upon a bedrock of sociological and public health research, which emphasizes the importance of social ties for both health and medical decision-making, as well as more recent research, which indicates that individuals' social ties influence their health behaviors. To assess the influence of social relationships on the formation of educational inequalities in health among people experiencing new health events, this research will take four approaches, and use data from nationally-representative surveys and qualitative interviews including the following: 1988 U.S. National Maternal and Infant Health Survey and the 1991 Longitudinal Follow-up; the Health and Retirement Study; the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health; and the Relationships and Health Habits study. First, it will examine whether there are educational differences in nulliparous women's prenatal behaviors that are replicated during subsequent pregnancies. Second, it will focus on education differences in early health decisions among people recently diagnosed with an illness. Third, it will test whether social network processes of social learning and social influence differ by education and influence health behavior. Finally, for each set of analysis, it describes how the processes differ by race, ethnicity and gender. In sum, this research is significant because it aims to understand the origins of educational inequalities in health at an individual-level. It takes an innovative approach by merging this with demographic models of the diffusion of health information across social networks to understand how network processes influence health behaviors differently by education-level.


CAREER: Language Brokering and Child Adjustment in Mexican American Children

Principal Investigator: Su Yeong Kim
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This study will examine developmental outcomes for children of Mexican immigrants, a high-risk population with high rates of poverty and low levels of educational attainment. The project aims to understand the mechanisms involved in improving the academic performance of children of immigrants, a growing and significant percentage of America's children, who represent the future of the U.S. workforce. It also focuses on the developmental period of adolescence, a period of transition in which children are susceptible to developing socio-emotional problems that can compromise school performance. This research has the potential to identify risk factors that can be used to inform future preventive intervention work with children of immigrants. Finally, this project will train undergraduate and graduate students who have been traditionally under-represented in the sciences, particularly those of Mexican origin; deliver a curriculum to educate students about the role of immigration, ethnicity, and race in informing child development; and provide workshops, training sessions, and newsletters to educators on the role of language brokering in children's academic functioning.


Education Production and Peer Networks Among Out-of-School Children in India

Principal Investigators: Leigh Linden
Funded by: National Science Foundation

We propose to investigate the education production function in the context of an informal community based model of instruction targeted at out-of-school children in India. Using the planned expansion of the program, we propose to conduct a three part randomization that will allow us to distinguish the effects of student, teacher, classmate, and non-class peers on student achievement while also generally evaluating the effectiveness of community based class model.

The evaluation design comprises three randomizations. First, from one hundred communities we will randomly choose sixty-six in which to provide the intervention.  In the treatment communities, we will randomly choose from the out-of-school children who indicate an interest in the program a subset to receive the treatment. To generate variation in the coverage of students peer networks, we will also varying the fraction of out of school children that we treat in these communities.  Finally, we will randomly assign students to classes and teachers to classes to allow measurement of the effects of teacher and classmate characteristics. We will track interested children in 100 communities (6,000 children) for two years. Student performance will be measured through tests, attendance rates, and subsequent enrollment rates.


Challenging Under-Served Children to Achieve Academic Excellence: A Randomized Evaluation of the Higher Achievement Program

Principal Investigator: Leigh Linden
Funded by: Spencer Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Wallace Foundation

Although previous research points to the effects of high-quality educational experiences on children's test scores, graduation rates, and subsequent earnings, particularly for minority and economically disadvantaged youth, the evidence on the effectiveness of academically oriented out-of-school-time (OST) programs is mixed. Grossman, Herrera, and Linden seek to clarify this question by examining short-term and long-term effects of Higher Achievement, a high-quality OST program that provides students with academic support and assistance with placement in high schools that get them on track to college. Their study is based on a relatively large sample of students-fifth- through eighth-grade youth in the District of Columbia-within a rigorous randomized controlled trial design.

Research on the program began in 2006, and involves collection and analyses of multiple waves of data on three cohorts of students. The Spencer Foundation is providing support for collection of a fourth wave of data on the second cohort of students, which will assess the program's impact on students' decisions to apply to and matriculate at competitive area high schools. Overall, the study has two broad goals. First, it seeks to determine the program's impact on students' test scores, academic attitudes and behaviors, and matriculation at competitive high schools. Second, by analyzing the relationship of these outcomes to particular services provided by the program, it explores the mechanisms through which the program may affect student outcomes.


Family Size and Children's Education in Brazil

Principal Investigator: Leticia Marteleto
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Family size has long been a barometer of the current and future prospects of parents and their children, but the implications of living in a large or small family for children have evolved considerably over time and across societies. When extended family ties are strong and children can provide financial resources to the household, a large family may not necessarily imply disadvantages for all children. With economic development and increasing returns to education, the benefits parents accrue from having many children become increasingly at odds with the educational disadvantages faced by adolescents with many siblings. This tension is vividly seen in rapidly emerging economies such as Brazil, and highlights the challenging educational gaps faced by such countries. This project, therefore, will examine the links between family size and adolescent education in Brazil, providing a valuable contrast to the U.S.-based literature on this topic, and extending recent research that challenges the long-standing conclusion that there is a direct tradeoff between having a large family and investing in children's schooling. While the early empirical literature has generally confirmed the theoretical prediction that family size is negatively related to children's education, a recent stream of research has cast doubt on the homogeneity of these findings on conceptual and methodological grounds. Because of the incredible temporal and regional variation in social conditions, fertility regimes, and education Brazil has experienced over the last decades, the country offers an excellent opportunity to sort out the conflicting evidence on how family size predicts children's education. Brazil also offers high-quality nationally representative data that cover most of the years of the demographic transition as well as the dramatic changes in socio-economic conditions the country has experienced. This project extends previous research on the connections between family size and children's education by examining historical, regional, and gender variation in the case of Brazil, while at the same time addressing methodological concerns about the joint determination of education and family size that have recently gained traction in the literature. To accomplish this goal, we will implement twins and same-sex siblings' instrumental variable approaches using 32 years of nationally representative data, the PNAD (1977- 2009). This research is important because understanding whether and how the effect of family size on adolescent education varies by social, demographic and economic context is the first step toward addressing broader inequalities in social opportunities, a concern of particular relevance for Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world. The public health relevance of this project also comes from well-established evidence that rising children's educational levels improve social capacity for population health with substantial payoffs both in terms of reducing the burden of health problems at the societal level and in improving the quality of life of individuals.


Developing STEM Aspirations: An Examination of Contextual Influences and Inequality by Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Principal Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb; Co-Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Funded by: Spencer Foundation

This project examines how the academic and social contexts of classrooms and schools contribute to the gender gap in STEM aspirations among adolescents from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds as they transition from middle school into high school. The scope of the project entails collecting surveys and administrative data from two cohorts of high school students (9th and 10th graders) in a large urban school district, where the PIs have previously collected extensive data about students’ middle school years. The addition of this new data collection will create a unique longitudinal dataset that spans across the critical formative years of students’ STEM pathways. The project contributes to an emerging body of research that examines how inequality in STEM outcomes is shaped by local environments, thereby moving beyond the more typical focus on how individuals’ achievement or attitudes predict later choices, as these pipeline models have proven inadequate to explain gender disparities.


High School and Beyond: Human Capital over the Life Cycle as a Foundation for Working Longer

Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Co-Principal Investigators: Sandra E. Black; Eric Grodsky, University of Wisconsin; and John Robert Warren, University of Minnesota
Additional Investigators: Robert Hummer, Kelly Raley, Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Debra Umberson
Funded by: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Department of Education

This project is re-contacting and studying the lives of the nationally representative High School and Beyond (HSB) sophomore sample members just before most turn 50 years old. Rich information about respondents' cognitive and non-cognitive skills and other aspects of their lives collected in the high school and postsecondary years will be linked to newly collected information about their current cognitive and non-cognitive skills, work, health, family roles, and retirement planning at midlife. The new database will be used to study a number of issues related to the consequences for midlife labor force participation of adolescent and early adult circumstances and characteristics. The project will increase our knowledge of the relationships among work, aging, and cognitive and non-cognitive functioning over the life cycle. The historical period occupied by the HSB cohort provides a unique opportunity to study the effects of labor market demand shocks (including the Great Recession) and technological change and computerization on employment patterns for different population subgroups. Re-contacting respondents will provide crucial proof-of-concept and baseline measures for future data collection as respondents' age. The new data infrastructure, composed of a robust database and a multidisciplinary community of users, will support cutting-edge research in a broad set of disciplines, from economics, sociology and demography to health and aging, family studies, education, organizational behavior, psychology, and even extending to more distal fields of genetics, medicine (general and disease specific), criminology and other areas that touch on labor force concerns among older workers.


Postsecondary Pathways into STEM for Students with Disabilities

Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Funded by: National Science Foundation

The "Postsecondary Pathways into STEM for Students with Disabilities" is designed to investigate the effects of high school context, social and academic processes and experiences, and institutional context on pathways to postsecondary STEM success and completion of students with disabilities in STEM.

Data analyses will be conducted using information from the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002 and the 2004-2009 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS); these datasets follow a nationally representative sample of students as they transition from high school into adulthood and post-secondary settings. This research will focus on the diverse postsecondary educational pathways of students with and without disabilities and will address the following three question sets:

I. College Preparation and the Transition into Postsecondary Education or Work:

The first line of inquiry will estimate the effects of high school outcomes such as graduation, course- taking, grades, test scores, and social-psychological factors on the transition into STEM postsecondary education and work. Special attention will be paid to differences among students with disabilities depending on disability type, socioeconomic status, gender, and race/ethnicity.

II. Postsecondary Pathways into STEM:

The second line of investigation will look at the effects of college preparation, early college experiences, and institutional characteristics on students' postsecondary pathways into STEM. The researchers aim to identify and predict students' successful pathways through postsecondary into and through STEM fields of study.

III. Postsecondary STEN Attainment:

The third line of the study will investigate the impact of postsecondary experiences and institutions on the completion of STEM degrees. The research will evaluate differences in persistence and time to STEM degree or certification between students with and without disabilities. Transcript data will be used to ascertain differences in STEM literacy. Ultimately, the researchers will seek to identify the policy-relevant factors that promote successful postsecondary degree completion among students with disabilities.

This project will be evaluated by an independent evaluator utilizing a logic model detailing the anticipated activities, outputs, outcomes and impact of the research. Dissemination activities will target researchers, practitioners, and advocates. Peer-reviewed journals will also advance dissemination to researchers, faculty, employers, and other stakeholders.


Collaborative Research: Feasibility Study of Dissemination of Knowledge from STEP Type 1 Projects

Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Funded by: National Science Foundation

The goal of the NSF STEP program is to increase the number of undergraduate STEM degrees, particularly among underrepresented groups. The STEP Type 1 program funds projects at both baccalaureate and associate's degree-granting institutions to implement strategies "aimed at adapting and implementing best practices" (NSF STEP Program Solicitation) to meet the STEP program goals. Our research will work with recently funded STEP Type 1 projects to create a model for the collection and dissemination of common data across STEP Type 1 grantees. By leveraging multiple projects with similar aims and overlapping strategies we will enhance the impact of each individual project and gain additional insights relevant to the broader researcher and practitioner communities from the set of projects. This project will produce a model for leveraging data and findings from Type 1 STEP projects to establish a feasibility model for best practices in coordination and dissemination of knowledge to the larger higher education research, policy and practice communities.  In doing so, we will broaden the impact of the STEP program and articulate the strategies institutions of higher education can use to increase STEM degrees.


Education and the Transition to Adulthood

Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Additional Investigators: Kelly Raley, Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Robert Hummer
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

This project will add detailed information on postsecondary education for the National Longitudinal Study of Youth of 1997 (NLSY97) respondents, culled from transcripts and other administrative records of test scores and postsecondary enrollment histories. Postsecondary transcripts will be collected and coded according to a well-established taxonomy used by researchers, policy makers, and administrators alike. These newly collected data, plus a large number of variables that summarize and describe students' postsecondary experiences and outcomes will be made available as part of the publicly distributed NLS data set. The NLSY97 is the premier nationally representative longitudinal data set for studying the transition from high school to work and into adulthood. In several key domains (employment, schooling, marriage and cohabitation, government program participation, migration), the NLSY97 includes month-by-month status variables for all respondents. This postsecondary transcript study provides invaluable detailed chronological information about students' enrollment patterns across post-secondary institutions, the courses they took (including the content of the courses) and their performance in those courses. The data produced from this study will provide vital information about the complex interplay of family, education, work and health across the life course. This information is key to understanding the pathways through which education-based health disparities are produced.

This large and complex study will involve two major phases and a multidisciplinary research team. The first phase involves the collection and coding of approximately 7,500 postsecondary transcripts from about 4,800 NLSY97 respondents. The second phase will produce constructed variables and data files for public dissemination. These constructed variables are essential to stimulate wide use of the postsecondary education data. In addition to producing public access data, investigators will conduct workshops in a number of settings and provide detailed documentation to introduce the data to multidisciplinary users in both research and applied settings, and encourage their use.


Collaborative Research: STEM Education Effects on a Diverse Workforce's Development over the Life Cycle

Principal Investigator: Chandra L. Muller
Additional Investigators: Sandra E. Black, Rob Warren
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This study, which is collaborative with Rob Warren at University of Minnesota, investigates how STEM skills and training that individuals acquire during high school and college contribute to their workforce success and the types of occupations they enjoy in midlife. It uses the High School & Beyond (HS&B) database, a nationally representative study of high school sophomores in 1980. HS&B contains a large enough sample of African Americans and Latinos (including those who earned postsecondary degrees) to provide information about how our education system can prepare diverse students to fully participate in a complex and rapidly changing workforce, even during middle and later adulthood, and long past the completion of their formal education.

HS&B sample members occupy an important historical position at the end of the Baby Boom. They are in the first post-Civil Rights cohort; they transitioned to college during the expansion of affirmative action admissions policies; they are the first recent cohort in which women’s educational attainments exceeded those of men and in which it was normative for women to experience uninterrupted labor force participation. The HS&B cohort is more racially and ethnically diverse than earlier contemporary cohorts, and the immigrants are of color, in contrast to previous waves of immigrants, in part because it was the first to come of age after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act). In midlife the cohort experienced challenges from the technological transformation of our society, after the majority had completed their formal schooling, and sample members weathered the Great Recession at an age that is crucial for people to prepare to retire. The HS&B an ideal vehicle for analyzing the priorities and best approaches to broadening participation in our STEM-based workforce through education that has lasting effects on workforce development among our diverse population today.

An key aspect of our rapidly changing economy is the high demand for workers with STEM skills who can innovate and flexibly adapt to innovation. What skills make individuals able to adapt and succeed? And what did their schools do to prepare them? To address these questions, this study has four research aims:

  1. Identify the aspects of STEM training in schools—from specific coursework to degree attainment and field of degree—that contribute to workforce success and flexibility during early adulthood and in later midlife work.
  2. Analyze whether the relationship between STEM training and workforce success is the same for all workers, and if not, how it differs for women and men, African Americans, Latinos, and Whites.
  3. II. Analyze whether the relationship between STEM training and workforce success differs for adults who were identified as disabled while in school in comparison to those who are not.
  4. Produce a database on HS&B sample members’ occupations that can be used by the broader research community to generate new knowledge on workforce development and broadening participation in STEM.

Findings will directly contribute to our core knowledge about how to design more effective schools and programs to produce workers who will lead and innovate in a complex global economy. Our nation requires that all workers now have STEM skills and a public with scientific literacy. This project will help to identify the educational priorities to develop these skills and how U.S. schools—both high schools and institutions of higher education—can best equip students with these skills. Importantly, U.S. leadership in STEM requires the broad participation of every sector of our population. The project will evaluate which findings pertain to men and women, underrepresented racial and ethnic population subgroups, and persons with disabilities, and specifically what schools can do to diversify participation in the highly skilled workforce.


Collaborative Research: Building on STEP to Understand Variation in STEM Entry and Persistence

Principal Investigator: Chandra L. Muller
Additional Investigators: Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Co-Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project is collaborative with Eric Grodsky at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study STEM entry and persistence in higher education.  The project builds on the knowledge generated by NSF STEP Type 1 projects to enrich our understanding of student pathways to a STEM baccalaureate and the impact of different types of interventions on those pathways across diverse students and STEM fields. The project is collecting and analyzing data from Type 1 project sites to uncover the mechanisms that underlie the success or failure of the Type 1 projects to increase the number of students who enter and complete bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.  Beyond their utility for increasing the foundation of STEM human capital through the students they serve, these Type 1 projects have tremendous potential to more fully address STEP’s basic mandate to increase the number of students earning degrees in STEM fields. Each of these interventions may be viewed as a natural experiment designed to induce students to choose and persist in targeted STEM majors. This collection of experiments holds potential to inform our understanding of the pathways students follow into, out of and through STEM fields, differences among students and fields in the structures of these pathways, the effects of different innovations on the process of STEM degree attainment, and especially how interventions support successful STEM degree completion.


How Big Are Summer Learning Gaps? Using Seasonal Comparisons to Understand Whether Schools or Other Settings Are the Primary Source of Test-Score Inequality

Principal Investigator: Paul von Hippel
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

Test score gaps between the children of poor and middle-class parents are a major barrier to social and economic mobility. A fundamental question about these test-score gaps is whether they come primarily from inequalities in school settings or from inequalities in other parts of children’s lives. One way to address this question is with a seasonal design that asks whether test score gaps grow more quickly when school is in session, during the academic year, or when school is out of session, during summer vacation.

Past research has typically concluded that test score gaps grow fastest during the summer, suggesting that out-of-school settings are more unequal than schools. Yet past results have differed substantially regarding the size of summer learning gaps. Some research has found that summer learning gaps are quite large, while other research suggesting that the difference between summer and school-year learning gaps are much subtler. These differences in past results could be due to differences in test-score scaling or other aspects of study design.

We will (1) re-analyze two classic studies of seasonal learning patterns with special attention to issues of test-score scaling and (2) analyze a large new dataset that provides a broader picture of seasonal learning than has been available previously. The new data follows over 125,000 children from 25 geographically diverse school districts through every school year and summer from the start of kindergarten through the end of eighth grade. Together, this new study and our reanalysis of past data will clarify the relative importance of in-school and out-of-school inequalities. The results have implications for potential impact of interventions such as summer school or lengthening the school year.

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