Researchers to Study STEM-Focused High Schools

Posted: December 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm, Last Updated: December 19, 2011 at 10:29 am

By Catherine Probst Ferraro

The study will look at 12 high schools from around the country, particularly those that attract underrepresented minority students, to develop a database of effective models and practices. Creative Services photo

Last year, President Obama challenged education leaders across the country to create more than 1,000 new schools throughout the next decade that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – fields that are proven to be vital in today’s workplace and for America’s future economic growth.

In response to this call to action, researchers from Mason and George Washington University joined forces on a four-year, $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the emerging trend of STEM-focused high schools.

The project will look at12 well-established, inclusive STEM-focused high schools, particularly those that attract underrepresented minority students. The schools will be chosen from around the country.

“The goal of this project is to study the design, implementation and dimensions for a new kind of school that is quietly emerging across the United States,” says Erin Peters Burton, co-principal investigator of the project and assistant professor of science education and educational psychology in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. “Because this type of study has never been done before, no one really knows what an ‘inclusive STEM-focused school’ looks like and what works.”

She adds, “This project has the exciting potential to develop new sources of STEM talent among underrepresented minority students and provide them with opportunities to succeed in high school and the STEM workforce.”

The researchers will create detailed case studies of the STEM high schools to explore different models of effectiveness in different states. Based on previous research conducted by SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute, the project will explore 10 components that have been found to be crucial to the potential success of students in STEM-focused high schools.

The researchers will compare indicators of success in the STEM-focused schools with those of comprehensive high schools in the same jurisdictions. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Some of these components are course curriculum; use of technology in the classroom; use of qualified teachers with STEM content knowledge and experience; and support from businesses and organizations in the community. The project will also look at the different kinds of support provided to students outside the regular school day, such as internships and mentorships, as well as opportunities for early college enrollment.

During the project, the researchers will employ focus groups, surveys and interviews with students, parents, teachers, school administrators and business partners. In addition, the researchers will visit each school for four days to observe science, technology, mathematics and engineering classes.

The researchers will compare indicators of success in the STEM-focused schools with those of comprehensive high schools in the same jurisdictions.

After the results have been compiled, the researchers will look for best practices and components that are common across all of the schools. From these commonalities, the researchers will develop recommendations for others who want to create STEM-focused schools.

“After the project has been completed, we expect the case studies of each STEM-focused school to provide a rich database of promising and effective models and practices,” says Burton. “We plan to share our findings and recommendations with the larger education community, as well as researchers and policymakers, to be used as a resource to show the effective models that contribute to students’ success in STEM education.”



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