~250 Words

Image via the Stanton Guidance Department.
Image via the Stanton Guidance Department.

The relationships students form with their guidance counselors impact their college-application success. For even the most-prepared high schoolers, applying for college can be daunting. For some minority, low-income, and first-generation students, it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle to college. That’s why when parents lack concrete information despite being eager to help, students often turn to counselors to walk them through the process.

To better understand how trusting relationships are created, Megan Holland interviewed 89 students and 22 school counselors at two racially and socioeconomically diverse high schools with high graduation rates. She spent two years observing the schools and attending their college fairs, parents’ nights, and financial aid nights. At both schools, counselors struggled to meet the demands of two very different groups: “the wealthy, high-powered student population who attend highly selective colleges” and “the lower-income population struggling to graduate.”

Holland found that trust was developed through shared understandings of expectations and roles. More-advantaged students, prepared by their parents, tended to come in on the same page as their counselors. In contrast, less-advantaged students tended to struggle more with the application process and were often mistaken as lacking effort or motivation. Holland shows that this misunderstanding may occur because some counselors, though they worked to provide more information, didn’t necessarily recognize when students needed help accessing and using it.

Some counselors were more successful in establishing trust with less-advantaged students, and they suggest strategies for improving this group’s access to college information. These counselors were more proactive in seeking out students who missed deadlines, they made a point of clearly communicating their expectations, and they demonstrated personal regard for students by supporting their goals.

You can read the full article here:

Megan M. Holland. (2015).  Trusting Each Other: Student-Counselor Relationships in Diverse High SchoolsSociology of Education, 88(3), 244-262.


Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, parenting and childhood, sports, and competition.

Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr.
Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr.

Black women doubled their college participation between 1971 and 2005. However, graduation rate successes have not always followed the increase in participation rates. To explore this further, Rachelle Winkle-Wagner investigated the state of research on college success for Black women by reviewing relevant literature and identifying both how Black women in college have been studied and what kind of information results from these studies.

Winkle-Wagner examined 119 studies on African American undergraduate women’s experiences after enrolling in college. The studies she examined ranged across disciplines and methods.  In the review, Winkle-Wagner identifies three primary ways in which Black women’s lives have been narrowed down in research: 1) individual factors are overemphasized, 2) analyses tend to focus on Black women as a homogenous group, and 3) completion of a degree program is often the only indicator of success.

Even when studies focus on relationships or institutions rather than individuals, Winkle-Wagner argues that these studies still focus on relationships between two actors (individuals) or Black women’s need of institutional support to fill in gaps or deficiencies. While much research has highlighted Black-White comparisons, these studies reify White as the standard and again suggest Black students need to measure up to White students’ successes.

Winkle-Wagner provides a number of suggestions for further research. Quantitative studies should include multilevel analysis to reveal more about intersections of race and gender, sexuality, immigration status, etc. Likewise, qualitative studies should focus on differences within Black women college students. In addition, Winkle-Wagner calls for further research on the influence of peers, parents, and mentoring on Black women’s success in college.

Read the full article here:

Winkle-Wagner, Rachelle. 2015. Having Their Lives Narrowed Down? The State of Black Women’s College Success.  Review of Education Research 85(2): 171-204.

Allison Nobles is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, sexuality, and violence.  Follow me on Twitter @Allison_Nobles.

Photo via .
Parents’ beliefs about what their kids should be able to do before starting kindergarten matter for their academic achievement.  Photo via SRI International.

The importance parents place on their children having certain skills before entering kindergarten influences what they do to prepare them. Often parents’ school-readiness beliefs relate only to academic skills. However, education researchers actually measure cognition and general knowledge, language development, approaches toward learning, social and emotional development, physical well-being and motor skills to assess school readiness. So, are parents’ efforts to prepare their kids for kindergarten paying off?

Jaime Puccioni uses information about a nationally representative group of children to investigate how parents’ school-readiness beliefs are related to learning activities done with children, what Puccioni calls “transitional practices,” and to children’s growth in reading and math from kindergarten through first grade. To assess readiness beliefs, parents were asked how important it is for their children to be able to do things like count, draw, recognize the letters of the alphabet, communicate, stay calm, and share, for them to be ready for kindergarten. Then they were asked how often they use eight transitional practices–reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing games or puzzles, playing sports, teaching about nature, making art, and building things together.

Unsurprisingly, Puccioni found that parents who saw school readiness as more important engaged in more transitional activities, and that those who engaged in more transitional activities had children with higher achievement scores at the beginning of kindergarten. But less intuitive was her finding that affluent parents in the study engaged in more transitional activities, though parents of all social classes valued the importance of readiness equally. That social class made a difference suggests that intervention programs teaching parenting practices could benefit from addressing parents’ school readiness beliefs and expectations (and from making some of these practices more affordable).

You can read the full article here:

Jaime Puccioni. (2015). Parents’ Conceptions of School Readiness, Transition Practices, and Children’s Academic Achievement Trajectories. The Journal of Educational Research, 108(2), 130-147.


Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, parenting and childhood, sports, and competition.

Education is not the great equalizer when it comes to race and hiring.
Education is not the great equalizer when it comes to race and hiring.

Education is not the great equalizer it is often thought to be, specifically when it comes to race. Michael Gaddis explored whether college selectivity affects labor market outcomes differently based on the race of the applicant. He did this to determine if economic inequality among college educated people of different races can be explained by racial discrimination in the labor market or by differences in human capital.

Some scholars contend that employers choose white candidates over black candidates more frequently due to differences in school quality, curriculum, and other indicators of human capital. To test this explanation, Gaddis created pairs of fictitious candidates, one black and one white, with degrees from similarly prestigious institutions. He assigned candidates common names on birth records associated with a particular race. The “candidates” applied for 1,008 jobs in three geographic regions in the U.S. that were listed on a national job-search website. Focusing on candidates who received a response, he analyzed how race and college selectivity influenced the occupation type and potential salary range offered.

The results suggest that credentials from an elite university do not provide the same occupational opportunities for blacks as they do for whites in the labor market. Gaddis found that when employers responded to black candidates, it was for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige as compared to whites. Gaddis concluded that this has important implications for current debates regarding affirmative action.

You can read the full article here:

Gaddis, S. M. (2015). Discrimination in the credential society: an audit study of race and college selectivity in the labor market. Social Forces, 93(4), 1451-1479.


Sarah Garcia is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies population health and inequality.

6205970768_a9693d8ea6_o (1)
Photo by USAG – Humphreys via Flickr.

American children spend about 4 hours weekly participating in extracurricular activities. Some families spend much of their disposable income paying for them. But families with more material resources and more educated mothers tend to sign their kids up for longer and to spend more. Because participation is linked with positive outcomes in education and employment, it’s important to explain these social class differences and to improve access to activities.

Weininger, Lareau, and Conley found these participation patterns using nationally representative, longitudinal survey data and time diaries from 2002-2003. They explored two possible explanations for the class differences. First, parents of all social groups see kids’ participation in activities as equally important, but some families face greater barriers and constraints like lack of time and transportation. Second, parenting style varies by social class. Middle class parents use extracurricular activities as part of a “concerted cultivation” strategy to improve their educational and occupational outcomes, whereas working class and poor parents, after ensuring their children’s health and safety, prioritize letting their children develop naturally.

To test these explanations, the researchers compared the participation patterns of out-of-school and school-sponsored activities. Because schools often try to lessen the impact of family resources, finding less of a class gap in school activity participation would imply that across classes, kids’ extracurricular involvement is equally important. However, they noted very similar patterns in school and non-school activity participation. This shows that, while material resources matter, simply removing barriers does not equalize enrollment. Class-based cultural orientations still influence how much time and money parents spend on kids’ activities.

You can read the full article here:

Weininger, E. B., Lareau, A., & Conley, D. (2015). What Money Doesn’t Buy: Class Resources and Children’s Participation in Organized Extracurricular Activities. Social Forces.


Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, parenting and childhood, sports, and competition.


nuclear family
Sex education programs tend to idealize the nuclear family, a family form that was only dominant in the prosperous, post-World War II 1950s. 

PBS NewsHour recently highlighted an innovative sexuality education program in Dutch elementary schools that goes beyond risk prevention often highlighted in the U.S. Twenty-two U.S. states require sex education to be taught in schools.  However, the components of sexuality education vary, and often the type of education promoted in the U.S. emphasizes heterosexual relationships within marriage. In fact, only nine states require a positive discussion of sexual orientation. Only eight states require sex ed to be culturally appropriate, and unbiased against race, gender, and ethnicity.

Tanya McNeill analyzes state and federal policies on sexuality education. She finds that a specific kind of monogamous, marital, middle class, and generally white heterosexuality is promoted in U.S. school policies and curricula. Sex is defined as heterosexual penetrative intercourse, and the importance of marriage for sexual interaction is emphasized. Heterosexual families are deemed “stable” and “functional,” and same sex experiences are rarely mentioned.

Virginia’s guidelines, which McNeill analyzes closely, also emphasize the naturalness of gender roles, like women caring for children.They imply that “families require men and women to marry and raise children together, sharing gender segregated tasks.”  Virginia offers no discussion of same sex two-parent families or single parent households. McNeill also draws attention to the ways in which abstinence-only education is classed and racialized, arguing it serves to regulate poor women’s sexuality. She points to Lorena Garcia’s classroom ethnography which suggests that some teachers perceive Latina students to be constantly at risk of pregnancy because of a “Latino culture.”

Clearly sexuality education policies do more than just risk prevention. They further reproduce hierarchies based on sexual orientation, gender, race, and class.

Read the full article here:

McNeill, Tanya. 2013. “Sex Education and the Promotion of Heteronormativity.” Sexualities 16(7): 826-846.

Allison Nobles is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, sexuality, and violence.  Follow me on Twitter @Allison_Nobles.

The "summer slide" affects some kids more than others. Measuring how far groups slide over the summer is also useful for figuring out how much they're learning during the school year.
The “summer slide” affects some kids more than others.  How far groups slide over the summer also helps for figuring out how much of their learning during the school year is actually due to school.

When one group of students shows markedly less growth than others, it’s a cause for concern. But what happens when it’s the high-achieving students who lose ground relative to their peers? Recently, Karen Rambo-Hernandez and Betsy McCoach found that high-achievers showed almost no change in the rate of reading level improvement between the school year and the summer. Average-achievers, conversely, showed substantial growth during the school year, but almost none during the summer. This suggests that school is benefiting average-achieving students, but that whatever high-achievers are doing during the summer is as beneficial as their time spent in school.

The slower improvement of high-achieving students during the school year is often written off as a ceiling effect of the assessment: there’s no way for students who get 100% on the pre-test to demonstrate increased knowledge. The researchers hypothesized another explanation that may also be playing a role, namely that the curriculum may not be sufficiently challenging. Using MAP test data, they compared 3rd-grade students’ growth rates during the the school year to their own growth rates during the summer. Then, they compared the school’s contributions to the growth of high-achieving and average-achieving students.

Finding that the impact of school on the highest-achieving students’ reading comprehension was virtually nonexistent, the authors speculate that school curricula may not adequately meet this group’s reading needs. Because many were initially reading at least three grade-levels ahead of their peers, advanced curricula may not have been advanced enough. In addition, this may be the result of using models of teacher accountability that encourage teachers to get all students to reach a proficiency threshold, as opposed to using value-added models that emphasize moving all students forward.

You can read the full article here:

Rambo-Hernandez, K. E., & McCoach, D. B. (2015). High-Achieving and Average Students’ Reading Growth: Contrasting School and Summer Trajectories. The Journal of Educational Research, 108:2, 112-129.

Amy August is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies education, competition, parenting, and sports.

Graduate’s grandma displays gay pride. Photo by Sara via Flickr.

Women surpass men in college degree achievement. In 2012, women earned more than half of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. While there is a clear difference between men and women’s college educational achievement, it is less clear what role sexual identity plays in addition to gender in degree attainment. In other words, do all women achieve more degrees than men, or does this difference change depending on men and women’s sexual identities?

Leigh Fine uses data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health to explore how likely individuals are to attain a bachelor’s degree depending on their gender and self-identified sexual identity. Fine’s research counters work that shows there is a “female advantage” and an “LGB bonus” in degree attainment. Following previous research, Fine shows heterosexual women are more likely to attain bachelor’s degrees than heterosexual men.  However, he finds that gay and bisexual men have the greatest probability of earning bachelor’s degrees over all gender and sexual identity combinations. On the other hand, lesbian and bisexual women have the smallest probability of doing so. Sexual minority men thus are granted a bonus in degree attainment, while sexual minority women receive a penalty.

Fine’s objective was to document the differences in educational attainment by gender and sexual identity, and he calls on future researchers to investigate explanations for these differences. Fine’s research and other recent studies importantly draw attention to intersectionality, specifically how sexuality interacts with other identities. To really understand differences in educational attainment, future research must take multiple identities into account.

Read the full article here:

Fine, Leigh E. 2015. “Penalized or Privileged? Sexual Identity, Gender, and Postsecondary Educational Attainment.” American Journal of Education 121(2): 271-297.

Allison Nobles is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, sexuality, and violence.  Follow me on Twitter @Allison_Nobles.

Read more about intersectional effects: Caty Taborda Cites a recent study showing that gay black men may be more likely to land jobs and higher salaries than straight black men.



Photo via Western New Mexico University History of Schools Project.
Photo via Western New Mexico University History of Schools Project.

The days of the massive urban comprehensive high school may be numbered. In the past decade or so, several major cities have begun to close such schools in favor of new smaller schools. With considerable financial backing from the Gates Foundation and others, “small school reform” has taken hold in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and elsewhere—but most notably in New York.

Since 2002, New York has opened hundreds of new small high schools. This initiative has been extensively evaluated by education researchers, and the results are refreshingly clear: Students who attend new small high schools achieve at higher rates and drop out at lower rates than they would if they had attended traditional larger schools. However, we know much less about what happens to those left behind. Does the “small school reform” benefit some students at the expense of others? Does the school district as a whole benefit, or are the gains of students in smalls schools offset by setbacks among other students who attend large traditional schools?

In a new article, Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Matthew Wiswall use data from New York City to estimate the effects of small school reform on the entire distribution of students and schools in the district. They find that the reform improved graduation rates and tests cores across the board: In small and large high schools and in new and previously existing schools. They conclude that “small school reform lifted all boats.”

Read the full article here:

Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Matthew Wiswall. 2015. “Does Small High School Reform Lift Urban Districts? Evidence From New York City.” Educational Researcher 44: 161-172.


public school teacher meme
What teachers do actually depends on what program prepared them, according to a new study by Gary Henry and his colleagues. 

Teacher shortages over the past two decades have led states across the U.S. and non-profits like Teach for America to introduce new avenues for teachers to enter the classroom. As a result, the teacher workforce is younger, less experienced, and more likely to turn over. But due to these different paths, teachers are beginning their careers with different levels of preparation regarding what to teach and how to teach it. While research shows that inexperienced teachers are less effective in the classroom, it is unclear how these different preparation programs influence a teacher’s effectiveness in educating our students.

Vanderbilt University’s Gary Henry and colleagues addresses this issue in a research project that uses longitudinal data from North Carolina public schools. The researchers analyze the effectiveness of teachers with different types of preparation by classifying beginning teachers’ formal preparation and qualifications into 1 of 12 categories. Then they construct value-added models to examine how the kind of preparation a teacher has affects student achievement gains on end-of-course exams, controlling for a variety of student and school qualities.

The researchers find that in comparison to undergraduate-prepared teachers from in-state public universities, (1) out-of-state undergraduate-prepared teachers are less effective in both elementary grades and high school; (2) alternative entry, or teachers that entered the profession prior to completing requirements for initial licensure, are less effective in high school; and (3) Teach for America corps members are more effective in STEM subjects and secondary grades. These findings suggest that the creation of more pathways to prepare teachers have had both positive and negative implications for student performance.

Read the full article here:

Henry, G. T., Purtell, K. M., Bastian, K.C., Fortner, C.K., Thompson, C.L., Campbell, S.L., & Patterson, K.M. (2014). The Effects of Teacher Entry Portals on Student Achievement. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(1), 7-23.


Samantha Holquist is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who studies K-12 education policy and leadership, education finance, and policy formation.