~250 Words

The verdict is in. Photo by Rappaport Center via Flickr.
The verdict is in. Photo by Rappaport Center via Fli

In some schools, students racially classify high academic achievement as “White.” When a high-achieving Black or Latino student is accused of “acting White” by peers, her achievement is assigned to a category that’s already been ranked within a race-based social hierarchy. School-wide, this disparagement of minority students can result in racially unequal learning opportunities. But this doesn’t happen everywhere. While school practices like tracking can foster racialization, it’s less likely to occur in different school contexts. What makes the difference? Simone Ispa-Landa and Jordan Conwell investigate what factors Black students attribute to their perceiving and labeling high-achieving schools as “White.”

The researchers compared the responses of Black adolescents in two school contexts: those attending urban majority-minority high schools, and those selected to attend affluent suburban high schools whose student population was on average 10% Black and Hispanic. Students were asked about things like the quality of their school, race, academic achievement, neighborhood dynamics, cliques, and how they fit in socially. They found that the students attending White-majority suburban schools classified high-performing schools as “White” schools, whereas those attending predominantly Black and Hispanic urban schools did not. This suggests that the personal observation of White-dominated achievement hierarchies lead Black students to classify achievement as “White” for both individuals and institutions.

Opportunities for school choice abound at every stage of students’ academic careers. Because racial classifications have the potential to shape educational choices and outcomes, understanding how and where they are formed may be the first step in toppling race-based achievement hierarchies.

Read the full article here:

Simone Ispa-Landa and Jordan Conwell, “Once You Go To a White School, You Kind of Adapt”: Black Adolescents and the Racial Classification of Schools, Sociology of Education, 2015


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

Get in line! Photo via Michael Newman via Flickr.
“What are we supposed to do?” Photo via Michael Newman via Flickr.

Schools are places of learning, but it is not all about fractions and grammar.  Students also learn unspoken expectations for behaviors, values, and norms. Researchers call this the “hidden curriculum.” For example, students learn behavioral expectations like walking in a straight line, following directions from teachers, and raising their hands before speaking. Teachers play a major role in conveying these expectations to students. However, sometimes teachers’ expectations are unclear.

Sociologist Jessica Calarco shows that when this happens, how students respond is influenced by their social class. In situations where teachers do not clearly indicate whether students should ask for help, middle class students tend to actively seek assistance from teachers. On the other hand, working class students tend to avoid asking for help. Calarco explains that middle class students see these situations as “opportunities for reward,” while working class students see them as “opportunities for reprimand.”

Since working class students in the study were more reluctant to seek help, they often struggled with assignments and teachers sometimes misinterpreted their behavior as unmotivated. Middle class students sought help even when teachers resisted students by dismissing questions or responding gruffly. Since teachers often gave middle class students help when they persisted, the students were more likely to complete assignments correctly and were perceived as hard working by the teachers.

These misinterpretations of working class students increase inequalities between the classes that already exist. Instead of focusing on curriculum changes, perhaps educators should ensure that the “hidden curriculum” does not undermine students’ learning.

You can read the full article here:

Jessica Calarco, “The Inconsistent Curriculum: Cultural Tool Kits and Student Interpretations of Ambiguous Expectations,” Social Psychology Quarterly, 2014


Allison Nobles is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies gender, sexuality, and violence.


Girl looking into a microscope by VFW National Home for Children via Flickr.
You don’t need a microscope to see the STEM gender gap. Photo by VFW National Home for Children via Flickr.

Despite gains in women’s education, the gender gap in STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) remains widespread. Entry into STEM fields remains low among women. According to a 2011 report by the US Department of Commerce, only one in seven engineers are women. Why does the STEM degree gender gap remain regardless of  efforts to eliminate it?

Research shows that children develop occupational orientations during their youth–far before the college years. Legewie & DiPrete attempt to determine the role of high school context in gender differences towards orientations for STEM fields by using the National Education Longitudinal Study data on high school students. They find that reported plans to study a STEM field in college among girls vary substantially across high schools and is associated with whether the school promotes STEM for girls through AP science and math courses. Attending a school that promotes STEM fields among girls reduced the gender gap by 25%.

Promoting STEM fields for girls in high schools or earlier may be an effective way to reorient career and gender identities and reduce the gender gap in STEM fields. Closing the gender gap in STEM degrees has important implications for eradicating the gender gap in earnings and ensuring a supply of qualified labor in science and engineering. This is important because, as put by Nichelle Nicoles (former NASA ambassador and actress), “Science is not a boy’s game, and it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going.”

You can read the full article here:

Joscha Legewie & Thomas A. DiPrete, “The High School Environment and the Gender Gap in Science and Engineering,Sociology of Education, 2014.


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