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.

Photo via
Photo via Education Elements.

1.     What led you to do this research?

I have been a huge fan and frequent user of NCES’s longitudinal student surveys for almost 20 years. They are an amazingly rich data resource for innumerable research purposes.

A few years ago Adam Gamoran — who should be on the Mt. Rushmore of education researchers if such a thing ever exists — asked if I would come to a National Academy of Education workshop on the future of NCES’s longitudinal surveys and write a paper reflecting on the panel discussion and the other papers. How could I resist?

2.    What should everybody know about what you found?

As I explain in the article, NCES’s longitudinal student surveys are extraordinarily valuable resources. Even if they continue as they have with few changes, that would be good thing.

At the workshop, many prominent researchers offered great ideas about changes that NCES might make to improve the surveys. Most described things like adding exciting new content modules (e.g., on immigrants’ experience and bullying) and employing cutting-edge modes of collecting data (e.g., via video or experience sampling).

However, I argue that NCES should consider more fundamental changes that would greatly enhance their utility without reducing current strengths. In my article, I propose and describe two major design changes. If implemented, NCES’s longitudinal surveys could be used for annual cross-sectional monitoring, would be more useful for evaluating policy and making international comparisons, and would be more useful for schools and districts.

3.    What are you going to do next on this topic?

I am going to continue to write papers using NCES’s longitudinal surveys, whether or not they implement my ideas!

You can read the full article here:

Warren, J. R. (2015). The Future of NCES’s Longitudinal Student SurveysAERA Open, 1(2), 2332858415587910.

Photo from Library of Congress via Jacobin.
Photo from Library of Congress via Jacobin.

1. What led you to do this research?

Schools criminalize behavior problems through punishments that mirror sanctions in the criminal justice system, including suspension, expulsion, or arrest. At the same time, schools medicalize misbehavior through the implementation of federally mandated individualized behavior plans. I am interested in studying whether and why schools or districts are more likely to implement criminalized or medicalized strategies for controlling misbehavior.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

I studied two criminalized (suspension/expulsion and arrest) and two medicalized (Section 504 and IDEA) outcomes. Schools and districts with relatively larger African-American populations had higher rates of criminalization and lower rates of medicalization. Importantly, the relationship between the size of the school-level African-American population and discipline varies across different concentrations of district-level disadvantage. The positive relationship between school-level racial composition and criminalized school discipline is less pronounced in high-disadvantage districts. While the negative relationship between school-level racial composition and IDEA is more pronounced in low-disadvantage districts, the negative relationship between racial composition and enrollment in Section 504 plans is more pronounced in high-disadvantage districts. Policymakers and scholars need to consider how schools and districts may be using their resources to implement fundamentally different school disciplinary environments.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

I am currently using individual-level data to test for racial disparities in criminalization versus medicalization in a nationally-representative sample of children. Additionally, I am studying short- and long-term consequences of punishment and medicalization. Overall, I want to know whether medicalization may provide a “better” means of addressing problem behavior than punishment and, if so, does this help contribute to racial disparities later in the life-course.

You can read the full article here:

David M. Ramey. (2015). The Social Structure of Criminalized and Medicalized School Discipline. Sociology of Education, 0038040715587114.

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.



Students take standardized test. Photo by Patrik Axelsson via Flickr.
Students take standardized test. Photo by Patrik Axelsson via Flickr.

As senioritis infects graduating classes across the U.S., one group of students is denied the thrill of the “senior slide”: those enrolled in Advanced Placement courses. These students look forward to a grueling gauntlet of 3-hour exams on topics ranging from Computer Science to Studio Art to Chinese Language and Culture. The tests are rigorous, cumulative assessments of each student’s mastery of an entire year’s worth of class content, and they have extremely high stakes. College Board, the organization that creates and scores the exams (as well as the SAT), claims high AP scores help students “stand out in the admissions process.” While these tests only seem to target elite, high achieving students, they also impact educational processes school-wide.

AP classes are a source of inequality in educational attainment. Minority and low-income students are more likely to attend schools offering fewer AP courses. Even when courses are available, these students are also more likely to be underrepresented in them relative to their more affluent and white peers.

Policies aiming to increase AP courses at underprivileged schools may be one way to narrow the gap, since parent/student demand and school officials’ response in more affluent districts are likely driving the difference. The proportion of upper-middle class students at a school is an excellent predictor of both the number of AP courses offered and the number of students who enroll.

AP tests weren’t always used in college admissions. They were originally designed to allow high-achieving students to place out of introductory courses and into more advanced college work. Only in recent years have they become an important indicator for college admissions boards.

AP testing culture affects all students, no matter where they’re tracked. In most cases, tests change curricula by narrowing content to tested subjects, fragmenting content area knowledge into test-related pieces, and increasing teacher-centered instruction. However, certain types of high-stakes tests can encourage curricular content expansion, integration of knowledge, and cooperative learning.

Cross-posted at There’s Research on That.

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.


Image via TeenLife Blog.
Image via TeenLife Blog.

Drone parents–they’re the helicopter parents with technologically enhanced surveillance capacity–are expanding their territory. In the working world, they’ve been to job fairs and bosses’ offices in the place of grown children. At college, they’ve written term papers and argued with professors on behalf of their offspring. As this parenting style evolves, it’s important to understand how college students are affected when intense over-parenting follows them to campus.

That’s why Jill C. Bradley-Geist and Julie B. Olson-Buchanan conducted an online survey of 482 college students. The survey included questions about parents’ behaviors as well as their own personality, demographics, and GPA. It also provided hypothetical workplace scenarios requiring students to choose how they’d respond to work-related problems.

They found that college students who live at home were more likely to consider themselves “over-parented.” Over-parenting was also more likely among students who consider both their father and their mother to be their primary caregivers, those with fewer siblings, females, and Asian students. Regarding its effects, over-parenting predicted maladaptive workplace behaviors and lower student self-efficacy but was not related to GPA. Parental involvement, in contrast to over-parenting, was positively correlated with intentions to go to graduate school and satisfaction with feedback from professors.

This has important practical implications for higher education and for parents. College visits and orientations could provide guidance about expectations for student autonomy and appropriate parent involvement. Instructors might provide opportunities for practicing “soft skills” like taking accountability and dealing with negative feedback. Parents might rethink the line between involvement and over-involvement, and perhaps forego accompanying their child to lecture.

Read the full article here:

Bradley-Geist, J., & B. Olson-Buchanan, J. (2014). Helicopter parents: an examination of the correlates of over-parenting of college students. Education + Training, 56(4), 314-328.


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