Image courtesy of good pix gallery.
Image courtesy of good pix galleries.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that 40 to 45% of Americans do not believe the theory of evolution. This puts high school biology teachers in a pedagogical dilemma: How do they teach the state-mandated science curriculum in the face of conflicting community, student, and personal views about the merits of evolution and creationism? How do biology teachers’ decisions about how to resolve these dilemmas foster pro- or anti-evolution sentiments in the next generation?

According to new research by political scientists Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, “[h]igh school biology teachers play a crucial role in whether a high school biology course reinforces the scientific consensus or whether it confers legitimacy on creationist perspectives.” Biology teachers differ in whether they portray the science of evolution as controversial, in whether they feel obligated to be “fair” to pro- and anti-evolution perspectives, and in whether they portray religion and science as incompatible.

Where do high school biology teachers learn to walk these fine lines—often inadvertently undermining the validity of the curricular material they present to students? Berkman and Plutzer’s work point to the roles of teachers’ personal values, the depth of their scientific knowledge, their confidence in their scientific training, and their pedagogical philosophy. They also argue that high school biology teachers are not well prepared in their training programs to confidently master relevant scientific material or to help students to work through conflicts between their faith and scientific evidence. The result is an unhappy compromise in the messages students’ receive.

Read the full article here:

Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. 2015. “Enablers of Doubt: How Future Teachers Learn to Negotiate the Evolution Wars in Their Classrooms.The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658:253-270


colorblind sameness
Image courtesy of Jimmy for Premise of Ed.

Multicultural education is more than a trend in education, with 40 years of teachers embracing this philosophy. Its aims are to create a learning environment that increases learning for all students and to create equity. This sounds great, but in practice efforts fall short.

To find out how teachers think about and integrate multicultural education into their curriculum, Angelina Castagno conducts a year-long study in an urban school district in Utah. By interviewing teachers and administrators, and observing classes, board meetings, and district-level professional development, her research critiques multicultural classroom practices.

Castagno argues that attempts to incorporate multicultural education occur through what she calls “powerblind sameness” and “colorblind difference.” These effectively reinforce whiteness — “a pervasive ideology justifying dominance of one group over others” — which affirms power and inequality, promotes avoidance of social change, and legitimates the status quo. Many adopt the term “multicultural education” as a description of generally “good” teaching. What actually occurs is that this practice waters down a teaching method intended to disrupt power and transforms it into something palatable, easy, and structurally compliant. As a result, Castagno writes, “There is a tension between what multicultural education should be and what it actually is, and this tension is centrally mediated by whiteness.”

Read the full article here:

Angelina E. Castagno, “Multicultural Education and the Protection of Whiteness”, American Journal of Education, 2013


Monica Saralampi is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies consumption, social movements, stratification/marginalization, gender and sexuality.

Photo by ccarlstead via Flickr.
Photo by ccarlstead via Flickr.

We posed three questions to the authors. Here’s what they said:

1. What led you to do this research?

Current policy discussions in higher education are often focused on graduation. But college is not just about getting a credential. It is also about learning. We know little about whether and what students learn in higher education.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

College both perpetuates and amplifies inequality. We studied development of general collegiate skills – critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing – over four years of college. Students from less-educated families entered college with lower levels of general collegiate skills, and that gap persisted over time. In contrast, African-American students not only entered college with lower levels of general collegiate skills than their white peers but gained less over time, amplifying inequality. Thus, even when persisting through four years of college, students from traditionally underrepresented groups are not leaving college with the same levels of skills. Researchers and policymakers need to look at more than completion rates and consider other, often less visible, forms of inequality.

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

We are expanding our research to consider subject-specific skills. While general collegiate skills, such as critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing, are important outcomes of higher education, they are not the only skills students are expected to develop in college. Understanding the development of subject-specific skills presents another important avenue of investigation.

Read the full article here:

Josipa Roksa and Richard Arum, “Inequality in skill development on college campuses,” Research in Social Stratification & Mobility.

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.