Situating the Promise of a Growth Mindset within the Structure of School Curricular Opportunities
Paul Hanselman

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Irvine

Primary Discipline

Recent research highlights the benefits of a growth mindset, the belief that intelligence is malleable, which supports resilient responses to academic challenges. As such, brief interventions promoting this mindset show positive impacts for low-achieving students that narrow educational inequalities. Although these effects theoretically depend on students’ local learning context, we know little about when and where students’ mindsets matter, especially as students navigate the variegated and often unequal structure of school opportunities created by curricular differentiation. This project draws on two data sources—large-scale administrative data from middle and high school students in five large California school districts and a new nationally representative experimental test of a mindset intervention among 9th grade students—to analyze heterogeneity in the effect of a growth mindset on academic outcomes across different structural positions. I will develop measures of local opportunities based on course-taking dynamics, explore associations between mindset and achievement in the observational data, and assess contextual heterogeneity in the causal impacts of a growth mindset in the experiment. By integrating psychological and sociological insights, this work represents an important step in maximizing the promise of both individual and organizational strategies to promote greater educational success and equity.
About Paul Hanselman
Paul Hanselman is an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. He studies educational disparities, social stratification, and the potential for school-based interventions to mitigate inequality. He is particularly interested in understanding the ways in which the impacts of individual interventions vary across local educational contexts, both for insights into basic social processes and as a means to improving educational outcomes. Hanselman received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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