2009 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows
Matthew Carlson, University of Chicago
The Role of Lexical and Phonological Complexity in Early Vocabulary Growth
From birth to school entry children’s lay a foundation of language development that will have important effects on their further development after school entry. Understanding variability between children at these crucial early stages is vital to understanding later development as well as to designing effective instruction. This study focuses on the development of phonological knowledge in the early lexicon, linking phonological structure to the particular contents of the lexicon as well as to vocabulary growth.
Evidence suggests that while children favor words with frequent sound patterns, they may have difficulty acquiring highly similar words (e.g. cat/cap). The present research builds on these earlier experimental findings by tracking vocabulary growth in 1- to 5-year-olds using naturalistic speech samples. However, measures of phonological form have traditionally been based on sequences of individual phonemes, and similar words have been defined as differing in a single phoneme, such that all words differing in 2 or more phonemes as equally distant. These operational definitions are limited because they may not accurately reflect the structure of the child lexicon. Therefore, this project seeks to develop more sophisticated measures of phonological form and word similarity by incorporating higher-level phonological structures (e.g. the syllable) and by utilizing more continuous measures of similarity between words.
By utilizing these innovations to analyze a large, longitudinal database, this project opens significant possibilities for understanding differences between children in language development and, importantly, subsequent success in reading. For instance, some children may have a higher tolerance for similarity or complexity in their vocabularies, which in turn may influence their success in learning to read.
Elizabeth Ulrich Cascio, Dartmouth College
Beyond the Test: New Estimates of Long-Term Teacher Effectiveness
Reform of elementary and secondary education in the United States today rests heavily on the notion that teachers leave a lasting mark on their students. But do teachers have persistent impacts? Existing research on this question has focused exclusively on the effects of teachers on student test scores several years later. While findings from this research suggest that the effects of teachers “fade out,” test performance measures knowledge imperfectly and may not at all reflect the “non-cognitive” skills – like motivation – that may be critical for well-being later in life. This project will help to fill this gap in our knowledge by estimating the effects of elementary school teachers on a truly long-term outcome – college attendance – using both experimental and observational data and tools already developed for estimating teacher effects on test scores. To the extent that there is such a finding, a supplemental analysis of great practical importance will illuminate which attributes observed today have the capacity to identify teachers with a lasting impact.
Michael Charles Clapper, Saint Josephs University
Building Inequality: The Constructed World of Philadelphia Area Schools
This case study of Philadelphia area public and parochial schools describes how postwar school construction helped fundamentally transform American cities and suburbs. Faced with the rapid transformation of the old American metropolis – the surging growth of white suburbs and the relative economic decline of increasingly black central cities – planners had numerous opportunities to build new educational infrastructure. They might have employed new schools to integrate communities, to alleviate class or racial divisions within neighborhoods, even to revise the perception of education across metropolitan areas. As this project shows, however, even in the face of the daunting impersonal process of metropolitan change, the educational landscape of postwar America was not merely an expression of dynamics beyond policymakers’ control. New schools emerged from the complicated interplay between multiple stakeholders including planners, politicians, parents, teachers and activists. Assessing the institutions and individuals involved reveals how postwar school construction obscured or even legitimized injustices, hardened housing segregation, and embedded inequality into the metropolitan landscape.
To recover the stories of individual buildings and their evolving significance to surrounding communities, this project utilizes historical GIS to analyze the sites of new facilities as well as the alternatives. Investigating demographic information and enrollment records from school districts and the Archdiocese highlights the critical role of schools in the making (and re-making) of urban and suburban spaces. Alongside oral histories, community group archives, and local newspaper accounts, this method contextualizes the developing meanings of schools for neighborhoods as well as the conflicts that all too frequently emerged over new facilities. And by fleshing out the tales of actual buildings, from the initial planning phase of tentative drawings and community meetings until their completion, this methodology centers school architecture as one facet of a complicated design process and demonstrates the significance of small, seemingly insignificant choices made about schools. Neither natural nor inevitable, the construction of postwar, metropolitan schools remains supremely important, since the resulting buildings and the larger educational landscape continue to shape the possibilities available to students, parents, and reformers.
Hilary Gehlbach Conklin, University of Georgia
To Specialize in Students or Specialize in Social Studies? A Comparative, Longitudinal Study of Two Pathways into Middle School Teaching
Despite the critical role that middle school teachers play in advancing young adolescents’ higher order reasoning skills, their preparation is one of the most neglected areas of investigation in educational research. In this longitudinal, comparative case study, I examine the two different pathways that have been most strongly advocated for certifying middle school social studies teachers—the specialized middle school pathway and the subject-specific secondary pathway—and investigate what teachers learn from their teacher preparation programs about teaching intellectually demanding social studies in the middle grades.
By studying these two pathways at one institution and following graduates into their first two years of teaching, this project will illuminate the relationship among the teacher education program opportunities, the graduates’ teaching practices, and their students’ learning. Through the use of surveys, interviews, classroom observations, document review, and student and teacher work sample analysis, this research will provide a critical analysis of the strengths and limitations of these two teacher education programs for shaping middle school social studies teachers’ practice and their students’ learning across time. In doing so, this study will provide a more informed understanding of how to prepare middle school teachers who capitalize on and further all young adolescents’ intellectual capacities.
Matthew Diemer, Michigan State University
Critical Consciousness and Political Engagement Among Marginalized Youth
Critical consciousness represents a critical analysis of and perceived empowerment to change social inequities. It is theorized to help marginalized youth overcome structural constraints on human agency and is predictive of their mental health, school engagement, and occupational attainment in adulthood. It is therefore important to identify educational practices and contexts that facilitate critical consciousness. The school, parents, and peers are salient contexts in youths’ development and examined here as predictors of critical consciousness. This project will also address disparities in marginalized youths’ political participation by examining the direct effects of critical consciousness and indirect effects of these contexts on youths’ voting behavior. Applying structural equation modeling to large scale survey datasets will model the hypothesized “causal chain” among large samples that are followed longitudinally. This project will inform the educational and youth development literatures and may illuminate how teachers, peer networks, and parents engender engagement with social movements and electoral politics. By providing a “road map” of specific practices and emphases that predict desired outcomes, this project would inform teacher practice and youth development interventions. Finally, one broader implication of this project would be greater attention to marginalized youths’ perceptions of and responses to marginalization in educational scholarship, policy, and practice.
Ruben Flores, University of Kansas
Forging an American Pluralism: The Mexican Revolution and American Civil Rights
This project analyzes the history of cultural diversity and civil rights in mid-20th century American society by tracing the intellectual path of American social scientists for whom postrevolutionary Mexico became the premier example of national integration in the Western Hemisphere. Using evidence from the United States and Mexico, it examines the reasons why the education experiments of the postrevolutionary Mexican state became institutional models in the 1930s and 1940s for American social scientists committed to eradicating segregation in the public schools of the American West and reconciling American racial diversity into a unified national culture. My project adds to a growing literature on U.S. civil rights that emphasizes events before 1954 and around the world as influences on the development of political opposition to American segregation. It also shows the ways in which American policy debates about the “melting pot” cannot be understood apart from national integration projects in Latin America. Last, it examines the influence on American politics of alternative models of the role of government in lessening social conflict in the years before the American state began to play an increased role as a mediator of ethnic tension in American society.
Melissa Sommerfeld Gresalfi, Indiana University
Designing for Consequential Engagement: The Role of ‘Push Back’ on Student Thinking
Researchers have suggested that encouraging students to pursue mathematics in school and beyond should involve more than arguing about the best strategies for increasing achievement, and instead requires attending to the nature of students’ engagement with mathematics. Beyond ensuring that students are able to answer mathematics questions accurately, there is a concern with the dispositions that students form in relation to a domain; the ways that students approach, engage, and feel about the subject matter. The study will examine how creating opportunities for students to engage consequentially with mathematics supports the dispositions they develop towards the domain. Engaging consequentially with information involves interrogating the usefulness, impact, or significance of particular tools on outcomes. One way to create opportunities for students to engage consequentially is to embed mathematics problems in authentic contexts. Beyond simply providing “relevance” for disciplinary work, contexts can serve as a resource for learning and reflection by pushing back on students’ disciplinary reasoning. Thus, consequential reflection can support students’ deep mathematical engagement because being asked to consider how and why a particular strategy or procedure impacted a solution actually shapes one’s understanding of the strategy or procedure itself.
The hypothesis tested in this study is that creating opportunities for students to engage consequentially with content will lead to productive dispositions towards mathematics by supporting practices of meaningful disciplinary engagement and the development of a notion of oneself as someone whose actions can have impact. I will investigate the role of consequentiality by comparing three units situated in two project-based mathematics curricula, and will document how aspects of curricular designs impact student engagement with mathematical ideas and the development of more enduring dispositions. This study will contribute to educational research by supporting a deeper understanding of which aspects of instructional methods are most effective for what purpose, under which circumstances, and for whom.
Andrew Dean Ho, Harvard University
Beyond the Bubble: A Cross-State Analysis of Test-Score Trends Under “Proficiency”-Based Incentives
The No Child Left Behind Act sets the goal of 100% student proficiency for all schools. Under this mandate, most state accountability models define school status and progress in terms of percentages of students above a “proficient” cut score. There is growing evidence that this limited definition of status and progress encourages targeted teaching and disproportionate gains for near-proficient students—students on the proficiency “bubble” (Booher-Jennings, 2005; Neal & Schanzenbach, 2007; Springer, 2008). I extend this hypothesis across states using “censored data” models that take advantage of the proficiency-based results widely reported by states. These models allow for the cross-state description, comparison, and aggregation of Unexpected Changes at the Proficiency cut score (UCPs). Beyond the existence and magnitude of UCPs across states, subjects, and grades, three hypotheses are of particular interest. First, UCPs may be more pronounced for low-income students whose schools likely face the more immediate threat of sanctions. Second, UCPs for state tests may not generalize to UCPs on “audit” tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Third, UCPs in some states may be diminished by recent policy changes that smooth incentives below the proficiency cut score, including “growth models” and “index systems.” Results have implications for the design of proficiency-based policies and encourage broader perspectives on the measurement and incentivization of large-scale educational progress.
Nancy Kendall, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Understanding and Comparing the Effects of Education for All on Vulnerable Children in Malawi and Mozambique
Children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS are positioned at the center of two of the world’s greatest development and humanitarian efforts: Education for all (EFA) and the global effort to fight AIDS. This project examines international efforts to improve the lives of vulnerable children through the provision of free primary education (FPE). Specifically, it examines how FPE, the cornerstone of Education for All and purported “social vaccine” against HIV (Vandermoortele and Delamonica 2000), has affected the lives and primary schooling opportunities and experiences of vulnerable children in Malawi and Mozambique. Malawi and Mozambique are two of the world’s poorest and most AIDS-affected countries, and are estimated to have between 760,000 and 1, 240,000 children orphaned by AIDS (UNAIDS 2008). The number of vulnerable children is estimated to be five times greater. Both countries implemented FPE initiatives and actively encourage international programming and funding aimed at getting and keeping vulnerable children in school. The widespread international faith that FPE will transform the lives of vulnerable children is largely based on a correlation between higher levels of schooling and decreased HIV rates. This link is, however, a complex one (Glynn et al 2004, Kelly 2000, Vavrus 2006), and little systematic research exists on when and how vulnerable children interact with primary schools and what practical and symbolic roles, if any, schooling plays in improving their lives.
This research aims to: better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and outcomes of centering FPE in international and state approaches to supporting vulnerable children and communities; explore the similarities and differences in vulnerable children’s, communities’, and states’ experiences with FPE; examine how schooling and other labor demands interact in practice; and generate information that influences debates about how primary schools in resource-poor states might better meet vulnerable children’s needs. It conceptualizes FPE as an increasingly important organizing force among communities, states, and international bodies (Shore and Wright 1997) and examines FPE as a political technology for categorizing people (for example “vulnerable children”), as a cultural agent (for example, in its labeling of schooling as appropriate and work as inappropriate spheres for children), and as power (for example, in the resources generated and distributed in its name). This approach challenges formulations of policy as a uniform, top-down technology (Ferguson 2006) and provides opportunities for examining education policy as practice (Sutton and Levinson 2000), in which official policies are one aspect of multivalent, non-linear processes shaped by differing constellations of forces (Hart 2002). The research will compare the effects of FPE on vulnerable children’s and schools’ daily practices in two rural and two urban schools and the communities they serve in Malawi and Mozambique. I will utilize multi-sited, or vertical (Bartlett and Vavrus 2006) ethnographic methods (participant observation, semi- and unstructured interviews, focus group discussions, classroom observations, participatory rural appraisal, document analysis) designed to examine the flows, relations, and linkages among community, district, state, regional, and international organizations, actors, and resources, to map and compare the effects of FPE on vulnerable children within and across communities, districts, provinces/regions, and states; and through flows of people, ideas, money, curricula, and other resources.
Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis
Increasing College Readiness: An Investigation of California’s Early Assessment Program
Today, over 25 percent of first-time college freshmen are enrolled in some remedial course. Why do so many college students appear to require remediation? Part of the explanation for the large share of remedial students in American colleges and universities may be a combination of the limited information students possess regarding what they need to succeed in college and the (arguably) mistaken perception that everyone must at least attend, if not complete, college in order to succeed in the labor market. In recent years, many states have been questioning the role of remedial courses in their postsecondary institutions. California, where approximately two-thirds of all first-time freshmen across the California State University campuses are enrolled in a remedial math or English course, is no exception. The Early Assessment Program (EAP) is an academic preparation program developed jointly by the California Department of Education (CDE), the State Board of Education, and the California State University (CSU). The purpose of the program, now in its fourth year, is to bridge the gap between K-12 educational standards in English and mathematics and the requirements and expectations of postsecondary education at the California State University. As such, the explicit goal of EAP is to identify students before their senior year who need additional coursework or preparation in English and/or mathematics before entering CSU.
My project focuses on three interrelated research questions: (1) Does providing high school juniors with early information regarding their academic preparedness for college-level work reduce their probability of requiring remediation in college?; (2) To what extent does this information reduce the likelihood that students apply to and matriculate at California State University?; and (3) Are there differences in program effects across California high schools and for different types of students? I utilize longitudinal student-level data for California public high school students who were in 11th grade between the fall of 2001 and the fall of 2004. The data come from two sources (California State University and the California Department of Education) and span several academic years, including two years prior to the implementation of EAP and two years following statewide implementation of EAP. The quasi-experimental nature of the data enables me to use multiple strategies to identify EAP program effects. In addition, my project also explores the mechanism by which EAP functions—is it to encourage students to become better prepared or to sort students in their application behavior?
Adam Laats, Binghamton University
Roots of the Culture Wars: Protestant Fundamentalists and American Education in the 1920s
During the 1920s, Protestant fundamentalists throughout the United States campaigned to ban the teaching of evolutionary theory from public and private schools. But they also did much more. Many fundamentalists promoted laws requiring daily Bible reading in public schools. These same fundamentalists also founded a network of schools and colleges dedicated to passing on their conservative theology and lifestyle. During these heated controversies, fundamentalists struggled to project an image of their movement as one dedicated to defending science and progressive values, in spite of fundamentalism’s growing reputation as a backward, isolated rural movement. I propose to expand and revise my dissertation research in this area into a book manuscript.
Some of the key players and events, such as William Jennings Bryan and the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial, have been thoroughly studied by historians. Others, such as the expansion of a network of independent fundamentalist schools, have received very little scholarly attention. This project uses archival material and 1920s-era publications to increase and synthesize our understanding of these formative educational battles. The activism and controversies of the 1920s determined the positions of educational conflicts throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. My book will illuminate these educational crusades.
D. Michael Lindsay, Rice University
Structuring Elite Power: The Role of Formal and Informal Education
This study examines the importance of formal schooling and informal education in the lives of American elites—the few thousand Americans who make decisions that shape the lives of 300 million people. The project combines the collection of a quantitative dataset on the educational profiles of senior governmental, business, and nonprofit leaders with in-depth interviews where the roles of mentors, formal schooling, and continuing professional education will be examined more fully. Additional analyses will consider how formal and informal education have contributed to elite mobility and influence in various sectors of society. The proposed project will advance our understanding in three interrelated ways. First, it will collect and analyze the most current and extensive dataset yet of American elites (N≈3000), which will allow us to move beyond the current standoff between the monolithic theory of social power, with its image of elites united by education for a cohesive agenda, and the pluralist theory, which regards elites as divided demographically and more open to aspirants because of an educational meritocracy. Second, it will improve the empirical measurement of elite mobility, activity, and influence by coupling information from this dataset with data from in-depth interviews conducted with a sample of the studied individuals (N=75). This will allow us to settle this debate using data—for the first time in a generation— that combines quantitative rigor with qualitative texture. Third, it will lay the groundwork for a larger inquiry on elite networks, upbringing, and motivations, which seeks to revitalize the scientific study of America’s most powerful few.
Lorena M. Llosa, New York University
Assessing English Learners’ Progress: A Longitudinal Examination of a Standards-Based Classroom Assessment Based on Teacher Judgements
Currently, many accountability systems not only focus on student achievement or mastery of standards, but also on the amount of progress students make each year. Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), for example, requires states and school districts to show annual increases in the number and percentage of students who become proficient in English, as well as in the number and percentage of students who make progress toward that goal. Monitoring progress is also becoming increasingly important in classroom formative assessment, since a reliable assessment of progress can inform teacher instruction and appropriate interventions. But in order to interpret changes in assessment results from one year to the next as reflecting differences in underlying ability rather than as variations in the measurement, the assessments used should be measuring the same constructs over time. Gathering evidence of an assessment’s longitudinal invariance is particularly important when the assessments used are based on teacher judgments since teacher judgments are often viewed as inconsistent, and different teachers may be involved each year. This study will determine the extent to which a standards-based classroom assessment based on teacher judgments measures English proficiency consistently over time by examining its longitudinal invariance using confirmatory factor analysis.
Ebony Omotola McGee, University of Illinois at Chicago
Investigating Identity and Resilience in Mathematically High-Achieving African American Youth
My study will investigate identity formation among high-achieving African American middle and high school students to determine those factors that lead to their resilience, or success in the field. The goal this research is to confound the conceptual model of resilience I first articulated in my dissertation, Race, Identity, and Resilience: Black College Students Negotiating Success in Mathematics and Engineering. In my dissertation, I analyzed the experiences of 23 high-achieving African American mathematics and engineering college students and discovered that students succeeded because they wanted to prove racial stereotypes about their lack of ability were wrong; and because they wanted to serve as role models for other African Americans. Resilience in my work is the ability to persevere in the face of obstacles and adversity. I discovered that middle school mathematics students were most driven by a desire to prove deficiency stereotypes wrong, whereas in high school students succeeded for more purposeful and self-defined reasons. My study will test the validity of both my findings and model for the study of resilience with a larger, younger, and more diverse sample of high-achieving African American middle and high school students in honors mathematics classes. I also plan to study their beliefs about college-level math classes and their perspectives on succeeding in contexts where there are few African Americans. My previous and proposed research attempts to move the field beyond explanations that normalize African American student failure and instead highlights those factors that account for student success, even in the face of significant life and school obstacles.
Anne Rebecca Newman, Washington University in St. Louis
Collaborating to Realize Rights: Lawyers, Community Groups, and Education Reform
This project investigates possibilities for collaborative activism between lawyers and community groups advocating for students’ right to a quality education in the context of a recently settled and landmark lawsuit, Williams v. California. Lawyers and community groups have achieved significant policy reform in communities across California, but face limitations that have prompted growing calls for collaborative activism. Yet little is known about how such partnerships might be forged, and why they are not easily created in many areas. This project addresses this gap through a timely study of the implementation of the Williams settlement across several communities, with two approaches. First, extensive qualitative inquiry into the beliefs and practices of community groups and litigators will yield new understanding of the factors that support and thwart collaboration, why some communities leverage their legal rights more than others, and what judicial remedies are amenable to community oversight. Second, philosophical analysis of these findings will then illuminate their civic implications, and how rights claims shape individuals’ participation in education reform movements. By bringing together empirical and philosophical analysis, this study will shed light on conditions that enable community engagement with judicial remedies, and the role of rights claims in civic dialogue about education reform.
Angela Rosario Reyes, Hunter College
Asian American Cram Schools: Linguistic and Ethnic Boundaries in Immigrant Educational Sites
Due to recent educational policies in the United States, the increased importance of standardized testing has left an overwhelming number of minority students struggling in schools. In response to this national crisis, this research study will examine the experiences of immigrant students who are preparing for exams in Asian American cram schools. With the goal of writing a substantial portion of a book on cram schools, this study will analyze ethnographic and discourse data collected over the course of a year at an Asian American cram school in New York City. Preliminary analysis suggests that central to the educational experiences of students at the cram school are the identities and relationships produced through a particular cross-racial classroom dynamic between the Asian American students and their non-Asian teachers. This research study will investigate how students and teachers establish, sustain, or dismantle various types of linguistic and ethnic boundaries between one another in the classroom. Drawing on the linguistic anthropology of education in the close analysis of classroom discourse, this research study will uniquely contribute to the study of language, identity, and education by examining a population, setting, and topic urgently in need of more scholarly attention.
Sarah Frances Rose, University of Texas at Arlington
No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1850-1930
My book project explores the meaning of citizenship for disabled workers in the United States between 1850 and 1930. During these decades, policymakers, employers, and the public created disability as a new policy problem. Policymakers also came to define people with disabilities as unproductive citizens: a concept that has been central to disability policy since the early twentieth century. By the end of World War I, disability had become synonymous with public dependency and the inability to be self-sufficient. This new category of disability incorporated populations that policymakers and the public had long considered distinct: people who worked in the mainstream labor market, impoverished people who could not work (and relied on public aid), and people with both acquired and congenital impairments. Policymakers’ efforts to reeducate this diverse array of disabled people into productivity met with little success.
This project traces why economic citizenship—the ability to be self-supporting and financially independent—proved increasingly elusive for disabled people between the 1850s and 1930s. During these decades, policymakers abandoned traditional views of dependent disabled people as members of the “deserving poor.” Educators and charity reformers began to argue that even people labeled as “idiots” could —and should—fulfill the civic obligation to be self-sufficient, and therefore developed work and training programs in state idiot asylums. At the same time, disabled people who could support themselves began having trouble finding work because of mechanization, employers’ changing notions of what made a good worker, and the design of workmen’s compensation policy—except for a brief period at Ford Motor Company. In response, policymakers pushed for the vocational re-education (or rehabilitation) of disabled people in state asylums and sheltered workshops such as Goodwill Industries. In theory, vocational rehabilitation would allow disabled people to become productive and thereby regain full citizenship status. In practice, however, the structure of rehabilitation programs, the changing labor market, and the complexity of disability itself trapped people in rehabilitation. Ultimately, people with disabilities were relegated to economic dependency and second-class citizenship.
Constance Steinkuehler, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Cognition and Learning in Online Games for Adolescents
Despite dismissals as “torpid” and inviting “inert reception” in popular books and press outside of peer review, videogames (especially online games) have emerged as an important research topic in educational research; however, we have seen very little impact on the in-school performance of those who play. The goal of this project is to explore this contradiction by assessing the educational merit of games designed for and played by youth instead of adults (as typically studied) and by examining how games are situated in young people’s everyday lives. I propose to conduct a cognitive ethnography of the game Runescape, the most popular online game with children (ages 10-16) that would include longitudinal study of 8-12 gaming youth from local schools in order to assess the impact of gameplay on their day-to-day lives, social relationships, and school work. Data analysis would focus on assessing what youth learn through online gameplay, how that learning aligns or conflicts with educational standards, and how such games fit into the fabric of their everyday experience. Results from this work would help us better understand the impact of online games on the social and cognitive development of young players.
Sarah Caroline Thuesen, Independent Scholar
Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for School Equalization in North Carolina, 1919-1969
At a time when policymakers across the country are rehabilitating the notion of “separate but equal,” this study looks at the men and women who understood first hand both the possibilities—and the profound limits—of school equalization as a strategy for black liberation. Greater Than Equal explores how black North Carolinians pressed for educational equalization at the level of curricula, teacher salaries, and school facilities; how white officials co-opted the strategy as a means of forestalling integration; and, finally, how black activism for equalization evolved into a fight for something “greater than equal”: integrated schools that served as models of both material equality and civic inclusion. This study foregrounds a neglected chapter in black educational history and offers essential context for ongoing policy debates about the merits and limitations of Brown. The postdoctoral phase of my research seeks to ground the larger equalization struggle within the context of three North Carolina communities that were sites of significant post-World War II equalization efforts. Using school records, board of education minutes, oral histories, and newspaper accounts, this project explores how and why each of these communities built new black schools on the eve of Brown and how those belated equalization efforts shaped the eventual process of desegregation. In considering this history from the vantage point of individual communities, this project disentangles the goals of material equality and desegregation in the evolution of black activism and unpacks the complex expectations that both whites and blacks held for school equalization.
Florencia Torche, New York University
Is a College Degree still the Great Equalizer?: Intergenerational Mobility across Levels of Schooling in the US
A college degree is claimed to provide the most important avenue for intergenerational mobility in contemporary American society, but virtually no empirical research assesses this claim. A quarter-century ago, research demonstrated that there is a strong intergenerational class association among individuals without a college degree, but the association virtually disappears for college graduates. In other words, a college degree appeared to fulfill the promise of meritocracy – erasing the advantages of origin in the competition for economic success. This project comprehensively studies whether the “meritocratic power” of a college degree persists today, after substantial expansion and diversification of the post-secondary educational system. Drawing on several datasets – the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, the General Social Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and the National Education Longitudinal Studies – I provide a comprehensive evaluation of intergenerational mobility in terms of social class, socioeconomic status, individual earnings, and total family income across levels of schooling, among men and women. Preliminary findings from the analysis suggest that, as a quarter-century ago, the intergenerational association is strong among those with less than a college degree, but it disappears or substantially weakens among college graduates. Surprisingly, the influence of social origins on economic position reemerges among advanced degree-holders, leading to a U-shaped pattern of parental influence across levels of schooling. This project systematically examines diverse mechanisms accounting for this U-shaped pattern of mobility.