Monday, October 31, 2016


What I will gain most from this collaborative doctoral dissertation is that I will continually use my academic degree to address the ideologies that underlie and perpetuate the deficit perspective. I want to have real impact on public education via STEM. As I become well-versed in defeating deficit ideology, I will feel more comfortable in guiding teachers and educational leaders in this same
process. In terms of my professional development, I will continue to “spot” STEM-foundational thinking deficit ideologies within our school district (Gorski, 2010, p. 20). It is a continual, uphill process of reminding teachers not to identify various student problems as “cultural.” Personally, I am always trying to “reflect on [my] own class socialization” (Gorski, 2010, p. 20), which actually brought me to this doctoral program. However, the largest obstacle I will face is getting teachers in our district to not “refuse to attribute oppression as ‘problems of culture’” (Gorski, 2010, p. 20). For example, we have multicultural nights where the focus is on culture and not systemic anti-racism. I would much rather spend our time together discussing what Howe (1992) refers to as equal education opportunity.

The benefits of collaboration with local school districts and other educational organizations are extensive. However, for our school district, I see the following advantages (in relation to STEM-foundational thinking and students of color) as paraphrased by William Powell: (a) STEM foundational thinking, instructional activities, and STEM pathways become more accessible to all students, (b) increase of direct student-teacher contact time, (c) greater and more varied (culturally responsive) ways to check for understanding, (d) fewer student referrals to the principal’s office, and (e) professional and personal growth through shared reflection and ongoing feedback. For example, current STEM instruction is not equitable for students of color. “This predicament necessitates the creation of a counter frame for what it means to be both racially conscious and an effective teacher, to the benefit of all students” (Cobb & Haynes, 2016, p. 284). This counter frame is culturally responsive pedagogy. Students of color are currently being disproportionally referred to the principal’s office or the responsibility for these students is being passed to special education teachers. Current assessments are biased against marginalized students. Having conversations on STEM-foundational thinking, race, and student achievement will give teachers the tools they need to create meaningful relationships with their students of color. All of this is vital if we are to close the STEM opportunity gap.

Obstacles are to be expected, the largest one being resistance to changing the current system of privilege. My goal is to use this dissertation research as a vehicle for creating what Caine and Caine (1991; 1997) refer to as “relaxed alertness” or the “optimal state for reflection and learning (Powell). This work will be challenging, but I want teachers, instructional coaches, and other educational leaders to not feel fear of being criticized, or worse, being called a racist. Overcoming biases and understanding privilege and oppression bring about knee-jerk defensive reactions. However, in order to successfully raise student achievement you must be willing to talk about students, and “if you can’t talk about racial identity, then you can’t talk about [students of color]” (Singleton & Linton, 2006, p. 168).

          Institutional level. According to Henze, Katze, Norte, Sather, & Walker (2002), institutional racism is the sum of racial prejudice and institutional power. There are many different institutions where White racial knowledge in STEM operate. I have already discussed recommendations to provide more equitable STEM opportunities for students of color (see What next report). In order to disrupt systems of power and privilege, where STEM continues to be “only for White people” (Delpit, 2012, p. 14), I must continue working on the goals that I have set forth. I will push for deeper equity professional development within my own school district with topics in power dynamics, privilege, oppression, STEM-foundational thinking, and student achievement. Don Miguel Ruiz says:

Imagine living your life without the fear of being judged by others. You no longer rule your behavior according to what others may think about you. You are no longer responsible for anyone’s opinion. You have no need to control anyone, and no one controls you, either.
Imagine living your life without judging others. You can easily forgive others and let go of any judgments that you have. You don’t have the need to be right, and you don’t need to make anyone else wrong. You respect yourself and everyone else, and they respect you in return.
Imagine living without the fear of loving and not being loved. You are no longer afraid to be rejected, and you don’t have the need to be accepted. You can say, ‘I love you’ with no shame or justification. You can walk in the world with your heart completely open, and not be afraid to be hurt.
Imagine living your life without being afraid to take a risk and to explore life. You are not afraid to lose anything. You are not afraid to be alive in the world, and you are not afraid to die.
Imagine that you love yourself just the way you are. You love your body just the way it is, and you love your emotions just the way they are. You know that you are perfect just as you are (1997, pp. 124-125).

This is the life that I want to live. This is the life that I envision for my own children and the students learning within my school district. In life, we are all interdependent. As a society, either we all succeed, or we all fail. With this in mind, I will work to end injustice in all forms, while perpetuating social justice for everyone. Imagining is the first step toward action and social justice action requires not only imaging a world without oppression and privilege, but also imagining what that looks like when these things do not exist within us.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Appendix A. Reflection

Educational organizations are very complicated, and it is no small task to dismantle systems in inequity and racism within. As Gloria Ladson-Billings (2011) states:

…classrooms are complex organisms. The students bring with them richly textured biographies that go beyond their racial and ethnic categorizations, and their teachers bring their own sets of complexities. Somewhere in the nexus of this humanity, we are charged with producing literate, numerate young citizens who are capable of learning more and faster than any generation that has preceded it (pp. 13-14).

My charge was to co-design a comparative case-study in order help identify where STEM inequity exists and offer recommendations in order to create multiple systems of opportunity where everyone’s knowledge, background, ethnicity, and race count. By looking specifically at STEM-foundational thinking at seven urban elementary schools, I wanted the elementary school level to be the unit of change so students of color have equitable STEM outcomes. I must work to change the current paradigm to a new ideology, one born out of a radical and defiant response to the historical sickness of oppression. I have always believed that the “knowledge and skills to educate all children already exists” (Hilliard, 1995, p. 200). No one ever said that restructuring our educational system so that all children reach their full academic potential would be easy. In fact, “thinking our way toward progress or taking action as a single individual is not likely to make any great impact on the powerful systems of oppression we face as teachers” and as students of color face in their classrooms (Gutierrez, 2016, p. 274). However, I feel that I have a civic and moral responsibility to educate. Teaching is difficult, but when have moral responsibilities ever been easy? It is important to “resist intellectualizing the struggle, and instead, live it. Living it means action, such as taking risks in our everyday lives” (Gutierrez, 2016, p. 274). This dissertation in practice was a balancing act between intellectualizing STEM inequity and providing usable knowledge for improvement at the classroom or building level.

In the past my action research on the opportunity gap focused on qualitative data because In order to understand our national opportunity gap, one must first come to understand how students learn, which in turn, determines how teachers teach. Volumes of research have been conducted and a myriad of theories have been proposed as to how to solve this national epidemic in education. If learning and teaching were straightforward, we would have found a solution decades ago. At the time, I felt that I could not study my research questions using abstract or quantifiable methods, instead interrupting how particular focus group of students learned in order to improve my own developing pedagogy. This dissertation in practice study (at least my specific role) focused more on quantitative survey data from teachers, students and school leaders. I struggled to find meaning in
frequency tables, ANOVA tables, Cronbach’s alpha measures, and other statistical measures. My purpose was to gain new insights and possible explanations for an academic gap based solely on skin color. I wanted to be able to explain why certain learning behaviors and/or expectations existed at various elementary schools and teachers could increase STEM-foundational thinking in the classroom. I felt that I was missing key qualitative information about each school and the pedagogical practices present. For example, “if as a nation, we develop communities in which people can speak honesty and productively about racism and heal from its hurts, we can change biased practices and attitudes” (Singleton & Linton, 2006, p. 270). I believe that the single greatest hurdle in closing the STEM opportunity gap lies in having these conversations. If teachers are unable to discuss issues of race, privilege, oppression, and student achievement, then students of color will never perform to their fullest potential, with or without STEM opportunities. Worse, White students will continue to perpetuate a system that gives them privilege while supporting systemic racism. Racism affects everyone, not just the oppressed racial groups, and by not standing up as an ally, White students internalize these negative stereotypes, furthering systems of privilege and oppression. In life, we are all interdependent. As a society, either we all succeed, or we all fail. As a school, teachers need to be united behind a vision that promotes equity for every student.

I believe in using conscious, anti-racist dialogue among staff that will sustain and deepen authentic understanding about systemic racism, while working to dismantle those inequitable educational systems. In relation to STEM curriculum, these conversations about race and racism will work to ameliorate the lack of diversity, simultaneously improving student achievement in STEM by examining the racial stratification in these course and careers, and promote equal educational outcomes for students of color. It is not what teachers do or not do in the classroom that promotes equitable access for students of color. It is what they see or do not see. Studying urban elementary schools based mainly on survey data and archival documents (e.g.: mission and vision statements, curriculum maps) made it difficult as a researcher to truly get a feel for what is happening and not happening within each building. Although this is a mixed-methods multi-site, comparative case study,
I felt that our research team focused too heavily on quantitative data. Our results (see full findings report) indicate a scattered amount of STEM-foundational thinking occurring within buildings. In order to analyze these findings, requires a more substantial qualitative methodology. For example, I would have liked to break this research project into two phases. The first phase would be designed to determine teachers’ beliefs and expectations about marginalized students’ STEM-foundational thinking. I would also have liked to analyze this student population’s beliefs and academic networks that support their engagement in STEM curricula and achievement in STEM courses and instructional activities. The main instruments during this phase would be teacher and student surveys eliciting their beliefs about STEM-foundational thinking, academic achievement, and equitable STEM opportunities for students of color. I would supplement this data with student interviews in the second phase in order to understand students’ perceptions of themselves and teacher expectations of their students of color with regards to STEM-foundational thinking. I would use this interview data to construct a narrative of a sampling of students of color and an account of their school experiences in order to collaboratively create with students and teachers, a STEM learning community. This STEM-foundational thinking collaborative for students of color would be a three-year structured cohort of students and teachers designed to increase the achievement of students of color in STEM curricula, while influencing current educational gatekeepers (see Practitioner paper Recommendations for Practice for a more specific outline).

Facilitated study with C-PEER

I felt that the potential for ongoing relationships with school districts, schools, community organizations, and other higher education institutions was conductive to ongoing collaborative research based on the unique needs of each partner. Having individual schools or districts co-design research studies allow for the best chance of supporting student learning and growth at the school level. However, with C-PEER being in its inaugural year, many of these relationships have not yet been formed, making our doctoral work separate from broader, longitudinal studies already in progress in many metro school districts. For this dissertation in practice, we had seven participating schools and 65-85% teacher participation rate. Having such a small sample size, albeit decent teacher participation, makes our findings difficult to generalize to a school district in need of school improvement. With that said, the collaboration with doctoral peers made various aspects of this project easier (e.g.: IRB approval, data analysis, and dissemination of results). Having doctoral research tied to a broader research project gave me incredible insight into University-level research. Although messy at times, the research tools I learned as part of this doctoral program will help me greatly in my practice as an educator. Teaching is no longer just a job that I enjoy and do well. There is just too much at stake for it to just be a job. Teaching, and my educational leadership, represents my duty to encourage and elevate the thinking of today’s youth, especially my non-dominant students of color (Gutierrez and Arzubiaga (2008). And while I will continue to create communities within my classroom, my school, and district, and make meaningful connections to my students, I take the research methods and inquiry I learned seriously. I will apply this to challenging problems of practice within my school district. Through learning-focused leadership, collaboration, and effective STEM programming, I hope to encourage faculty to be anti-racist teacher-leaders. More importantly, however, I am satisfied knowing that I am a positive agent of change– an absolutely necessary change towards excellence and equity in STEM education.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


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Monday, October 17, 2016


The problem in U.S. Educational systems is simply stated, but very complex in nature: American schools were never designed to authentically educate students of color. Instead, schools in the United States marginalize and under-educate children of color, especially in STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities. In order to address issues of disproportionality and racial predictability in the lowest and highest achieving students, teachers must “engage [staff] in narratives that compel [them] to synthesize [their] knowledge and transform it into direct and measurable action” (Singleton, 2013, p. 7). Engaging every staff member is essential for implementing a STEM-equity leadership effort thereby closing these STEM opportunity gaps. In order to design equitable learning experiences that support traditionally underperforming students of color, we, as educational leaders, need to develop adequate indicators for the capacity of elementary schools to close STEM inequity gaps. Teachers need to be trained using stronger pedagogical frameworks that support marginalized students and accurately measure their success. The current metrics used, which determine the efficacy of pedagogical practices to close equity gaps, are not sufficient. For example, state standardized testing such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are not authentic indicators of the capacity for schools to close equity gaps. PARCC and other state measures are proximal indicators of student achievement, representing second- and third-hand effects of effective gap-closing efforts at the school and district level. I feel that academic growth, achievement, and assessment, no matter the design, all need to be authentic and culturally relevant to all learners. Students should not fear assessments because they should be presented as opportunities to share their knowledge, and or progress toward a learning goal, with the teacher. Teachers should not fear assessments because they should be received as such. Nothing punitive. Nothing final. Just a snapshot of where each learner is on the continuum of growth. I believe that educational leaders need to guide schools through multiple conversations speculating what the most accurate measures of success would be if applied an equity lens, and pinpointing the design of learning experiences and support traditionally underperforming, vulnerable student. These students, continuously marginalized by systemic prejudice and inequity, should be an active participants in setting their learning goals and action plans for achieving those goals. Student growth in STEM foundational thinking is measurable. STEM-foundational thinking connects principles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to solve problems face by individuals in society. Pedagogy focused on STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities instills a deep and extensive understanding of STEM content applied in real-world contexts. I feel that both students and teachers should be driven more by design thinking than by data. Teaching is an interaction and relationship between a teacher and a child. If one compromises this relationship in order to gain in standardized test scores, then they will be disappointed by the results. I believe that true academic achievement lies in creating a lasting, collaborative partnership between the teacher, student, and the community.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Recommendations for practice

Equity is “raising the achievement of all students while narrowing the gap between the highest and lowest performing students and eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories.” Anti-racism is “our conscious and deliberate individual and collective action that challenges the impact and perpetuation of institutional White racial power, position and privilege” (Singleton & Linton, 2006, p. 242). There is extreme value in understanding motivation and engagement in traditionally underserved students. The urgency with which systemic changes need to be made is always present. There will always be constraints or limitations to any inquiry into the racial opportunity gap. It is vitally important that we, as educators, mentors, and role models ask this one question: Do we have the will to educate all children?

Dr. Asa G. Hilliard (1995) believes:

the knowledge and skills to educate all children already exist. Because we have lived in a historically oppressive society, educational issues tend to be framed as technical issues, which deny their political origin and meaning. There are no pedagogical barriers to teaching and learning when willing people are prepared and made available to children.
If we embrace a will to excellence, we can deeply restructure education in ways that will engage teachers to release the full potential of all our children. (p. 200).

I believe that the inability to provide equal access and opportunity of STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities for marginalized students begins with an unwillingness to acknowledge how the presence of privilege and power continue to underserve students of color, further widening the gap between access and inequity. Instead of focusing on motivating these students, initially, I believe that concentrated efforts on getting teaching staff and other educational leaders to (a) acknowledge their complicity in the oppression of their minority students, thereby resulting in an achievement gap, and (b) using this racial consciousness to create structures that will recruit, encourage, and foster students of color in STEM curricula and future careers.

Although not presented in the literature review, Dr. Erica Walker, an associate professor of mathematics education at Teachers College, Columbia University, has focused her research on social and cultural factors that facilitate mathematics engagement, learning, and performance for traditionally underserved students. I believe that her framework for engaging marginalized students at the high school level in mathematics can be applied directly to promoting STEM-foundational thinking at the elementary school level. In fact, promoting STEM-foundational thinking is not “dependent on a particular curriculum” or amount of resources (Walker, 2012, p. 86). She outlines four components that need to be integrated systems-wide in order to increase participation in mathematics’ courses. I will discuss how I believe that each component can also be applied to STEM.

          Attention to rigor. Students need to feel that their academic pursuits and hard work mean something and are worth their time and effort. Rigorous and challenging instructional activities (e.g.: STEM-foundational thinking instructional activities) promote deep learning because “learning is optimized when students are involved in activities that require complex thinking and the application of knowledge” (Hess, Carlock, Jones, & Walkup, 2009). Hess’ (2009) Cognitive Rigor matrix explains to teachers how Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s (2005) Depth of Knowledge levels are both similar and dissimilar. For example, it is a tool used for examining the depth of understanding for different tasks that initially seem to be at comparable levels of complexity (see Table 4).

Table 4. Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix with Curricular Examples: Applying Webb’s Depth-of-Knowledge Levels to Bloom’s Cognitive Process Dimensions

By cross-examining Webb’s (2005) Depth of Knowledge with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Cognitive Process Dimensions, it allows teachers to become “more skilled at recognizing the elements and dimensions of cognitive rigor and analyzing its implications for instruction and assessment, provid[ing] learning opportunities that benefit all students” (Hess, Carlock, Jones, & Walkup, 2009, p. 8).  I believe that with appropriate, scaffolded support, teachers will be able to increase the amount of STEM-foundational thinking occurring in their classrooms (STEM-specific or otherwise) and deepening the learning of students.

          Attention to and validation of students’ everyday experiences and interests. Despite some beliefs, all students crave academic experiences that mirror their everyday experiences.  Students have a desire to feel efficacious with regards to their cultural and academic identities.  Therefore, it is up to teachers and other school leaders to connect STEM to students’ lives both inside and outside of the classroom.  Understanding how the sciences, technological advances, engineering, and mathematics are useful in everyday lives fosters a STEM-foundational identity that can and should be tied closely tied to cultural identity.  For example, cultural identity is one of six guiding themes of Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), a pedagogical framework originally discussed by Gloria Ladson-Billings, in her book The Dreamkeepers (2009).  CRE is a framework that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, and according to Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge from New York University, is the “epistemological offspring of Multicultural Education and Critical Race Theory; a mental model that is useful for identifying themes and tools of practices for closing opportunity gaps without marginalizing some students relative to others” (Stembridge, 2015).  Engaging students in STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities contributes to their development of content knowledge, as well as how their culture, race, ethnicity, gender, and academic abilities shape the perceptions of their STEM educational opportunities.  As teachers pay attention to and validate students’’ everyday experiences and interests, they are closing STEM equity gaps.   
          Focus on community. Learning is a social act.  Student collaboration and discussion are
essential elements of an engaging classroom and promote deeper understanding.  Elements of CRE and STEM-foundational thinking “encourage peer discourse as a critical part of teaching and learning” (Walker, 2012, p. 86).  By focusing on student learning communities, teachers promote STEM-foundational thinking while using CRE “engage students by drawing on their academic [STEM] knowledge as well as their social and cultural identities (Stembridge, 2015).   Students, in turn, will take responsibility for their learning and “feel responsible for each other’s learning” (Walker, 2012, p. 86).  A classroom that promotes and facilitates STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities is one promotes positive classroom behavior and a shared determination to achieve.
          Out-of-school/in-school mathematics experience connections (content and socialization). Traditionally underperforming students of color are best supported with instruction connects academic content with out-of-school experiences.  Whereas Walker (2012) focuses primarily on mathematics instruction, I believe that the same applies to STEM-foundational thinking.  When teachers use STEM-foundational thinking and deliberately design a learning experience that leverages students’ assesses, they are “bridg[ing] their academic and social identities” (Stembridge, 2015).  For example, there are numerous programs that seek to incorporate elements of this framework.  The Young People’s Project is affiliated with the Algebra Project, training young students to become “math literate” workers.  Paul Zeitz from the University of California Berkeley has created the Berkeley Math Circle, which exposes students to “engaging experiences in mathematics outside of mathematics classrooms” as well as “high-quality engaging mathematics within their local school contexts” (Walker, 2012, p. 87).  This model can be applied to STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities.

Building Mathematics Learning Communities as framework for STEM Learning Communities

There are implications for teachers, and the connection of creating classrooms that promote and foster STEM-foundational thinking.  Using the six themes of Culturally Responsive Education: (a) engagement; (b) relationships; (c) cultural identity; (d) vulnerability; (e) asset-focused factors; and (f) rigor, teachers will become attuned to instructional behaviors that are conducive to STEM-foundational thinking.  Teachers need to be aware that these behaviors “signal their interest in students’ [STEM] learning, and that students interpret these behaviors as indicators of teachers’ perceptions and expectations (or lack thereof) for student success [in STEM]” (Walker, 2012, p. 113).  I propose using Walker’s (2012) framework for building mathematics learning communities as a model for creating elementary-school STEM learning communities.  These STEM communities should focus on a few key concepts that Walker (2012) outline in her own conclusions.  First, STEM communities should not be viewed as a remedial program for underperforming students (Steele, 1997; Tresiman, 1992).  Second, STEM learning communities need to incorporate an academically supportive peer group that will foster learning and engagement.  Third, these communities need to be sustainable.  For example, school and district administrators need to make a commitment to creating and supporting STEM learning spaces within their elementary school buildings.  In order to foster teachers with skills in culturally responsive pedagogy (CRE), and the capacity to use this critical pedagogy in order to improve student achievement, I believe that frequent and continuous professional development throughout the school year is necessary.  District instructional coaches should be adequate trained in Culturally Relevant Education, Problem-based learning (Papageorgiou et al., 2015), and STEM-foundational thinking pedagogical practices (Basham, et al., 2010; Bybee, 2013; Drew, 2011; Myers & Berkowicz, 2015; Berkowicz & Myers, 2016).  School principals are responsible for their staff becoming culturally relevant in STEM-foundational thinking.  Closing STEM inequity gaps is the intended goal, and in order to be successful and to sustain this success teachers and administrators need to commit to having a racial consciousness in STEM classrooms so that STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities are not solely reserved for certain groups of students.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Recommendations for research

Current research needs to address two issues simultaneously: (a) How can one improve the performance of an elementary school (as an organization) through the use of sustained culturally relevant pedagogy to ensure that marginalized students receive a quality education, and that teachers develop a social consciousness that allows them to critique the basis of power and privilege in education? and (b) What are the components of elementary STEM opportunities to learn that foster interest, participation, and academic success in STEM foundational thinking and instructional activities, especially for marginalized students of color? Where our current research intended to focus on the latter, I believe that a more dynamic, longer-ranging study is necessary to understand the intersectionality of race, STEM foundational thinking, and systemic inequity. This could take the form of an inter-disciplinary study that uses mixed methods to study STEM foundational thinking. Doing so would give teachers and anti-racist school leaders tools that are backed by research in order to dismantle the current educational system both within their building and within their school district. I believe that future research should be grounded in the frameworks of Critical Race Theory, Culturally Responsive Education, adult learning, and STEM foundational thinking professional development design so that teachers can improve their pedagogy, thereby improving the quality of education for their students of color.

Although there has been much scholarship around the best practices surrounding the design and delivery of professional development (PD), adult and professional learning, evidence-based practices related to PD, thought leadership, online tools intended for more access and support, and equity and education (including Critical Race Theory), little has been done to combine these into a single, unifying professional learning approach in order to remove the academic disparities between racial groups within an elementary school setting (via STEM-foundational thinking). Most relevant to me is how discussing race among colleagues can have detrimental effects on a staff’s cohesiveness. These racial consciousness conversations about skin color, socio-economic status (SES), gender, and academic achievement need to come before any educational reform efforts. However, at times conversations around a students’ identity background and their perceptions of their own educational opportunities lead to unintended implications of racism on the part of individual teachers. Litowitz (1997) mentions “critics also worry that CRT’s emphasis on racism promotes ‘balkanization’ and racial divisiveness.” I have been witness to this in my own career as a teacher, educational leader, and instructional coach. I feel that the major reason a STEM inequity gap persists is because of a lack of open and frank communication between administrators, teachers, parents, and students about how different students learn, and the academic potential of traditionally underperforming students of color. We seem to recognize the need to differentiate instruction for our individual students’ needs; however, once the topic of race is added, people shy away from recognizing that students of different colors may learn differently (Cokley, 2003, p. 529) or are inhibited from learning based on systemic assumptions about their ability to achieve academic success.

Evidence-Based Leadership Strategies for Achieving Integrated STEM Foundational Thinking

Improving student achievement begins with evidence-based leadership strategies for improving the quality of instruction. Successful leadership (a) reinvents leadership practices to use a distributed leadership style, (b) organizes school supports for school improvement, and (c) turns schools into equitable centers of high-quality education. In the following sections, I will describe leadership
strategies that reflect current research on best practices for teachers and administrators. I will end with explaining how these interventions will produce significant gains in marginalized student achievement.

          Improved student learning through distributed leadership. Leadership projects, such as the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, have investigated links to improve student learning through leadership that focuses on “shared and contingent responsibility” and “on leadership exercised by those most directly responsible for student learning—principals and teachers” (Seashore-Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstom, & Anderson, 2010, p. 17). This distributed leadership philosophy has positive effects on teachers, students, and principals. For example, by creating an effective professional community, the staff creates a school climate that “encourages levels of student effort above and beyond the levels encouraged in individual classrooms” (Seashore-Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstom, & Anderson, 2010, p. 37). This is especially important for marginalized students because systemic levels of STEM privilege and oppression have caused these students to underperform in all content areas as compared to their White peers. By using professional development focused on STEM equity and racial consciousness, teachers will become STEM-foundational thinking facilitators and anti-racist leaders who instill the levels of trust necessary for increased student achievement in STEM content areas. Research indicates that “when the professional community focuses on the quality of student learning, teachers adopt instructional practices that enhance students’ learning” (Seashore-Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstom, & Anderson, 2010, p. 42).

          School improvement. STEM-foundational thinking and learning-focused leadership (a) means a “persistent, public focus at all levels of the system to improve the quality of instruction”, (b) invests in people and positions to enhance instructional leadership, (c) “reinvents leadership practice within schools”, (d) creates “differentiated, responsive relationships within schools”, and (e) uses evidence from many kinds of leadership work as constant reference points (Knapp, Copland, Honig, Plecki, & Portin, 2010). In order for professional development on race and STEM student achievement to be sustainable, closing the opportunity gap must be a priority at all schools, but especially within elementary schools where students’ learning experiences are more naturally integrated. This will require persistent focus from the classroom to the hallways, to the staff lounge, to the principal’s office; all levels of the system must be held accountable for closing this gap. Schools must invest in
this process by investing time, money, and in the teachers themselves. For example, successful professional development (e.g.: book study or STEM community cohort) require resources for teachers to use in exploring their own systems of privilege and oppression. This includes, but is not limited to staff meeting agenda time, books, substitute teacher pay for release days, individual grade level collaboration time, and guest speakers. By focusing on learning-focused leadership, the staff must identify and address problems of culturally insensitive instructional practice. To do this, requires STEM-focused teacher leaders to “model ways of thinking and acting [in a culturally-responsive manner]” and “developing and using tools in one-on-one assistance relationships” with marginalized students (Knapp, Copland, Honig, Plecki, & Portin, 2010, p. 14). Creating differentiated relationships within elementary schools, the principal must create “more responsive supervisor-teacher relationships inside the school” (Knapp, Copland, Honig, Plecki, & Portin, 2010, p. 15). For example, an instructional rounds model may work well for supporting this type of continuous professional development (Marzano, 2011; City, 2009). This would affect the way teachers are evaluated both formally and informally. Culturally responsive pedagogy must be a priority for all teacher evaluations. Finally, our professional development must use current data and evidence “provide continual feedback loops to teachers, teacher-leaders, and the school’s supervisory leaders” (Knapp, Copland, Honig, Plecki, & Portin, 2010, p. 17). Public schools are data-driven systems when it comes to content-area instruction; they must also be data-driven for anti-racist teaching and learning and STEM-foundational thinking.

Engaging others in the STEM-reform Effort

Engaging every staff member is essential for implementing this STEM reform effort to provide equal access and opportunities for STEM foundational thinking. Below I will define current research on collaborative research, and discuss the benefits and obstacles with these strategies.

          Collaborative leadership. Collaborative leadership “distributes power, authority, and responsibility across [a] group” (Anderson-Butcher, Lawson, Bean, Boone, Kwiatkowski, et al., 2004, p. 4). True collaboration require an interdependence “characterized by trust, norms of give-and-take, shared responsibilities, consensus-building and conflict resolution mechanisms, shared power and authority and shared information and decision-making systems” (Anderson-Butcher, Lawson, Bean, Boone, Kwiatkowski, et al., 2004, p. 2). Design principles and strategies for collaboration and collaborative leadership are numerous; however, here I will focus on three: (a) environment, (b) structure, and (c) purpose. Creating an environment of trust is the first priority for schools engaging in Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) professional development with a STEM-foundational thinking focus. Teachers must be willing to acknowledge their privileges and authority within the school system. Teachers must be willing to see systems of privilege and oppression clearly before they can analyze how the system works. The ability to compromise will be difficult for some, especially when denial of oppression is strong. Finally, in order to obtain our goal of closing these STEM opportunity gaps, teachers must be unified in that single purpose. Collaborative teachers must agree to this purpose before they can proceed. Research indicates that the use the professional development to illustrate how “commitment to the overall purpose will support their own interests” (Anderson-Butcher, Lawson, Bean, Boone, Kwiatkowski, et al., 2004, p. 9) is vital to sustainability. Collaborative leadership is definitely a team approach to solving school-wide inequity problems. There will be conflict, yet these conflicts must be handled tactfully so that teachers can get to the business of increasing the integration of STEM-foundational thinking in all content areas.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Chapter V. Conclusions, Discussion, and Suggestions for Future Research


In conducting this collaborative, mixed-methods, multi-site comparative case study with the Center for Practice Engaged Education Research (C-PEER), I wanted to understand aspects of systems that impact schools operating as effective learning communities, specifically with regards to systemic STEM inequities. In the following sections, I summarize my findings based on qualitative archival data coding and quantitative survey analysis. I revisit my original research questions and draw conclusions based on the data I received. My discussion of the data leads into two recommendations: (a) recommendations for future/continued research; and (b) recommendations for supporting teachers’ practice. It is my hope that these recommendations further the conversation around adult professional development and the pedagogical practices necessary for moving teachers to make meaningful changes current pedagogy, which perpetuates inequitable systems of learning.

Summary of Findings

This study intends to answer: (a) What elementary school structures support students in STEM curricular areas? (b) Do these supports differ for sub-groups of students, i.e. students of color, students in poverty, and English language learners? (c) What are the components of elementary STEM opportunities to learn foster interest, participation, and academic success in STEM content areas, especially for marginalized students of color? Researchers examined a combination of quantitative and qualitative data sources, which included the Effective Learning Teacher Survey (ELTS), the Effective Learning Leader Survey (ELLS), extant student perception survey data provided by the partner district, de-identified teacher evaluation data under the professionalism domain on the teacher evaluation rubric, extant district data, like school UIP’s and SPF’s, and archival documents provided by participating schools, including any professional learning plans and calendars for each school. Key findings from the participating schools in this focus-study include: (a) no evidence of integrated STEM-foundational thinking and STEM instructional activities into content areas; (b) a lack of an explicit STEM agenda for each elementary school; (c) no explicit structures in place for underperforming subgroups of students to access STEM-foundational thinking; (d) the alignment of student perceptions about a teacher’s ability to facilitate STEM-foundational thinking with reported teacher perceptions about current instructional practices and the schools’ identified performance level (as determined by the Colorado Department of Education); and (e) the misalignment between school’s perceptions about STEM-foundational thinking and instructional practices and teacher perceptions about the effectiveness of using STEM to in improving their pedagogy.

Conclusions (Organized by Research Questions)

Based on obtained qualitative and quantitative data, there are no elementary school structures present that support students in STEM curricular areas. Since there are no structures in place, students of color, students in poverty, English language learners, and other underperforming sub-groups, do not have access to STEM-foundational thinking and instructional activities. Based on current research, there are specific components that elementary schools can put in place to foster student interest, participation, and academic success in STEM content areas. These include (a) Culturally Responsive Education professional development; (b) collaborative, distributive leadership toward STEM-foundational thinking; (c) attention to rigor; (d) attention to and validation of students’’ everyday experiences; (e) focus on creating STEM communities; and (f) out-of-school and in-school content-area connections (Cokley, 2003; Litowitz 1997; Seashore-Louis, et al., 2010; Knapp, et al., 2010; Anderson-Butcher, Lawson, Bean, Boone, Kwiatkowski, et al., 2004; Hess, et al., 2009; Stembridge, 2015; Walker, 2012; Basham, et al., 2010; Bybee, 2013; Drew, 2011; Myers & Berkowicz, 2015; Berkowicz & Myers, 2016).