Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Inclusive STEM High Schools Increase Opportunities for Underrepresented Students

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Inclusive STEM High Schools Increase Opportunities for Underrepresented Students

Article excerpt

A distributed leadership model propels innovative STEM high schools to produce graduates ready for college and prepared to successfully major in STEM disciplines.

Inclusive STEM high schools are relatively new in the U.S., yet they have policy implications for school reform, STEM initiatives, and improving opportunity for all students. Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee each have launched statewide initiatives to boost the number of inclusive STEM high schools--known as ISHSs. These schools accept students primarily on the basis of their interest in STEM rather than aptitude or prior achievement. The goal of this type of STEM school is to prepare students to be successful in a STEM college major by providing a program of studies with greater depth and breadth than their states require for high school graduation (Lynch, 2015; Means et al., 2008).

ISHSs intentionally recruit and enroll higher proportions of students from groups often underrepresented in STEM--African-Americans, Hispanics, women, students from low-income families, and first-generation college goers. With admission by lottery, ISHSs are schools of choice; students are interested in STEM and are willing to work hard in a college preparatory environment.

Our research study, Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration, focused on eight carefully selected ISHSs that are building opportunities in STEM for underrepresented students (Lynch, 2015; Peters-Burton et al., 2014b). Table 1 shows demographics of the eight schools, which are highly diverse and scattered across the country. They have no formal affiliations with one another.

Experts in the field nominated a pool of schools for the study, eventually winnowed to the eight schools in Table 1. The schools required students to take broader and deeper STEM coursework than mandated by their respective states and school districts and had outcome indicators that demonstrated substantial academic achievement and other measures of school success. For instance, they have higher attendance, graduation and college admissions rates than schools with similar demographics, and often score higher on state assessments. The study set out to identify the schools' critical components and to build a logic model to explain how they create opportunity structures and guide students toward success in STEM (Lynch et al., 2011).

We found that one of the unique features of the schools was how their administrative structures were organized and how leadership was distributed among school administration, teachers, and sometimes students. Each school had a clear sense of its mission-driven purpose: to graduate students prepared for STEM college majors including students from underrepresented groups. These schools blurred boundaries between formal and informal education, reconfiguring relationships among teachers, students, and knowledge (Coburn, 2003; Elmore, 1996).

Support for the school mission

The schools had flexible and responsive administrative and organizational structures. Often they were held to fewer school district rules and regulations than more traditional schools, giving them more freedom to explore new options to achieve their STEM mission and goals. These ISHSs focused on innovative instruction, and they accessed STEM resources in their community to enrich student learning, creating schools that were outwardly-focused. Leadership was distributed formally and informally --formally by school leaders' delegation to others and informally through collaborations that arose among teachers and members of the STEM community. Together, administrators and teachers managed complex school environments aiming for continuous improvement. For example, the Wayne School of Engineering in Goldsboro, N.C., synchronized its class schedule and calendar with that of a local community college so that students could take classes on both campuses, enriching the rural school's offerings (Peters-Burton et al. …

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