The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 13, 2000
November 13, 2000
VOL. 30, NO. 11


Team Time for Education Researchers

By Leslie Rice

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

There is a reason why the associate research scientists, or "the young guys," at the Center for Social Organization of Schools are such a congenial, tight-knit community of scholars. Back in 1995, when the first batch of them were hired, they formed a group called ARS (for associate research scientists) and made a point to meet once a month to talk about their research, exchange ideas and offer each other support as they navigate their way through publishing their work and toward becoming principal researchers.

Members of that group are now viewed by many as rising stars in national education research.

"These guys represent the next generation of leaders of the center, says James McPartland, CSOS director. "And without question they are definitely on their way to becoming national leaders in their specialties."

Among today's 'young guys' at CSOS are Robert Cooper, Shelly Brown, Janet Thomas, Toks Fashola, Mavis Sanders, Nettie Legters, Steve Plank, and Will Jordan. A number of the group contributed to Sanders' latest book, 'Schooling Students Placed at Risk: Research, Policy and Practice.'

The group, which started with Will Jordan, Amanda Datnow, Stephen Plank, Toks Fashola, Robert Cooper and Mavis Sanders, expanded within two years to include Susan Yonezawa, Geoffrey Borman, Robert Balfanz and Nettie Letgers. Since 1997, CSOS has continued to attract an impressive body of scholars who maintain the tradition of meeting on a fairly regular basis.

"The ARS meetings were so helpful, especially to those of us just starting out," says Sanders, who now holds joint appointments with CSOS and SPSBE's Division of Education. "They created a tremendous amount of support and the generation of interesting ideas and research."

It was out of these monthly meetings that Sanders came up with the idea for her latest book, a volume she edited that offers some of the most current thinking on issues that affect academic achievement among poor minority students in middle and high schools. Most of the contributors to the book are CSOS associate research scientists. Schooling Students Placed at Risk: Research, Policy and Practice in the Education of Poor and Minority Adolescents was published last month by Lawrence Erblaum Associates Publishers.

"The book's focus is on low-income middle- and high-school students, so there were some people in our group who didn't contribute--people who, for example, specialize in early learning," Sanders says. "Some people who contributed to it have since left, and there were a few people from my graduate days at Stanford who I asked to contribute. But really, I decided one day during one of our monthly meetings to edit this book because I looked around the room and realized that among our group, there was such a far-reaching and rich body of research on low-income adolescents╣ learning taking place."

The following issues are among those addressed by Hopkins contributors.

* Student-teacher relations and academic achievement. Mavis Sanders and Will Jordan find consistent evidence that teacher-student relations have a significant, positive influence on adolescents' success in school, measured by school conduct, classroom preparation and avoidance of behaviors that threaten academic progress. Their research also looks at the importance of a sustained teacher-student relationship as students move from one grade to the next.

* Why do so many urban public school students demonstrate poor academic achievement? Robert Balfanz contends that both a school's location within a particular district and state and its history shape its students' learning opportunities in many known and unknown ways. He argues that researchers and policy-makers need to pay greater attention to the environments that create weak and dysfunctional learning institutions. They cannot, he says, focus solely on the characteristics of the school by itself or its individual students when working to improve student outcomes.

* Talent loss: why so many high-achieving poor students never enroll in college. Will Jordan and Stephen Plank wanted to learn why so many of the country's top-achieving low-income students never go to college. They discovered that a primary reason why these students don't enroll in four-year colleges, despite their academic track records, is that they and their parents did not plan for college well. These students didn't take SATs when they should have or didn't enroll in the sorts of courses that appeal to college admission offices. Many also assumed they could not afford college and therefore never applied.

The study underscores the need for school administrators, faculty, counselors and parents to work together to provide precollege information, support and guidance to urban adolescents. Such action is needed, they say, to enhance the efforts of overburdened guidance counselors. Typically, in low-income urban schools, one guidance counselor serves about 400 students.

* Gender and the effects of school, family and church on the academic achievement of African-American urban adolescents. Mavis Sanders and Jerald Herting (University of Washington) find evidence that African-American male adolescents are less likely than their female counterparts to report high levels of teacher and family support or church involvement. African-American males also report lower academic self-esteem and achievement ideologies, higher levels of school misconduct and lower grades. The authors discuss ways that schools, families and communities can work together to provide academic and social support to African-American adolescents, especially African-American males, so that these students develop the skills, attitudes and behaviors essential for school success. * African-American student success in private schools. Robert Cooper and Amanda Datnow use interview and observational data to show factors that influence whether elite private schools create climates that promote the success of their low-income African-American students, as measured by college enrollment.

The authors show that to overcome the academic, social and psychological challenges these students face when entering such schools, they need a strong network of support. They argue that changes in school culture are necessary to ensure that elite independent schools are responsive to cultural diversity. Cooper and Datnow find that although many of these schools make symbolic commitments to racial diversity, they vary in the degree to which they incorporate these changes. The researchers attempt to illuminate the structures and cultures of elite private schools and suggest ways in which such schools can promote the success of African-American students.