Enhancing Social Opportunity in a Post-Recession Era through Academic Climate for Adolescents and Young Adults

Booth, Margaret Z. (PI)
Manning, Wendy D.
Gerard, Jean
Frey, Christopher

Enhancing Social Opportunity in a Post-Recession Era Through Academic Climate for Adolescents and Young Adults
Spencer Foundation, Education and Social Oppportunity

A key factor to developing social opportunity in economically struggling populations is education beyond the high school level. High stakes testing and the penalization of schools and teachers when students fail has been the focus of many contemporary educational reforms (Kirp, 2014); however, evidence has emerged to re-emphasize the focus on positive school climates, including the building of trusting relationships in schools (Bryk, 2010). Relationship building has been a mainstay in educational research with young children (Kirp, 2014a) but not to the same extent for adolescents. Thus, assessments of academic achievement for adolescents and young adults, especially in communities facing economic hardship, are incomplete without attention to school climate.

This project investigates the long-term effects of middle and high school environments on attitudes toward and participation in post-high school educational opportunities and early family formation among a multi-ethnic low socioeconomic population in a school district hit hard by the recession. This research grant proposal seeks funding to extend an investigation of 1,044 adolescents (originally 12-16) who were part of a longitudinal study from fall 2009 to spring 2013 (AACS, 2013) and link state administrative records. The four year study investigated the relationship between middle and high school environmental contexts and academic and psychosocial development. Preliminary findings suggest that (a) student attitudes toward school and a sense of school connectedness are linked longitudinally to both self-esteem and academic self-efficacy (Booth & Gerard, 2012); (b) students’ hopefulness and academic aspirations moderate longitudinal associations between available social capital in the family and school environment and adolescent mental health (Gerard & Booth, in progress); (c) students’ ethnic identity is positively associated with their attitudes toward school (Booth et al., forthcoming); and (d) gender and race qualify many of these associations.

The success of this project required that we learn as much as possible and disseminate results from the initial four years of data. It culminated in a research conference with Lakeport* teachers in June 2015. The conference assisted in directing the investigation of post-high school activities the following year. The work provided a contemporary portrait of how middle and high school environments influence graduation rates, attitudes toward and participation in post-high school educational opportunities and early family formation. The focus was on the early risk and protective factors with attention to variation according to social class, race/ethnicity and gender.

*The name of the school district was changed to Lakeport for confidentiality reasons.

Adolescent Academic Context Study Presentations (June 10th, 2015)