Models of Exemplar ISHSs: What Are ISHSs and How Do They Work?

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 210G (San Jose Convention Center)
Sharon Lynch,George Washington University, Washington, DC
In 2010, President Obama issued a challenge to the U.S. educational system to create more than 1000 new STEM-focused schools, including 200 high schools (Obama, 2010). A PCAST report claims that the success of the U.S. in the 21st century, its wealth and welfare, depends on the ideas and skills of its population. To meet immense challenges in energy, health, the environment and national security, a greater portion of populace needs to be better prepared in STEM, and generally more STEM literate (PCAST, 2010). These problems have been documented for decades (NRC, 2007; USDOE, 2007). Unfortunately, progress has been slow.

          STEM-focused schools are viewed as promising for closing the STEM opportunity-to-learn and interest gap, as well as bolstering U.S. economic conditions. These schools have captured the imaginations of policymakers and business/industry leaders as an under-explored resource for improving STEM education and reaching more diverse students. However, despite the enthusiasm, there are very few systematic studies published on STEM high schools; the research base is remarkably thin (Carnegie Institute, 2009; NRC, 2011). 

                STEM high schools are categorized either as “selective” or “inclusive”. Selective schools have a long history and serve students who are identified as gifted/talented in STEM.  Inclusive STEM high schools (ISHSs) are more recent. They have a mission to provide a strong STEM education to students under-represented in STEM and increase their entry and participation in STEM majors, jobs and careers. These schools serve a range of “regular” students. Several states have built them into state STEM plans. In other places, they are used as a reform or turnaround model. However, there is no common definition, nor umbrella organization for ISHSs, nor is there systematic published research on their models or effectiveness.

                This session focuses on results from two current NSF-funded studies that are “companion” studies on ISHSs. One study intentionally focuses on cases of exemplar ISHSs across 7 states, aiming to build a theory of action to explain high functioning ISHSs. The other study is a quantitative comparative study of ISHSs and comprehensive schools that follows students longitudinally to ascertain the impact of attending an ISHS. These projects use different approaches to answer different sets of research questions, but help paint an increasingly vivid picture of the potential of the inclusive STEM school approach to building opportunities for students underrepresented in STEM as they close achievement gaps.