Primary School Organizations as Open Systems: Strategic External Relationship Development to Promote Student Engagement in STEM Topics

This study explores the following issues in 9 schools across 3 neighborhoods: (1) How student engagement in STEM is enabled and constrained by the school's relations with its external community; (2) The similarities and differences in partnerships across different types of schools in three different urban neighborhoods by mapping networks, and assessing the costs and benefits of creating, maintaining, and dissolving network ties; and (3) How to model school and network decisions, relations, and resources using an operations research framework.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1344266
Funding Period: 
October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2016
Full Description: 

This INSPIRE award is partially funded by the Science of Organization Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate, and the Math and Science Partnership Program and the Discovery Research K-12 program in the Division of Research on Learning in the Education and Human Resources Directorate.

Our country faces a decline in student engagement, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines and among underrepresented minority groups. Most often this problem is discussed in the context of an achievement gap, where racial and socioeconomic groups perform unequally on academic assessments. To understand what creates the achievement gap, researchers must understand the STEM "opportunity gap" that exists between students from different backgrounds, where these same students achieve differently because of varying exposure to out-of-school enrichment and learning experiences. The STEM opportunity gap arises from the inequity of out-of-school learning experiences for children. Therefore, efforts to engage minorities and women in STEM in primary schools will only succeed if we consider the complex organizational environment in which primary schools operate. The focus of this study is on what interorganizational relationships are necessary for schools to maintain to ensure equitable, efficient, and effective opportunities for students to engage in STEM. External relationships require schools to commit time and resources, and schools must decide which relationships to develop and maintain. Understanding what kinds of relationships particular school types invest in and what level of effort to commit to maintaining those relationships is important for improving student engagement opportunities in STEM.

Specifically, the study explores the following issues in 9 schools across 3 neighborhoods in Chicago, IL:

(1) How student engagement in STEM is enabled and constrained by the school's relations with its external community.

(2) The similarities and differences in partnerships, particularly STEM-related partnerships, across different types of schools in three different urban neighborhoods by mapping networks, and assessing the costs and benefits of creating, maintaining, and dissolving network ties.

(3) How to model school and network decisions, relations, and resources using an operations research framework. The model prescribes network configurations that address strategic, tactical, and operational concerns, to ensure the school will equitably, efficiently, and effectively utilize partners to improve student engagement in STEM.

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