Metro High School:An Emerging STEM Community Study Volume I
Monica S. Hunter, PhD & Robert Agranoff, PhD
Michael McGuire, PhD, Jill Greenbaum EdD, Janice Morrison,Maria Cohen, Jing Liu
(Reviewer Becky MacQuarrie)
Introduction and Overview
In many states only one in three high school students meet their state’s standards in math and English; nationally, only 71% of students graduate from high school. The figures become even more troubling once a student enters college. Nearly one third of freshman undergraduates require remediation before they are ready for standard college course work (Greene 2005, National Center for Education Statistics 2003).
Because of these statistics and the public opinion surrounding public education in America many advocate that education at the secondary level should be refocused to specifically target proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (Morrison 2007). To this end, several states across the US, including Ohio, have implemented STEM school initiatives.
Metro high school located in Columbus, Ohio is an example of a STEM program that is comprised of richly inclusive public/private partnerships. It was originally designed as a hybrid program drawing from 16 school districts around Franklin County. Today, Metro is comprised of a community of learners where holistic learning is both program and project-based.
With the passage of Ohio House Bill 119, Ohio lawmakers launched STEM education across the state and established five additional STEM schools. A key question for Ohio lawmakers and the researchers was “How do we take the best practices that have emerged from the Metro experiment and further incorporate them into a successful statewide effort to expand STEM education in Ohio?” The answer, in part, has been to use the Metro High School as a case study, to examine both the public/private network partnership that supports Metro, and to carefully look at the emerging community within and around the school.
The goal of this case study was to systematically explore the principles, processes, structure and expectations associated with the Metro High School community and network. The larger goal of understanding the Metro networked community was to identify the key mechanisms that ensure sustainability, and enable others to reproduce the Metro High School model in different locales where STEM education is emerging.
The researchers set out to conduct a research-based investigation to better understand effective education reform. In this approach, the study was a vehicle for providing information about the fundamental components of a learning community. This differs from the typical formal assessment and evaluation of educational programs that focus simply on whether the model is working or not. This study provides the opportunity to consider the foundational mechanisms, linkages and potentialities that will sustain the school as a system and contribute to the overall community’s growth. In essence, this study does not assess, but instead points to ways that further strengthen relationships, instill good practices, and nurture long-term, sustainable processes.
A case study approach was utilized in order to investigate the Metro networked community. To ground this approach, the researchers used Public Policy and Anthropology research methodologies as the basis of inquiry. This research focused on a case study approach because it contributed to the comparative understanding across different communities and situations where similar issues are at stake.
The overarching aim of this research study was to develop an evidence-based understanding of several inter-related elements that will assist with the successful development and application of the Metro model outside of Columbus. These include how the Metro network and community (1) affect academic achievement; (2) shape the social and cultural context for learning that has emerged at Metro; and (3) impinge on the policy and politics surrounding implementation.
This research approach was fundamentally ethnographic, with two distinct but inter-related components: 1.) the anthropological component of the study delves into cultural factors and community formation within the school and focuses on the teachers, students, and parents at Metro High School, and 2.) the public policy component examines primarily the policy and administrative networks outside the school that were pivotal in its formation, and that remain active in its stewardship.
Focusing on the individual strengths of each discipline, fieldwork was conducted in concurrent phases in order to achieve an efficient and more comprehensive coverage of the study group in a relatively limited time frame (January to April, 2008). Both disciplines relied on qualitative and quantitative data developed from unstructured interviews, guided discussions, questionnaires, and field observations, which allowed researchers to understand the emerging themes and patterns through an inductive process. The Anthropology Principal Investigator (PI) designed and led a multidisciplinary research team to investigate community dynamics within Metro High School. The Public Policy PI designed and led the guided discussions and conducted data compilation relating to the public policy and administrative networks. After the research teams independently analyzed their findings, both the anthropological study findings and the public policy study findings were assessed to determine recommendations/conclusions based on the common issues and themes identified in each study.
The Anthropological focus of the study examined the emergence of community within the school’s framework. Community, as used in the context of this research, is defined through ethnographic research methods that explore socio-cultural relations among teachers, students, and others directly engaged in learning processes at Metro High School. This component used an applied research approach to compare information across different communities, and was not intent on generating new theories.
The Public Policy focus of this study examined the structural and procedural underpinnings of both Metro’s formation and its current operations, to study how this networked community was impacted by the policy and administrative networks that are the cornerstone of the Metro model. The Public Policy portion of the Emerging STEM School Community research is a grounded theory or inductive study, in which the research design is intended to generate rather than validate any prior theory.
Data collection methodologies that formed the basis of the study included:
• Key Informant Open-Ended Interviews
• Written Survey/Questionnaires
• Guided Discussions
• Follow-up Interviews
• Demographic Mapping
The analyses of collected data was coded and synthesized through the use of software programs NVivo™ and UCINET 6™, as well as statistical analysis. The ethnographic research effort was guided by Rapid Ethnographic Assessment Process (REAP) which involves a great deal of triangulation. No audio or video recordings were made of interviews or observations. However, the team had access to videotaped recordings of the Town Hall Meeting that was held during the time period of the research project.
An iterative process contributed an additional level of inquiry to the research design. Handwritten field notes kept by each researcher were made of each observation, open-ended discussion, or interview, creating multiple records for a given interview or observation. Transcriptions were then produced of each interview/observation. All transcription files were coded and entered into an NVivo database. The transcribed interviews were later reviewed by the team as a group to conduct qualitative data analyses informed by the perspective of each discipline, providing multiple interpretations in an iterative process designed to achieve in-depth exploration of the data. This iterative process intended to identify recurring cultural themes and patterns that inform further analysis in later stages of research
The iterative process also required identifying and involving key informants in the research process, bringing an insider perspective to the design of the research. A key informant is someone who is involved in the situation under study, holds a primary role, and has the ability to inform the research team of the larger picture of the situation in the community, including history and background of the problem or issues that are being studied.
This study reveals that the STEM program embraces innovation in all facets of education.
Several lessons can be learned from the Metro STEM experiment:
1. The small school model is not the only STEM approach, but it enhances student pacing
(particularly toward mastery) and learning in the community and building of community.
2. Curricular design at Metro proves to be interactive with external participants from education, industry, government, and non-government organizations. While not an absolutely necessary condition, sufficiency in curricular design and instructional delivery is built by strengthening Metro’s STEM school ties to a higher education institution, that is, OSU.
3. The Metro students’ sense of relevance and learning are reinforced by the interaction between classroom and non-classroom experiences. The Metro community, including the extracurricular clubs and activities, builds long term interest in science, engineering, and related fields.
4. STEM success at Metro is built by turning weak ties, particularly with industry and applied science organizations in the community, into stronger ones.
5. Metro’s governance is highly interactive, with constructive feedback between administrators, advisory groups, its steering board, and its official governing body.
6. The Metro community of students, parents, teachers, and administrators are ultimately the carriers of the STEM concept as they jointly undertake the routines of the school curriculum and activities.
This study identifies how Metro High School has been successful because it inspires the
whole networked community to seek innovation in education; it values a commitment to accountability; it creates a nurturing community environment; it promotes problem solving; and it focuses on encouraging the program, staff, and students to realize their full potential. These components make up the Metro Network philosophy of sustainability.
Network and Community recommendations:
• The Metro High School community is a microcosm of the network.
• Partners are essential.
• Learning resources are found in the community.
• Expand the role of teachers and parents.
• Continuous feedback nourishes the network and the school community.
• Other policy resources are necessary (governance framework and infrastructure maintenance).
• Governance should be “conductive.”
Overall specific short term recommendations:
• Address issues regarding time management, especially lack of time (collaboration)
• Address challenges relating to the fear of meeting Mastery objectives
• Build new links between Metro and existing and new Learning Partners
• Create a distinct set of expectations for Metro teachers that convey their unique role:
• Address the lack of opportunity for teachers to meet required curriculum and program development
• Increase student involvement in out-of-classroom, field-based learning opportunities:
• Formalize the after-school clubs
• Improve communication to those outside Metro High School, including Parents and Learning Partners
• Extend the involvement of learning-site representatives into the network
• Consistently and continually communicate with the education community, both K-12 and postsecondary, about curricular matters
• Encourage the dissemination of STEM learning approaches from Metro to the 16 School Districts
1. Why is this research project considered a case study as it seems to have all the elements of a mixed method research study? What is the definition of a case study? Have all of our research projects done thus far in the program really been case studies?
2. Why did the researchers decide not to audio tape the interviews?
3. Do you think it is appropriate that Metro Administrative staff were asked to identify key informant parents and interviewees? Could a more random sample been used and have been more valid?
4. What is a key informant? Have you utilized a key informant in a past research study you have conducted? If so, please describe your experience. If not, can you conceive of how you would implement a key informant in a previous study you have conducted, or a study you are planning for the future? Explain.
5. What would be the next steps to be taken in the field of education to gain more of an understanding about STEM program sustainability and transferability?