Hunter, M. S., & Agranoff, R. (2008). METRO High School: An Emerging STEM Community.
Introduction and Overview
With the passage of Ohio House Bill 119, Ohio lawmakers launched STEM education across the state and established five STEM schools based on the success of Metro High School. 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, was to use the Metro High School as a case study, to examine both the public/private network and community formed at Metro, and to carefully look at the emerging community within and around the school.
The goal of the 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 utilizing anthropological methods. 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 short 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.
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. 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.
- What other areas or problems in education might the anthropological approach be required in order to gain insider perspectives and knowledge? Why might this be the only appropriate method to obtain this perspective?
- If you were to utilize investigator triangulation in an area of research interest, who would comprise your research team and why?
- In the projects for Dr. Wise, do you feel the key stakeholders are the same or different than the key informant? If not, who would be the key informant and why?