Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Street Smarts, School Smarts, and the Failure of Educational Policy in the Inner City: A Multilectical Approach to Pedagogy and the Teaching of Language Arts

    Author:
    Gene Fellner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Tobin
    Abstract:

    Abstract STREET SMARTS, SCHOOL SMARTS AND THE FAILURE OF EDUCATIONAL POLICY IN THE INNER CITY: A MULTILECTICAL APPROACH TO PEDAGOGY AND THE TEACHING OF LANGUAGE ARTS by Gene Fellner Adviser: Professor Kenneth Tobin Over the past five years, I have mentored language arts teachers, and their students, in one of the poorest cities in the United States. Though official transcripts stigmatize most of these students as failures, their written and spoken words, and the ways they interact, show them to be intelligent, thoughtful, witty, and inquisitive. How could policymakers and school officials be so inept at assessing the students they are authorized to serve? In this dissertation, I explore why educational leaders ignore, suppress, and are oblivious to the incredible vibrancy and brilliance of the students I've worked with. I examine the disastrous consequences that result from official policies, mediated by the inadequacy of the theoretical lenses and the methodologies they employ. I suggest alternate lenses and pedagogical methods that welcome students in their multi-dimensionality, focusing particularly on practice in language arts classrooms. These facilitate the creation of an environment in which learning is an adventure rather than a chore, and writing a tool to explore students' ideas rather than an exercise in drudgery. Central to the inability of the educational establishment to evaluate my students is its fixation on measuring knowledge and enforcing standards that reflect dominant ways of perceiving and quantifying worth. I propose alternate "multilectical" lenses that are able to see students in their rich complexity. Multilectics makes visible the immeasurables on which student knowledge rides. These include curiosity, exuberance, thoughtfulness, and collaborative engagement. Because these qualities can't be measured in any static way, they are excluded as conveyers of knowledge by educational policymakers. Moreover, since these attributes are manifested through language in its fullest sense (speech, gesture voice), and student language is often suppressed because it threatens dominant discourse practices, the very tools students have to communicate are shut down. When schools prohibit the tools of expression that students have available to them, they censure the very essences of who these students are. Schools then become terrains of hostile encounters in which the values of academia clash relentlessly with the values of home and street. In the language arts classroom, the mania to enforce dominant standards and to quantify achievement at every level facilitates formulaic teaching and the prioritization of spelling and grammar over ideas and passions. Even though ten years of such enforced practices have not raised academic achievement, schools continue to dull down the curricula, taking the art out of language arts and turning it into a series of task-intensive exercises. In the final section of the dissertation I view a group discussion of a 7th grader's poem through a micro analytic lens. Perceiving students close up and in slow motion offers a new way to reveal their strengths and some pedagogies that serve them.

  • LEARNING TO STAY: A CASE STUDY ON AGROFORESTRY EDUCATION FOR THE SUSTAINABILITY OF RURAL YOUTH IN DARIEN, REP. OF PANAMA

    Author:
    Fulvia Jordan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Joel Spring
    Abstract:

    Attending and completing upper secondary school in Darién, located on the eastern side of Panama, presents several challenges for the youth; these are largely attributed to: 1) lack of access to upper secondary schools, caused by geographic and socioeconomic factors; 2) poor regional education policies; and 3) inadequate infrastructure (e.g. transportation, potable water and electricity) that supports inconsistent school attendance. The purpose of this dissertation was to learn about an alternative solution to the educational problems in Darién, offered by Colegio Agroforestal de Darién, a boarding school. The research question that guided this study was: in what ways does a school with an agroforestry curriculum contribute to the sustainable development of the youth in Darién? Sustainable development here refers to the prospects for students to improve their socioeconomic conditions as a result of their technical education, while acquiring competencies to support the preservation of their ecosystem (UNESCO, n.d.). Darién is the most sparsely populated region of the country--3.7 inhabitants per square kilometer--and the region with the highest rate of extreme poverty; Darién accounts for 52.7% of the national poverty rate (Contraloría General, 2008). It is also home to a diverse population; 23% Afro-Latino, 30% Indigenous and 47% Colono-Latino (IADB, 2002). Using a mixed methods approach informed by rural development and place-based education (Gruenewald, 2003) conceptual frameworks, the study focused on data from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 graduates and from the 2010 current students. Findings in this study revealed that graduates assessed their training in agroforestry --agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry and land management--as significant in preparing them for employment and motivated many to pursue tertiary education. However, limitations to the continued accomplishments of the school were also found. This study adds to the body of literature that links the practice of agroforestry systems in developing countries with poverty reduction (Garrity, 2004). Moreover, there is a paucity of empirical qualitative literature that speaks to the contribution of education, particularly in rural places, in the livelihood of youth in Panama.

  • The Social Network of US National Math Education

    Author:
    Mark Wolfmeyer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Joel Spring
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the emerging US national math education, its curriculum and purpose, with respect to the individuals and organizations comprising its social network. National math education means two things: a circumstance in which all students across the US are offered primarily the same instruction from among mathematical topics, and a process whose outcome is in the national interest. The method of inquiry relies on a new perspective of governance in which social networks operate among official governing structures. Upon constructing a representative social network surrounding US national math education, the following interests were found: developing a national math education that enhances the productivity of US workers, advocacy for either a traditional or reform mathematics pedagogy, improving the content knowledge of US math teachers, and a national math education that fuels an education services industry. Taken together, these interests undermine each other and are argued to fail at national math education's purported objective, namely, to increase the knowledge and use of mathematics by persons living in the US.

  • Assessing Emergent Bilinguals: Teacher Knowledge and Reading Instructional Practices

    Author:
    Laura Ascenzi-Moreno
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Ofelia Garcia
    Abstract:

    Assessments are viewed as primary vehicles for improving the educational outcomes of all students since they can lay the foundation for effective teaching practices. However, assessment can only achieve this effect of supporting student learning if the knowledge that teachers gain from using them is put into direct use in classrooms. This process of administering assessments, analyzing them, learning from the results, and subsequently tailoring instruction based on what has been learned about students is referred to as the assessment-instructional cycle. The assessment-instructional cycle is critical for all students. Yet, assessments of emergent bilingual students, in this case those students who are becoming bilingual by developing English language and literacy (often referred to as English Language Learners or Limited English Proficient students), most often do not accurately capture these students' knowledge. The problem lies in that for these students, assessments in English measure content knowledge as well as language (Abedi, 2009; García 2009). This obscures teachers' understanding of what these students know and may steer the assessment-instructional cycle off course. Using interviews and surveys, this mixed-methods study focuses on how teachers of emergent bilinguals view and use summative and formative assessment. The study also attempts to ascertain the kinds of knowledge that these teachers gain from the use of assessments, as well as the consequences that acquired knowledge has on their practices to teach reading. In the climate of test-based accountability, teachers are caught in a cycle of ritualized assessment practices. Ritualized assessment practices direct teachers to sort and group students under the guise of "analysis," and do not engage teachers in a solid examination of bilingual students' reading development. Ritualized assessment practices ultimately do not yield teacher knowledge that is meaningful to instruction. Furthermore, these ritualized practices change the character and use of these assessments - summative assessments are used formatively and formative assessments become summative. This study provides evidence that both summative and formative assessments are missed opportunities for teacher learning and do not fulfill the potential of providing teachers with a solid knowledge base of their bilingual students' reading development so as to meaningfully direct instructional practices.

  • Beyond the scores: Mathematics identities of African American and Hispanic fifth graders in an urban elementary community school

    Author:
    Paula Fleshman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Anna Stetsenko
    Abstract:

    As mathematics identity affects students' learning and doing of mathematics, it is critical to understand the mathematics identities of African American and Hispanic students as the mathematical performance and pursuits of far too many continue to lag behind. Further, as community schools have been shown to positively impact students in urban communities, it is also critical to understand how mathematics identities are developed within community schools. This study explores the culture, structures, and processes of an urban elementary community school including its afterschool archery program relative to fifth grade students' mathematics identities. It also explores students' math positioning, enactment, and perspectives in the classroom and archery. The theoretical framework encompasses multiple theories and perspectives: identity theory, cultural-historical activity theory, ecological systems theory, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Ethnography of one urban elementary community school was conducted over one school year plus summer camp using mixed methods. In total, 33 fifth graders and 13 adults participated in the study. In addition to school and community agency artifacts collected, observations inside and outside of the classrooms were conducted along with student brainstorming exercises and student and adult interviews. State math assessment scores were collected for 2009 and 2010 and pre- and post-surveys on students' mathematics beliefs and attitudes were conducted. While 7 out of 10 fifth graders favored mathematics and considered themselves as mathematicians, as defined in a broader sense that reflects habits of mind as opposed to simply skills, less than four out of 10 saw themselves in careers considered math- or science-related. Interestingly, students who had heard the word "mathematician" scored significantly higher on state math assessments than their peers who had not. In the classroom, students positioned themselves in different ways relative to their mathematics identity such as leader, helper, independent, math smart, social learner, and agent of their own learning. Outside of the classroom, the afterschool archery program bore positive relevance in students' mathematics identities, including a student with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, through culturally responsive instruction, a culture of respect, and goal-setting. Study results can inform community school processes, cultures, and structures as well as children's media.

  • Playing on Two Courts: Factors that Facilitate and Constrain Teacher Learning in a Lesson Study Group

    Author:
    Rebecca Rufo-Tepper
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    This purpose of this study was to explore the question "What are the factors that facilitate and constrain teacher learning in a lesson study group?" through an ethnographic case study of five teachers involved in a lesson study group at a Manhattan middle school. This study had two specific goals: (1) To contribute to existing theories on how and why lesson study leads to a sense of instructional improvement and (2) To examine the larger institutional and personal factors that may contribute to or present obstacles to instructional change. Data was collected over the course of two school years, and consisted of observation notes from lesson study meetings; observation notes of teachers in their classrooms; field notes; interviews with participants and school leaders; a variety of documents, including artifacts from the lesson study group, emails, student work, and memos; audio recordings of lesson study meetings and interviews, which were transcribed, and a pre-lesson study questionnaire and survey. In order to examine the factors inside and outside of the lesson study group that affected the learning of the participants, data was coded based on factors that facilitated a sense of growth and factors that constrained a sense of growth. A framework for data analysis emerged out of the data and consisted of four main elements: structural features of lesson study, foundational features of the school and larger system of schooling, experiences within lesson study, and teacher characteristics. Analysis suggests that lesson study can create a sense of growth in teaching practice, yet lesson study in itself does not always lead to instructional change. It appears that teacher characteristics, structural and experiential features of lesson study, foundational features within the school, and larger institutional factors both facilitate and present obstacles to change in teaching practice. Findings indicate that though teachers may feel a sense of growth in their practice, they still may not change their instruction or curriculum. The implication from these findings is that lesson study alone - at least for a short period of implementation - is unlikely to create long term change in instruction.

  • KEEPING COUNT OF ALL AND LOSING COUNT OF A FEW: THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATE

    Author:
    Shana Henry
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    The quality of the construction of the high school dropout rate is the policy issue investigated in this dissertation. This qualitative dissertation explores the constructs necessary to create a high school dropout rate and seeks to unearth complexities in the construction of the high school dropout rate. Every single year, approximately 1.2 million students do not earn a high school diploma. Dropout rates are one method of assessing the magnitude of the problem and helps to shed light on the health of the public school system. A number of researchers have questioned the accuracy of data reported by schools for public information. Current educational procedures regarding non-completion are ineffective with respect to calculating dropout rates. In the absence of clear standardization of student exit codes at any level of government, comparisons across states are arbitrary and therefore invalid and by extension meaningless. It is imperative to examine how the data is collected, reported, and verified. Several factors undermine the comparability that is assumed when educational statistics are reported. This investigation shows different ways by which high school dropout rates are constructed. The quality of the educational statistics should be paramount since they show trends in the health of the public school system and are useful for decision making. The youths that are exempt from counting in the dropout rate will continue to be ignored until this policy issue is addressed.

  • Fostering solidarity and transforming identities: A collaborative approach to elementary science teacher education

    Author:
    Christina Siry
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Tobin
    Abstract:

    This study explores the use of coteaching and cogenerative dialogue in pre-service elementary teacher education, and the ways in which sharing responsibility for learning and teaching can afford the development of solidarity and new teachers' identity transformations. Specifically, the research detailed in this dissertation focuses on learning to teach science in a field-based methods course taught partially on a college campus and partially in an urban elementary school. I used critical ethnography guided by the theoretical frameworks of cultural sociology and the sociology of emotions. The lens of phenomenology provided the contextual aspects of the individual experience, and design experiment was utilized as the research unfolded, affording continual redesign of the work. Issues of identity and group membership are central to this research, and I have explored connections between the emergence of solidarity within a group of teachers and the individual identity transformations supported through a collective sense of belonging. A key component of this study was an analysis of the co-responsibility nurtured through coteaching and cogenerative dialogue, and thus the dialectical relationship between the individual and the collective is critical to this research. At the individual level, I examined identity development, and individual participation in a field-based methods course. At the collective level, I considered the ways that participants form collective identities and group solidarity. Two of the chapters of my dissertation are coauthored with students, as I have sought to dismantle teacher-student hierarchies and replace them with complex relationships supported through polysemic and polyphonic approaches to research. In examining identity and solidarity as they emerged from this approach, I make the following contributions to science teacher education; (1) identify resources and practices in elementary science teaching that surface in a collaborative field-based framework, (2) investigate identity transformations that occur among participants in a collaborative field-based framework and (3) explore the ways in which this approach helped pre-service teachers and myself develop a sense of community. By fulfilling these connected goals, this research draws implications for teacher education programs and provides insights towards creating collaborative approaches to teacher education courses.

  • Art Museum Educators: Unveiling Perceptions of Theory, Method, and Preparation

    Author:
    Marcos Stafne
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    The aim of this dissertation is to contribute to the body of knowledge about art museum educators within the larger ecosystems of art and museum education. This study reveals museum educator perceptions about preparation and professional development experiences, their work with student groups in art museums, and how their understanding of educational theory and method shapes student interaction. A phenomenological qualitative inquiry was conducted with 10 interview participants and a larger survey was administrated with 123 respondents. Personal accounts were combined to create a narrative of the museum educator experience and were cross-referenced with broader survey data to complete an analysis of the landscape of experience. Following analysis and synthesis of the survey data and interview responses, four meaningful statements were uncovered: art museum educators are educationally and professionally experienced; art museum educators come from diverse educational and professional experiences; art museum educators must adapt to the circumstances of their working environments; when visiting museums, art museum educators prefer open-ended experiences that can promote social interaction. This type of experience is evident in the educators' enacted pedagogy with students in art museums. Exploring how museum educators understand their experiences unveiled how they perceive and practice educational theories and methods while working with student groups and how their preparation aided or hindered their abilities. Exemplary examples of art museum education preparation and professional development experiences were revealed through both survey and interview data. To strengthen the field of art museum educator preparation, recommendations for academic and alternative professional development as well as institutional collaboration were identified.

  • Racialized Identities in a Colorblind Context: Filipino American Youth Negotiating Discourses of Race, Identity, and Diversity in School

    Author:
    Erica Chutuape
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Jean Anyon
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is an ethnographic study that examines the discursive process by which 1.5 and second generation Filipino American students construct racial and ethnic identities in the context of school. Using a theoretical framework that focuses on the racialization of immigrant students, this study investigates some of the underlying assumptions about race, ethnicity, culture, and diversity that impact the institutional discourses in a large, northeastern high school. It explores the discordance between a context in which race is not supposed to matter and students' experiences with race everyday. Findings suggest that at the institutional level, race is viewed as polarizing, rooted in bias and prejudice, and a threat to community. Thus, discourses are aimed to defuse and downplay race by calling for students and faculty to put racialized differences aside. In contrast, race proved to be a significant factor in youth participants' daily school experiences. They participated in activities bounded and defined by race, and dialogued with their peers about ethnic and racial categorical meanings, which manifested in conversations as cultural stereotypes, yet verged on outright racism. Findings also show how Filipino youth found innovative ways to offer alternative representations to dominant perceptions of culture. Traditional notions of culture and identity as fixed were challenged and instead are shown to emerge as socially-embedded systems of meaning. Importantly, this study provides a deeper understanding of the interracial connections not just between non-whites and whites, but among non-whites. Filipino American youth in this study contended with a dominant bipolar racial discourse that marginalizes the racialized experiences of Asians and Pacific Islanders. However, instead of feeling invisible or marginalized data point to how they negotiated a black-white racial discourse to decide when and how they enter dialogues about race. Youth reconceptualized this racial binary to position themselves on a continuum to form the racial "middle ground" between blacks and whites. Importantly, rather than a racial hierarchy that places whites at the top, youth used discursive strategies to place themselves on a racial continuum that emphasizes the interconnectedness among racial minorities.