Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Youth Engagement: A Study of the Impact of Students' Beliefs and Attitudes towards Civic Participation

    Author:
    Ramón Robles-Fernández
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    This dissertation studies the impact of after school clubs and service learning activities on students' beliefs and attitudes towards citizenship (civic participation in a democracy), civic engagement, and political and social participation. This study focuses on two different organizations: Spectrum, a Gay-Straight alliance; and AMIGOS, a service learning program. Both environments presented students with opportunities to engage in civic activities, while informing their understanding of citizenship (civic participation). The purpose of this study was twofold. First, I wanted to better understand the impact of after school clubs and service learning activities on students' beliefs towards civic participation and civic and political engagement. Second, using as my lens such issues as empowerment, inequality, oppression, domination, and alienation, I sought to gauge whether participation in programs like the ones above altered preconceived ideas students held about others. A mixed-methods approach (quantitative/qualitative) was used to examine the impact of participation in AMIGOS and Spectrum. Data sources included participant interviews, surveys, field notes, observations of training/meetings, and documents. Data were first analyzed separately and then triangulated to investigate consistency in the findings. Data from the observations were analyzed at three different stages: (1) analysis done as an on-going process while reflecting on what was observed; (2) analysis after the study was completed; (3) analysis performed over the summer, after some time and at some distance from the study. AMIGOS provided volunteers with ideal opportunities to build a sense of civic and political engagement in youth. AMIGOS integrated key elements identified by current research: it provided opportunities for teaching about civic and political engagement, and provided opportunities for reflection. In addition, it incorporated real activities: students spent from six to eight weeks in a host community trying to effect positive change. Finally, their efforts were supported, recognized and praised by family members, the communities they come from, and the communities they were assisting. Spectrum also had the potential to build a sense of civic and political engagement in their members. However, they faced challenges that risked lessening their potential impact. The club engaged in "teaching" about civic and political and engagement and provided the members with opportunities to engage in real activities. However, they did not always receive the support and recognition of their communities (school) or families, and often faced opposition to achieving their goal of equal LGBT rights.

  • 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.

  • Death of a Dropout: (Re)Theorizing School Dropout and Schooling as a Social Determinant of Health

    Author:
    Jessica Ruglis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I posit that schooling is a social determinant of health. Employing a mixed method, participatory action research design, this study examines and offers original theorizing on the ways in which schooling affects educational and health outcomes. This research explores how and why education is the most significant predictor of lifetime health. Grounded in critical race theory, this dissertation spans conceptual frameworks from critical theory, participatory action research, political economy, social and environmental psychology, social epidemiology and public health as a way to understand the relationship that education level has to health. It offers a detailed analysis of the relationship between education and health, the current graduation rate crisis and its historical origins, school dropout and the costs of diploma denial. I describe the research process of the youth participatory action research collective called ProjectDISH (Disparities in Schooling and Health) formed for this study. ProjectDISH created the research questions, methodology, design, protocol and methods of analyses for this mixed-method (mapping, focus groups, and survey) research study. The purpose of our research was to investigate and document the ways in which schooling and health are related, and how racialized urban educational inequities and outcomes correlate with health disparities. Supporting literature and policy suggestions are woven throughout the findings chapters. I end this dissertation by introducing a new theory of school dropout, called school non-completion, as a way to speak back to, reframe and move forward the discourse, research, policy and practices concerning school dropout. The concluding chapter also provides methodological considerations and policy recommendations for this work.

  • 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.

  • The effects of bilingual instruction on the English emergent literacy skills of Spanish-speaking preschool children

    Author:
    Zoila Tazi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Ofelia Garcia
    Abstract:

    Numerous studies have shown that early childhood education (ECE) contributes to educational attainment particularly for poor children. Nationally, ECE has gained considerable backing as a viable intervention to propel achievement. As ECE comes to the fore, census figures indicate that Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the United States. Latinos have persistently experienced greater rates of poverty and other risk factors that adversely affect educational attainment. Multiple risk factors as well as a "cultural mismatch" with a school system poised to educate white, middle-class, English-speaking students, raise alarm for the educational trajectories of Latino children just entering schools. Racism and linguicism exist as the social backdrop that informs public opinion regarding the education of Latino preschool children. In this context, bilingual instruction for these children may represent a libratory as well as effective pedagogical approach. This quantitative causal comparative study looks at the combined effectiveness of early childhood education and home language instruction on the English emergent literacy skills of Spanish-speaking preschool students randomly assigned to monolingual instruction or bilingual instruction. Over the course of two early childhood years - Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten -- the students' scores on multiple measures of emergent literacy skills were compared and analyzed. Results indicate that bilingual instruction offers key advantages to Spanish-speaking preschool children that mitigate some of the negative impact of poverty on achievement. Patterns emerge in the results that indicate that bilingual instruction can also potentially neutralize the association between a mother's low educational attainment and decreased achievement for the child. The multiple assessments of emergent literacy skills utilized in this study reveal inadequacies in timed fluency measures, common throughout the United States, for a population that is developing English language skills. This suggests the need for appropriate assessments that do not disadvantage second language learners. As a comprehensive analysis of what occurs in the first two years of school, this study presents compelling evidence. Bilingual instruction emerges as a powerful protective factor for young Latinos which neutralizes substantial risks while it produces comparable rates of achievement with emergent bilinguals receiving instruction only in English.

  • College Students with Learning Disabilities in New York City: A Mixed Methods Study of Social Class and Success

    Author:
    Ashleigh Thompson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Jean Anyon
    Abstract:

    This study explores ways in which socioeconomic status and disability shape the academic experience of New York City college students with learning disabilities. Despite laws and policies designed to provide them with accommodations, college students with disabilities do not attain higher education at rates equal to their nondisabled peers (NCES, 2000). This mixed methods study examines policies, practices and perceptions at four-year institutions in New York City, and explores how the socioeconomic class of students affects their experience in schools and indicators like attendance patterns, persistence and graduation. Administrative data compiled and analyzed for a sample of baccalaureate-granting institutions in New York City (n=44) show that 43 percent of students city-wide qualify for and receive need-based federal grant aid. Colleges with lower percentages of Pell-usage (higher student body SES) have higher percentages of students with disabilities. Numbers of students with disabilities in New York City are largely underreported at about 3 percent, falling short of state and national averages. Survey data from Disability Services Officers at these institutions (n=21) and interviews with staff and students (n=19) provide supporting quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate the ways colleges create environments that enable or hinder student success. Theoretical considerations of political economy and meritocracy interrogate the notion of how students are judged to be academically successful. Informed by these data and perspectives, recommendations for policy and practice focus on constructive ways to identify and support all students with disabilities in order to help them succeed in higher education and realize stronger economic futures.

  • Education Policy and the Mathematics Curriculum in New York City Middle Schools, 1958-2002

    Author:
    Joseph Valley
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Gold
    Abstract:

    Education Policy and the Mathematics Curriculum in New York City Middle Schools,1958-2002 This study investigates how mathematics education policy and curriculum in New York City changed over the period from 1958 through 2002. It looks at the events leading up to the ¯new math era, the back to basics movement, and the Standards movement initiated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in 1989. Since this period is bounded by two important pieces of legislation, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA),1958, and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) 2001 an assessment of the arguments for and against the federal intervention in education is essential. The research methodology used for this study is the investigation and analysis of primary sources and secondary data. The primary sources consisted of archival data containing records of mathematics education policy decisions, reports of meetings of officials of the New York City Department of Education, and curricula reforms over the last fifty years. The secondary sources of data came from previous mathematics education studies in the research community, including national studies that had selected New York City as a local site. Also, major pieces of relevant scholarly work on mathematics education were consulted. After a thorough review of the relevant literature and a careful study of the data obtained from the various source documents, it could be argued that notwithstanding the best efforts of many chancellors: a) the decline of the mathematics scores as students move from the elementary to the middle grades was never fundamentally better; b) the overall mathematics scores in grades 3 through 8 are still unsatisfactory; c) the achievement gap between students in poor neighborhoods and their more affluent counterparts is still cause for concern; and, d) there is still a persistent shortage of mathematics teachers in New York City schools. I further argue that since these problems have defied all attempts to solve them under the present system, it is obvious that a more concerted effort need to be made to understand the reason for these failures in the interest of the city`s children.

  • Educational and Occupational Aspirations of Undocumented Youth

    Author:
    Alejandra Varela
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Nicholas Michelli
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT Educational and Occupational Aspirations of Undocumented Youth by Alejandra Maria Varela Advisor: Dr. Nicholas Michelli This study explored the educational and occupational aspirations of a group of undocumented Mexican youth by using quantitative and qualitative methods. A total of 125 participants, 62 documented and 63 undocumented, participated in the quantitative part. From this overall total of participants ten, (five males and five females) participated in in-depth interviews. The results of the quantitative phase indicated that the undocumented youth aspire to acquire a post-secondary education at almost the same rate as the documented youth despite the fact that they are unauthorized, have spent an average of ten years in the States and are not fully proficient in English. The fact that they are undocumented and face serious barriers in accomplishing these dreams did not act as a major barrier in precluding from having high aspirations. Consistent with the quantitative analysis, the qualitative data also showed that the undocumented youth are highly confident in their belief that having a higher education would eventually lead them to obtain the jobs they want even though they face such structural barriers. Time and time again during the interviews the youth explained the importance of education in their lives and asserted the fact that they want to have jobs where they are respected and where they can make enough money to support their own families. In the interviews, the youth demonstrated an awareness of how their condition of illegality might prevent them from reaching their goals, and while this is a source of great distress, confusion and uncertainty, they still continue to persevere in looking for any educational and employment opportunities available to them.

  • Stability and Change in New York State Regents Mathematics Examinations, 1866 - 2009; a Socio-Historical Analysis

    Author:
    Robert Watson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Susan Semel
    Abstract:

    This dissertation illuminates relationships between micro-level practices of schools and macro-level structures of society through the socio-historical lens of New York State Regents mathematics examinations, which were administered to public school students throughout the State of New York between 1866 and 2009, inclusive. Fundamental research questions involved in this study are: 1) How has the classification, framing, and assessment of Regents level mathematics curricula in the public schools of New York changed since 1866?: and 2) How has popularization influenced the contents, structure and academic rigor of Regents mathematics examinations? Basil Bernstein's theory of educational transmissions provides a theoretical framework for the study, as does the lens of credentials theory. Expectations and beliefs based on theory and historical narrative are subjected to critical and empirical analyses using a longitudinal research sample containing 204 Regents mathematics examinations with 5,508 individual problems, representing the entire population of extant Regents mathematics examinations administered in the years 1866, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1909, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2009.

  • Social Capital and High School Graduation Rates

    Author:
    John Wenk
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Urban Education
    Advisor:
    Jean Anyon
    Abstract:

    Social capital theory, and to a lesser extent, cultural capital theory, have become popular theoretical constructs for understanding the replication of SES both in and out of schools. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated connected a student's stock of social and cultural capital and academic success. Fewer studies, however, have analyzed the various dimensions of social capital to gain a more nuanced understanding of how it may contribute to academic success, and fewer still have gone beyond the individual to study social and cultural capital at a school-wide level in order to understand it as the communal property of a group the way that Bourdieu and Putnam have theorized. This mixed method study uses pathway, multiple regression analysis to evaluate the interrelationships between various forms of social and cultural capital and measure their relative power to predict urban high school graduation rates. This meso-level study uses the school as the unit of analysis and considers school size, income levels and racial and ethnic mix. The qualitative portion of the study then reports on subsequent interviews of students from a school with robust levels of social and cultural capital in order to explore how these resources were transmitted, generally through extracurricular activities, to the students and how they may have used them to facilitate their graduation. The results of both the quantitative and qualitative portions of the study support the hypotheses that extracurricular activities facilitate the attainment of peer and institutional social capital, and that the presence of these forms of social capital, along with teacher social capital and robust information networks, predict a school's level of norms and sanctions (safety) which, in turn, is a strong determinant of graduation rates. The demographic analysis indicated that small schools tend to be more successful in building the social capital of its students and teachers, and that social capital is a more significant predictor of graduation in schools with high levels of minority students.