On the Eve of AERA, PhD Students Practice

Pictured from left to right: Tyler Ames, Kelly Siegel-Stechler, David McKinney, and Daniel T. Shackelford at the practice session before the big event.

by Jim Sheehan

Over the past few years, students in the School of Education’s PhD program have tackled some of the most pressing and thorny issues in education. They have performed meticulous research to exacting standards. They have defended their methods and conclusions to peers and advisers.

This past week, they made it to the big show.

They presented their findings to the broader education research community at the venerable 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), considered the largest gathering of scholars in the education research field. Convening approximately 14,000 participants, the five-day conference, held April 13-17 in New York this year, is a showcase of research studies across education disciplines at all levels.

From measuring elementary students’ motivation to learn science to testing whether extracurricular participation truly helps students make it to the college level, SOE PhD students are passionate about making solid contributions to improving education through their research. Here’s a look at four of them as they prepared to present the fruits of their labors through practice presentations before the big event at an in-house session on April 11.


Tyler Ames
Increasing College Enrollment: The Difference Between Traditional and 21st-Century CTE Clusters

Tyler Ames’ personal experience as a carpenter helped shaped the direction of his doctoral studies. After taking woodworking in high school, he considered a career as a shop instructor.

“Building fine furniture, where a thousandth of an inch matters, is not easy,” he said. “Skills in geometry, drafting, planning and foresight, as well as technical execution are all required and enhanced. I felt like students could learn so much in the applied environment that career and technical education provided.” This led to a master’s degree in technology and engineering education from Utah State University, and a year as a middle-school instructor of introductory career and technical education (CTE).

Deeply interested in how educational policy can build human capital that redresses socioeconomic, racial and other inequalities, Ames has found that there is not a lot of research on CTE programs. It’s a scarcity he hopes to improve through his research, because these programs “serve high school students most at risk of dropping out.”

In looking at whether participation in CTE is associated with increased college enrollment immediately after high school, he parsed CTE into two groups—those that provide training in traditional employment fields—cabinetmaking, auto repair, and cosmetology, for example—and those that provide training leading to “21st-century” employment fields, such as engineering, health, and computer science.

Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, Ames’ research employed hierarchical generalized linear modeling on a multiply imputed dataset, statistical techniques that involve significant effort in collating data as well as in reporting.

He found that among CTE students, those who participate in 21st-century CTE enroll in college more often than those who participate in traditional CTE, but that “the effect on college enrollment is not settled.” For Ames, one of the primary takeaways is that CTE represents a wide range of career pathways rather than a common set of similar trades. Since outcomes differ across these pathways, a “deeper dive,” such as identifying 21st-century employment fields, is needed.


David McKinney
Measurement of Expectancy, Value, and Cost Motivation in Young Science Students

David McKinney is interested in promoting scientific literacy for all students. His research focuses on motivation in elementary science students: how their motivation changes over time, and what that can tell us about their future achievement and academic choices.

Before coming to Hopkins, McKinney taught middle-school math and science in the Bronx and in East Harlem, New York, for one year and seven years, respectively. He recounts that as a teacher, “one of my major daily tasks was convincing students that the work we were doing was meaningful—and that they would be able to do it.”

That experience with motivation as a critical factor drew him to expectancy-value theory (sometimes described as expectancy-value-cost theory). Traditionally, expectancy-value models have centered on the importance of two components in promoting motivation: the expectancy of being successful at a task and the value of engaging in the task. Many who find this model useful, however, add a third factor: the perceived cost of the activity.

From his teaching, McKinney saw that when students considered taking on new material, the perceived cost seemed to bear a direct relationship to their academic motivation. In his research, he sought to validate a measure of “science-specific” expectancy-value-cost motivation within a sample of diverse, urban school-district students in grades 3 to 5.

He found that on average, older students in the sample had lower task expectancy, task value, and perceived costs compared to the younger students. He determined that perceived cost was a particularly strong predictor of achievement for the sample group, especially with science test scores, though also with math and ELA scores—and a productive area for further study.


Daniel T. Shackelford
The Argument for Debate: A Multilevel Analysis of Extracurricular Activity Participation and College Matriculation

Before coming to the School of Education, Daniel T. Shackelford taught at a high school in Detroit through the Teach for America program. “While I like to think I made a difference in the classroom as a world history teacher,” he said, “I saw the most gains in my students after school on the debate team.”

Shackelford’s research studies the effect of extracurricular programing on student outcomes, particularly for low-income students and students of color in urban areas. As with so many other resources, he finds that “extracurricular programming is not equally distributed across schools.” Impoverished students typically do not have access to a range of extracurricular options, and as he writes in his abstract, “Structural barriers result in urban youth spending less time engaged in organized activities outside of school compared to wealthier suburban youth.”

The prevailing research suggests that the structure of extracurricular activities is what matters: factors such as coaching, peer mentoring, sharing of cultural norms, and after-school supervision.  The implication is that almost any extracurricular activity will do. In contrast, Shackelford is contributing to an emerging body of research that has focused on programs that are more academically-oriented, taking the qualities of specific extracurricular activities into account.

Naturally, his research used high school students’ participation in debate activities as an exemplar. He examined the academic achievement and engagement outcomes of students participating in the Baltimore Urban Debate League, and here focused on one relevant outcome—college matriculation—and its association with debate when compared to participation in other programs.

In what Shackelford believes is the first study examining debate participation with a nationally representative sample, he found that debaters do significantly differ from non-debaters. They are more likely to be African American, for example, and to have higher levels of parent education and income. They are also associated with approximately 3.5 percent greater odds of matriculating in college than non-debaters—a larger-than-average predicated increase than extracurricular participation in general.

In short, Shackelford found that debaters may gain academic benefits that prepare them for college “above and beyond the general structural and environmental support that extracurricular activities generally provide.”


Kelly Siegel-Stechler
Is Civics Enough? High School Civics Education and Young Adult Voter Turnout

In an era of political turmoil and voter disaffection, preparing students to be informed, engaged citizens would seem to be increasingly important—and increasingly difficult. Is traditional civics education working? Can we do more?

For Kelly Siegel-Stechler, the answers seem to be yes, and yes.

Siegel-Stechler, a research assistant with the Institute for Education Policy, has pursued research on questions in educational policy and programs relating to dropout prevention, transportation, citizenship education and other issues. She is also co-founder and managing director of Foundations for Leadership, a nonprofit education organization dedicated to equipping young people in Florida public school districts for success through activities such as Model UN programming. She was recently selected to participate in the American Enterprise Institute Education Policy Academy in August 2018.

Her examination of civic development in schools shows that there are a number of promising practices for increasing civic knowledge and interest among youth. In her research, she investigated five practices—direct civic instruction (civics class); regular discussion of current events; service opportunities; extracurricular participation; and school democratic climate—to determine whether any resulted in increased political engagement as a young adult.

Using the likelihood of voting as a proxy for political engagement, her results showed a significant positive association between both taking a civics course and extracurricular participation in high school, and likelihood of voting as a young adult, even after adjusting for other determinants of civics education and voter turnout. Siegel-Stechler found that the old, familiar standard of civics class was associated with a 5.4 percent increase in the likelihood of voter turnout, while, interestingly, participation in a number of extracurricular activities showed an even more significant impact (6.3 percent).

In her findings, Siegel-Stechler made the case for the importance of high school civic education and for further exploration of the factors involved in the process, especially the significant role of extracurricular activities in fostering political engagement.