Preparing Adolescents Attending Progressive and No Excuses Urban Charter Schools to Analyze, Navigate, and Challenge Race and Class Inequality

CMEI Colloquium
Longfellow Hall, Harvard Graduate School of Education
November 19, 2015

Sociopolitical development (SPD) refers to the processes by which an individual acquires the knowledge, skills, emotional faculties, and commitment to recognize and resist oppressive social forces. A growing body of scholarship has found that such sociopolitical capabilities are predictive in marginalized adolescents of a number of key outcomes including resilience, academic achievement and civic engagement. The present study explored the role that urban secondary schools can and do play in fostering adolescents’ sociopolitical development around race and class inequality through a mixed methods investigation of more than 500 adolescents attending urban charter high schools guided by two distinctive schooling models: “progressive” and “no excuses.” Analyses revealed that, on average, adolescents attending progressive high schools demonstrated more significant shifts in their ability to recognize and analyze systemic racial inequality while adolescents attending no excuses high schools demonstrated more significant shifts in their recognition of the structural causes of poverty and in their feelings of efficacy around navigating settings in which race and class inequality are prominent. Neither set of adolescents demonstrated significant shifts in their commitment to challenging the social forces or institutions contributing to race and class inequality. Qualitative interviews with participating adolescents and their teachers—as well as ethnographic field notes collected from observations at participating schools— offer insight into the curriculum, programming, and practices that contributed to these differences in participants’ sociopolitical development.

Speaker Biography:

Scott Seider is an associate professor of education at Boston University where his research focuses on the civic and character development of adolescents and emerging adults. He previously worked as an English and literacy teacher in the Westwood (MA) and Boston Public Schools, and earned bachelor and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.