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Worcester State Receives Grant to Study Latino Male Education Outcomes

June 26, 2014
By: Renae Lias Claffey

Worcester State University’s Latino Education Institute, in partnership with its Department of Urban Studies, was awarded a $200,000 grant from The Boston Foundation and Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation to examine post-secondary outcomes for Latino males in 5 Massachusetts communities: Worcester, Lawrence, Boston, Springfield and Holyoke.

Called “Pathways to Higher Education:  Opportunities and Outcomes for Latino Young Men in Five Massachusetts Communities,” the project’s directors will use qualitative and quantitative approaches to improve understanding of the many circumstances that affect the decision-making of young Latino males relative to career and educational opportunities.

The researchers will collect and analyze data, which is expected to inform the state’s policies on how best to close the “achievement gap”—the persistent and well-documented disparity in educational outcomes between people who come from low-opportunity environments versus those who do not.  Closing the achievement gap was a central goal of the state’s 2010 education reform act, and the Patrick Administration’s Executive Office of Education is implementing strategies to address the problem, especially in Gateway Cities such as those targeted by the LEI grant. Indeed, the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and of Higher Education assisted in the development of this initiative and are expected to review the findings.

The Boston Foundation and The Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation chose Worcester State University as their sole awardee from an invitation-only pool that included some of the state’s world-renowned institutions. The project is led by Mary Jo Marion, executive director of the Latino Education Institute, and Thomas Conroy, Ph.D., chair and assistant professor of Urban Studies.

“This study represents a unique opportunity to identify strategies that could be used across the state to improve career and college outcomes for Latino boys. We intend to lift Latino youths’ voices in the public discourse about opportunity and achievement gaps,” says Marion.

The qualitative components, which will be done through the Vincent “Jake” Powers CityLab in the Department of Urban Studies, will comprise about 75 percent of the final study.  Strategies used include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and small group discussions with young Latino males and their families, as well as a survey of hundreds of Latino college students in the target cities.  The lead researchers are Timothy Murphy, Ph.D., of the Urban Studies Department and Francisco Vivoni, Ph.D., of the Sociology Department, who will collaborate with other WSU professors and LEI staff. Select scholars from outside Worcester State will also be called upon to lend expertise as needed.

One of the innovative features of this participatory action research plan is the involvement of college students co-facilitating focus groups and interviews with experienced WSU faculty mentoring, coaching and co-facilitating them.  The students, who come from Worcester State University, Clark University and Springfield Technical Community College, will be in the field with seasoned researchers helping, participating, and, at the same time, learning.

The quantitative portion of the study will provide data and assessments that will inform the direction of the qualitative portion. This work will be led by Elizabeth Setren, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at MIT. As a research associate in the MIT School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, Setren will be looking at outcomes in both traditional public schools and charter schools in each of the five cities.

“We are particularly excited about the research approach for this project,” Conroy says.  “It allows us to work collaboratively with experts from different disciplines — including anthropology, sociology, history, economics, education and public policy – in order to investigate many dimensions of a complicated problem. At the same time, we will work closely with our students as research partners.”

The team plans to complete the research by the end of 2014 and release a report by March 2015.

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