Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
Education PhD, Joint with San Diego State University
School of Educational Studies
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Tessa Hicks Peterson
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
© 2020 Anthony Peña
Critical Pedagogy, Critical Science Education, Drop-out, Equitable Learning, Re-engagement, STEM Education
Education | Science and Mathematics Education
Providing an equitable science education to Black and Latinx youth who have dropped out of their traditional schools is a significant issue for three reasons: (a) it can provide a pathway to a quality employment opportunity, (b) success in science classes can support success in academics, and (c) development of youth who have an efficient and critical understanding of science phenomena is an issue of social justice. The idea that education is the great equalizer depends on many factors, such as socioeconomic status, racial background, and the zip code in which you live. Students of color (i.e., Black and Latinx) drop out of school at higher rates than their peers at the national level. Further, compared to high school graduates, youth who drop out are less likely to find a job and earn a living wage, and more likely to be in poverty and suffer from a variety of adverse health outcomes. Lack of equitable learning opportunities in the traditional science classroom is a contributing factor to youth dropping out. Alternative education programs have the potential to support youth who have dropped out to re-engage in science. The purpose of this research was to better understand what factors contributed to the academic achievement of students in their class-based science courses at Youthbuild Charter School of California, an alternative education program for youth who have dropped out of their traditional high schools. In addition, this study sought to better understand what factors may impact student future STEM aspirations. Specifically, this study looked at how each of the following areas—student perception of their science teacher, critical science education, student sense of agency to create knowledge in science class, student engagement in science class, and the relevance of science to the student—impact student academic achievement in their class-based science course and student future STEM aspirations. The study utilized a mixed-methods approach, specifically structural equation modeling as a quantitative technique and thematic analysis as a qualitative technique to examine the factors that impact student academic achievement in their science classes and student future STEM aspirations. The study included 100 participants who completed the YCSC Adult Student Science Survey and an additional 10 participants who were interviewed. This study found that each of the aforementioned factors had either a direct or indirect impact on student academic achievement in a YCSC science classroom and on student future STEM aspirations. The best predictor of student academic achievement came from the relevance of science to students, followed by student sense of agency to create knowledge, and critical science education. The best predictor of future STEM aspiration came from the critical science education, followed by relevance of science to the student, and student sense of agency to create knowledge. In addition, thematic analysis identified the theme of an equitable learning space that consisted of the following: educators who develop authentic supportive relationships with students, an epistemological pluriverse that is inclusive of multiple perspectives and values the knowledge students bring to the classroom, the use of culturally relevant science that empowers students to make informed decisions, a localized-critical-action based curriculum, and a wide array of equitable learning practices. Findings from this study underscore that a paradigm shift must occur in STEM education for equitable learning opportunities to become commonplace. In the current “pipeline” approach of STEM education, the goal is to develop future STEM workers, epistemology is not inclusive of many worldviews, science content is taught through a banking model, competition among students is encouraged, and science content is decontextualized and removed from student experience. An equitable approach is necessary—one in which the goal of STEM education should be to develop young people who understand how to critically engage with science from a localized perspective, where they can use science to solve issues of social justice in their lives and their communities, where science is grounded in an epistemology that is inclusive of many worldviews, and where community building in the classroom is a classroom asset.
Peña, Anthony. (2020). Youth of Promise: Academic Success and Future STEM Aspirations at an Alternative Education Program. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 701. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/701.