By Vandeen A. Campbell, Ph.D.

With funding from the New Jersey State Policy Lab, the American Education Research Association (AERA), and National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Grant Program, the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies is excited to launch a study of science course-taking pathways in New Jersey’s high schools and identify those which predict college enrollment and pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field.

Disparities in the breadth of science courses which high schools offer and in which students are enrolled undermine the quality of the secondary school experience and postsecondary opportunities, often in ways which work to the detriment of traditionally underserved student groups. Understanding patterns of course enrollment and identifying the types which are valuable for postsecondary success offer a tool for enhancing equity in science course-taking and STEM access. Importantly, the study is designed so that standard and innovative sequences can be identified and tested as well as shed light on the extent to which lower-level sequences are prevalent.

The study aims to:

  1. Describe patterns in science course-taking in the state by codifying science courses taken in terms of level and type as science course pathways and chart how these pathways vary statewide.
  2. Study the predictive value of the most common science course pathways on college enrollment and choosing a STEM major in college and how it varies for racial/ethnic and gender subgroups of students and by various school characteristics (e.g., racial and socioeconomic composition).
  3. Conduct a positive outlier analysis as a case study of a school serving high percentages of students of color and economically disadvantaged students which enrolls students in strongly predictive science course pathways. The case study will seek to understand the specific school- or district-level policies/practices which generate stronger science course-taking.

Research results will be disseminated widely to policy, practitioner, community-based, and academic audiences.