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WSU Research Opportunity & Equity

Transforming leadership to achieve equity in education

Building parent participation and shifting administrator mindsets

In 2010, 47 percent of children under the age of five belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group[1]. That statistic signifies a shift in the demographics of tomorrow’s classrooms.

As the nation’s K-12 students become increasingly diverse, school environments, educational policies, and teaching best practices must take students’ cultural backgrounds into account. Research of Dr. Katherine Rodela anticipates changes needed in K-12 schools. The educational leadership professor is rethinking the role of parent leadership in school systems. She is also examining how district leaders can develop an equity mindset—the belief that by engaging members of a diverse community, we can effectively address challenges and achieve excellence.

Developing parent leaders

Dr. Rodela explores the effects of educating Latino parents about the U.S. school system. Working in partnership with the Clark County Latino Youth Conference and Vancouver Public Schools, she co-founded the Southwest Washington Latino Parent Leadership Institute. Parents gather weekly to learn about the operation of their children’s schools, as well as academic expectations and opportunities. The meetings empower parents to participate more fully in their children’s education. The Institute aims to build a strong parent community, so that parents will share what they learn with others and eventually run similar programs themselves.

Dr. Rodela plans to study how this kind of participatory, community-based leadership affects families, schools, and policy. Her research may lead to a model for parent involvement that could be shared nationwide. It could help school districts encourage participatory leadership from families whose voices have traditionally been unheard in educational decision making.

Cultivating equity mindsets among district leaders

Dr. Rodela is also exploring how equity mindsets develop among school district leaders. A long-term study follows a cohort of principals and superintendents who completed a superintendent certification class that she taught last year. Most of these administrators serve in rural communities.

Through interviews, surveys, and site visits, Dr. Rodela examines how principals and superintendents can be social justice leaders in diverse areas. She observes how these leaders are navigating Washington’s changing educational policy environment. Her findings will build a foundation for further research to identify best practices for educational leaders and policy makers.

[1] Evidence of changing demographics:

Promoting an informed and equitable society

Preserving indigenous traditions in digital form

A complete picture of U.S. history requires the information held in tribal archives, libraries, and museums (TALMs). While many major libraries and museums now digitize their collections for access and use, many TALMs lack the resources to do so. In addition, traditional content management systems are organized under Western standards, not allowing for local narrations and other cultural practices and protocols important to archiving Native heritage.

Digitally preserving and sharing stories, artifacts, and images from diverse cultures is important in a technologically advancing world. WSU researcher Kim Christen is ensuring that digital history includes Native American voices stored and accessed in culturally responsible ways.

Helping tribal communities build and maintain digital archives

Dr. Christen has partnered with WSU Libraries to train tribal communities in the lifecycle of digital stewardship. Together they are hosting a multi-year Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program, supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Central to the program is Mukurtu CMS, a content management system that Dr. Christen originally developed several years ago for the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Australia. The sustainable, scalable software platform is now used around the world to help indigenous peoples circulate, manage, and narrate materials following their cultural practices. The cohort program teaches tribal communities how to implement and use Mukurtu in their home institutions.

Taking digital preservation nationwide

Dr. Christen’s most recent grant from the IMLS will allow her to launch Mukurtu hubs around the country, in partnership with several universities and libraries. The hubs will provide training and support to TALMs, and ongoing development and deployment of the Mukurtu platform.

Dr. Christen’s work on Mukurtu is part of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, which she leads at WSU with co-director Trevor Bond from WSU Libraries.

Police training in a new light

WSU seeks better ways to handle tense encounters

The call came into 9-1-1 from a Spokane YMCA last October: A middle-aged man was threatening to break the kneecaps of an eight-year-old, because he said the boy could “ruin my NBA career.”

Corporal Jordan Ferguson of the Spokane Police Department responded, fully aware of the suspect’s antagonistic and unpredictable behavior. Ferguson’s body camera footage shows what happened next.

In the lobby of the YMCA, an employee first describes the man’s erratic statements. Ferguson tracks the man to the gym, who then walks away yelling. Rather than restraining the man immediately, Ferguson asks him questions and listens carefully and calmly, taking his time as the man vented and eventually admits to attacking several women on the local Centennial Trail earlier that month. The encounter resolved without hands-on force, in part because Ferguson had studied crisis intervention and motivational interviewing. Both are designed to help mitigate the aggressiveness of someone with mental illness.

“We were ready that this might be a violent struggle or we’d have to use some physical force,” says Ferguson. “However, using the motivational interviewing not only calmed him down, but we had him agree to get psychological help and had him agree to let us put handcuffs on.”

Following high profile, tragic shootings and assaults by police around the country, demand has grown for new training methods and better ways to handle tense encounters. Police require better tools—like crisis intervention training—to de-escalate confrontations in the communities they serve, especially when they interact with people with mental illnesses or when there’s racial tension.

Read the rest of the story in Washington State Magazine.

Raising Washington’s grade in math and science education

Researchers identify best practices in teaching STEM disciplines

Education in the STEM subjects— science, technology, engineering and mathematics—serves as a steppingstone to social and economic opportunity. How can teachers inspire interest in these disciplines and make the lessons stick?

More than 140 WSU researchers conduct collaborative STEM education research from early grades to graduate school. Their research focuses on “clinical education,” practical integration and application of knowledge to real-world educational settings. These scholars examine instruction at STEM-focused schools. They monitor outcomes to see how methods of instruction affect student learning. They strengthen understanding of best practices in teaching STEM disciplines.

Their efforts don’t stop there. WSU researchers translate their knowledge into action by developing and testing cutting-edge curricula in STEM subjects.

Ensuring access and achievement

Programs spur advances in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education

WSU Tri-Cities is emerging as a regional hub for K-12 STEM research, education, and outreach.

In the 2013/2014 fiscal year, one researcher received over $16 million in funding for programs to help students in educationally isolated rural schools in the inland northwest. GEAR UP, as one of the programs is called, reaches over 50 rural schools, giving middle-school and high-school students and their families guidance on how to prepare for college.

Equity for women in the workplace

Despite comparable levels of commitment, women don’t advance at the same rate as men

In the past 40 years, women have assumed a larger role in the U.S. workforce. While roughly two out of five women worked for pay in the early 1970s, almost three out of five do so today[1]. But Julie Kmec, a Washington State University sociologist, has repeatedly seen how their roles, wages and mobility continue to differ dramatically from those of their male peers.

In a study of some 800 law firms, she found that a woman’s chance of promotion decreases as she advances. Nearly 40 percent of entry-level associates were women, but only 25 percent of new partners were. Kmec and a fellow researcher found that on average, the mobility rate of women fell by more than half on the path from entry-level employment to partnership.

Studying a nationally representative sample of 2,000 workers, Kmec saw that employed mothers were more engaged than fathers at work and had equal levels of commitment, intensity and motivation. The findings put to rest several myths negatively impacting mothers’ pay and promotion.

Kmec has also seen the role that policies can have on gender diversity in the workplace. In a unique study of more than 200,000 private U.S. companies, she saw a relationship between state equal employment policies and the representation of women in management, where they are typically under-represented. In states with the highest levels of sex-based equal employment opportunity protections, women had from 2 to 9 percent greater representation in top management. Those state statues went beyond federal laws, demonstrating the power of state policies in shaping company diversity.



Youth employment challenges reflect and widen the gap between rich and poor

Recession dims employment prospects most severely for disadvantaged youth

The path from adolescence to professional success has become more challenging, especially for disadvantaged populations. The Great Recession in 2009 dimmed employment prospects for the millennial generation around the world, leaving many unemployed or underemployed. Teens and young adults whose formal education ended with a high school diploma or less have suffered the most.

Professor of sociology Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson studies teenage and young adult employment in the U.S. In two recent studies she examined employment trends and how work experiences during the recession affected teens’ and young adults’ economic and career outlooks in the long run.

While in high school, recession-era teens had fewer job opportunities. Jobs during high school are critical for students who will not proceed to college. They depend on the professional and technical skills they learn in these early jobs to find full-time employment after graduation. College-bound youth also learn from teenage jobs, particularly how to balance work and school. That skill has become more important as growing proportions of college students work to help support themselves and pay for school.

Dr. Johnson’s findings show that both before and during the recession, youth from disadvantaged backgrounds were less able to find work than their more privileged peers.

Also expanding the rift between haves and have-nots is a current parenting trend among privileged families that Dr. Johnson studies. Many parents who have the means to pay their kids’ college tuition now extend that support to cover post-college costs, such as rent and insurance. This frees up their kids to work part time, take unpaid internships, and seize other opportunities that are not options for young people who must support themselves financially.

Dr. Johnson’s discoveries set the stage for employers, policymakers, and non-profit organizations to design solutions that restore opportunity to disadvantaged youth.

Why people act for the common good

Professor identifies traits that underlie human cooperation

Social interactions depend on fairness and equity, but much of the world works because people are willing to give time, money, or other support for little or nothing in return. Citizens approve bond issues for schools and playgrounds they’ll never use. They donate to radio stations they don’t listen to and people they’ll never meet. They volunteer to fight and die in wars.

In the WSU Department of Psychology, Professor Craig Parks has deciphered the social and psychological calculus behind caring and cooperation, distilling some common traits among public goods that succeed while others fail. He and his colleagues incorporated more than a dozen hypotheses of human cooperation into a model that can weigh factors like human values, available resources, and cultural norms. It is complex, but it does yield several important variables that incline people to cooperate for the common good.

A feeling of group identity helps, as does trust. But sacrifices for the sake of future generations can be problematic, as people doubt the long-term effectiveness of their actions and whether they’ll be appreciated.

Parks suggests looking back to the sacrifices that others made decades ago for benefits we enjoy now. So while we are unlikely to personally meet someone in 2100 and get their thanks for combatting global warming, we can appreciate the efforts of people who fought in the last century’s World Wars. They left a legacy, and thoughts of our own legacy can stimulate efforts on behalf of the distant future.

Societies will always face large challenges that strain individuals’ ability to give. The burden will rarely be equally shared, but Parks’ work can point the way to responses that are more selfless, effective and sustainable.

Washington State University