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Expanding Access to STEM-Focused Education: What Are the Effects?

Abstract

"Calls for broadening the population of students motivated and prepared to pursue STEM studies, with an aim ultimately to impact the country's competitiveness, have been frequent and widespread, including Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in STEM for America's Future from the President's Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST, 2010), Building a STEM Agenda (National Governors' Association, 2007), and Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academies, 2007). While publicly supported selective STEM high schools, such as the well-known Bronx High School of Science, have an extensive history of offering advanced course work and an emphasis on one or more STEM disciplines to a student body chosen through competitive examination or record of past performance (Hanford, 1997; Subotnik, Rayhack, & Edmiston, 2006), they do not meet this new need. These schools offer opportunities to develop deep expertise in STEM subject areas, but they do not expand the pipeline of students motivated and prepared for STEM majors in college or address the issues of economic competitiveness or educational equity.

To address this need, a number of private foundations and education policy groups have promoted the idea of addressing changing demographic trends and differences in subgroup STEM participation rates by creating a new type of specialized secondary school designed to inspire, engage, and educate as broad a population as possible in STEM-related fields (Carnegie Corporation, 2009; Means, Confrey, House, & Bhanot, 2008; Morrison & Bartlett, 2009). These are inclusive STEM high schools. We define an inclusive STEM high school (ISHS) as a school, school-within-a-school, or multi-year school program accepting students primarily on the basis of interest rather than aptitude or prior achievement and giving them the mathematics and science preparation they need to succeed in postsecondary STEM majors and certification programs. ISHSs enroll students from groups underrepresented in STEM professions through an application process that does not require high test scores before high school entry (Means et al., 2008). Such schools are designed to develop students' STEM expertise rather than to select those students with prior demonstration of talent."

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