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School Connectedness for Students in Low-Income Urban High Schools


by Na’ilah Suad Nasir, Amina Jones & Milbrey Wallin McLaughlin — 2011

Background/Context: In this article, we explore school connectedness for students in a high-poverty urban school. Current approaches to measuring connection conflate behavior and attitudinal measures of connection and rarely explore school connection in urban school settings.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We examine interpersonal (attitudinal) and institutional (behavioral) connection in the context of an urban high school. We ask, How are affective and behavioral dimensions of school connection related to one another for African American students in a high-poverty urban high school? How does affective and behavioral connection and disconnection play out in the school lives of students? And how is it related to the specifics of the school context?

Research Design: We surveyed 120 high school students and collected observational and interview data on a subset of 20 case study students at an urban high school. Surveys, observations, and interviews focused on capturing students’ interpersonal and institutional connection as well as students’ academic achievement and academic identities.

Findings: Data indicate that in this urban school context, dual dimensions of connectedness (interpersonal connection and institutional connection) operated in different ways for students. Specifically, we describe four connectedness quadrants, highlighting both academic outcomes for students in these quadrants and detailing the ways in which interpersonal and institutional connectedness played out in the context of the school. Students who were connected both interpersonally and institutionally had higher grades and graduation rates. Students who were high on institutional connection but low on interpersonal connection fared next best, and students who were institutionally disconnected were worse off on a variety of outcomes. Students’ institutional and interpersonal connection were also deeply tied to aspects of the local school context.

Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings raise important concerns with respect to using traditional connectedness measures in urban school contexts and suggest the use of more nuanced measures of connectedness in future studies. Findings also suggest that schools play an important role in structuring experiences of connection or disconnection for students.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 8, 2011, p. 1755-1793
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16173, Date Accessed: 10/2/2014 6:26:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Na’ilah Nasir
    University of California, Berkeley
    E-mail Author
    NA’ILAH SUAD NASIR is an associate professor in the School of Education and the African American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Her areas of specialization include race, culture, and out-of-school learning, identity processes and educational trajectories, and redressing inequities in educational access and outcomes. Recent publications include (with J. Cooks) “Becoming a Hurdler: How Learning Settings Afford Identities,” published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly.
  • Amina Jones
    Stanford University
    AMINA JONES is a doctoral student in the School of Education at Stanford University. She is interested in disenfranchised and disconnected youth, the social construction of educational pathways, and emerging adulthood. Recent publications include (with N. Nasir & M. McLaughlin) “What Does It Mean to Be African American? Constructions of Racial/Ethnic Identity and School Performance in an Urban Public High School,” published in the American Educational Research Journal.
  • Milbrey McLaughlin
    Stanford University
    MILBREY MCLAUGHLIN is the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy at Stanford University. Professor McLaughlin is codirector of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, an interdisciplinary research center engaged in analyses of how teaching and learning are shaped by teachers’ organizational, institutional, and social cultural contexts. McLaughlin also is founding director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, a partnership between Stanford University and Bay Area communities to build new practices, knowledge, and capacity for youth development and learning both in communities and at Stanford. She is the author or coauthor of books, articles, and chapters on education policy issues, contexts for teaching and learning, productive environments for youth, and community based organizations. Her books include Building School-Based Teacher Learning Communities (with Joan Talbert, Teachers College Press, 2006), and School Districts and Instructional Renewal (with Amy Hightower, Michael Knapp, and Julie Marsh, Teachers College Press, 2002).
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