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The Effects of Teachers’ Social and Human Capital on Urban Science Reform Initiatives: Considerations for Professional Development


by Susan A. Yoon, Jessica Koehler Yom , Zhitong Yang & Lei Liu — 2017

Background: Recent research investigating the conditions under which science teachers can successfully implement science education reforms suggests that focusing only on professional development to improve content knowledge and teaching skills—often referred to as human capital—may not be enough. Increasingly, possessing social capital, defined as capacities acquired through direct and indirect relationships in social networks, has become an important teaching characteristic to develop, however, more empirical research needs to be conducted.

Purpose: This article details our efforts to examine the relative influence of teachers’ social and human capital on instruction in the science classroom. The following research question guided our analysis: “What is the impact of teachers’ social and human capital on their classroom enactments, and what implications does this have for implementing science reform projects?”

Setting: This research was conducted in a large urban public school district in the northeast region of the United States. Teachers participated in professional development activities focused on learning about, constructing, and implementing nanoscale content through problem-based and inquiry-based units, integrated with technology applications such as computer simulations.

Population: The teacher group was comprised of 10 males and 11 females, eight of whom identified as African American and 13 as White. Teaching experience ranged from 1 to 33 years, with a mean of 11.18 years. Data were collected from 545 students in their classes, of whom 52.19% were African American and 65.03% received free or reduced-priced lunch. Students ranged in level between eighth and 12th grade in the subject areas of biology, chemistry, and physical science.

Research Design: The research design entailed a within group comparison assessing variables that quantified teacher’s social and human capital as discreet measures. They were then compared to survey outcomes collected from their students that indicated change in instructional enactments as they were related to the nanoscale units.

Data Collection and Analysis: A regression analysis was used in the study. Student surveys of perceptions of instructional enactments in two factors—cognitively-rich pedagogies and computer-related technology use–were used as the predicted variables. The social and human capital measures were established from application surveys and year-end interviews of teachers and used as predictor variables.

Results: With both predictors in the model, only social capital was found to be predictive of teachers’ successful implementation, indicating that social capital was a stronger predictor than human capital.

Conclusions: The study shows that focusing on the development of a teacher’s social capital may be an important feature of professional development activities alongside the development of human capital particularly in urban populations where access to resources is limited.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 4, 2017, p. 1-32
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21696, Date Accessed: 7/22/2017 12:37:07 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Yoon
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN YOON is Associate Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education with research foci in the Learning Sciences and Science and Technology Education. With funding from the National Science Foundation, her work includes the development of formal and informal curricular interventions with digital visualization tools that model complex scientific phenomena. She also investigates how teachers develop instructional expertise through professional development activities. Collectively, through complex systems and social network theoretical and analytical lenses, her work examines the hidden variables that can significantly challenge learning and instruction. She has published on this work in educational journals such as Science Education, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, and Journal of the Learning Sciences.
  • Jessica Koehler Yom
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    Jessica Koehler Yom is a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Director of Research at The Future Project, an educational nonprofit. She has worked on various research projects that develop interventions for classroom learning and instruction of scientific content. Her current research interests include adolescent student voice, identity, and engagement.
  • Zhitong Yang
    Educational Testing Service
    E-mail Author
    Zhitong Yang is a research project manager at the Center for Academic and Workplace Readiness and Success at Educational Testing Service. He manages multiple projects focusing on design and implementation of innovative assessment tools to measure cognitive bias, personality, collaborative problem solving, and job performance. His research interests include assessment of science content, noncognitive traits and skills, and collaborative learning. He has presented his research at national and international conferences including the American Educational Research Association and the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.
  • Lei Liu
    Educational Testing Service
    E-mail Author
    Lei Liu is a research scientist with the Learning Sciences Group at Educational Testing Service. She leads multiple projects focused on the design of innovative and technology-rich science assessments that are competency-based and NGSS aligned. Her research has drawn heavily on cognitive and socio-constructivist learning theories with a particular interest in the role of technology in learning and assessing. She has developed simulation-based learning environment and assessments, learning progressions-based assessments, conversation-based assessments, and collaborative problem solving assessments.
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