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.
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.