Background/Context: Sociopolitical development (SPD) refers to the processes by which an individual acquires the knowledge, skills, emotional faculties, and commitment to recognize and resist oppressive social forces. A growing body of scholarship has found that such sociopolitical capabilities are predictive in marginalized adolescents of a number of key outcomes, including resilience, academic achievement, and civic engagement. Many scholars have long argued that schools and educators have a central role to play in fostering the sociopolitical development of marginalized adolescents around issues of race and class inequality. Other scholars have investigated school-based practices for highlighting race and class inequality that include youth participatory-action research, critical literacy, and critical service-learning.
Objective of Study: The present study sought to add to the existing scholarship on schools as opportunity structures for sociopolitical development. Specifically, this study considered the role of two different schooling models in fostering adolescents’ ability to analyze, navigate, and challenge the social forces and institutions contributing to race and class inequality.
Setting: The six high schools participating in the present study were all urban charter public high schools located in five northeastern cities. All six schools served primarily low-income youth of color and articulated explicit goals around fostering students’ sociopolitical development. Three of these high schools were guided by progressive pedagogy and principles, and three were guided by no-excuses pedagogy and principles.
Research Design: The present study compared the sociopolitical development of adolescents attending progressive and no-excuses charter high schools through a mixed methods research design involving pre-post surveys, qualitative interviews with participating adolescents and teachers, and ethnographic field notes collected during observations at participating schools.
Results: On average, adolescents attending progressive high schools demonstrated more significant shifts in their ability to analyze the causes of racial inequality, but adolescents attending no-excuses high schools demonstrated more significant shifts in their sense of efficacy around navigating settings in which race and class inequality are prominent. Neither set of adolescents demonstrated significant shifts in their commitment to challenging the social forces or institutions contributing to race and class inequality.
Conclusions: Both progressive and no-excuses schools sought to foster adolescents’ commitment to challenging race and class inequality, but focused on different building blocks to do so. Further research is necessary to understand the pedagogy and practices that show promise in catalyzing adolescents’ analytic and navigational abilities into a powerful commitment to collective social action—the ultimate goal of sociopolitical development.