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Beyond Academic Math: The Role of Applied STEM Course Taking in High School

by Michael A. Gottfried, Robert Bozick & Sinduja V. Srinivasan - 2014

Background/Context: Educational policymakers and researchers are concerned about the declining quantity and quality of U.S. students in line to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. As one policy response, a number of federal initiatives have been enacted to enhance STEM curriculum in schools. Part of this push has been to offer applied STEM courses in the K–12 curriculum to reinforce academic STEM material as well as motivate students to remain in these fields. Prior to this current study, no national-level research has evaluated the effectiveness of these courses.

Purpose: (a) What applied STEM courses are most commonly taken by high school students? (b) To what extent are high school students taking both academic math courses and applied STEM courses? (c) Do applied STEM courses in high school improve achievement in math?

Participants: To address the three research questions listed above, this study relies on a comprehensive longitudinal dataset: the Education Longitudinal Survey (ELS:2002). The present study is based on a sample of approximately 11,112 students who participated in the base-year (10th grade, 2002) and first follow-up (12th grade 2004) interviews, who completed math assessments in both years, and for whom valid transcript information was collected.

Research Design: This study begins with a descriptive analysis to evaluate which students have taken applied STEM courses and at which ability level. From this, a common set of applied STEM courses is determined across this nationally representative dataset. Next, this study relies on a linear regression model of math achievement where the dependent variable is a standardized math score. Independent covariates include measures as to whether or not a student had taken applied STEM courses, academic math courses taken by the student, and a range of controls.

Findings: Students who take an applied STEM course had higher math scores than their peers who did not take an applied STEM course, all else equal. These courses may be particularly beneficial for those students who are less oriented toward advanced math.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Applied STEM courses can be used to support learning in math instructed elsewhere in the curriculum, particularly for those students at the lower end of the math pipeline. In providing hands-on learning, often with technology and with direct application to concrete occupationally specific problems, applied STEM courses may serve as a critical means to support an understanding of concepts taught in lower level math pipeline courses.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 7, 2014, p. 1-35
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17496, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 11:41:30 PM

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About the Author
  • Michael Gottfried
    University of California
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL A. GOTTFRIED, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California Santa Barbara. His research interests pertain to issues, including: school quality and effectiveness, classroom peer effects, and attendance and truancy. Recent articles include: Retained Students and Classmates’ Absences in Urban Schools (American Educational Research Journal), and Classmates with Disabilities and Students’ Non-Cognitive Outcomes (Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis).
  • Robert Bozick
    RAND Corporation
    E-mail Author
    ROBERT BOZICK is a sociologist at the RAND Corporation and a faculty affiliate of the Pardee RAND Graduate School of Public Policy. His research focuses on the linkages between school and work over the life course, youth employment and youth labor markets, inequality in higher education, and the transition to adulthood for disadvantaged populations. Currently at RAND he is coleading a national evaluation of correctional education for the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
  • Sinduja Srinivasan
    RAND Corporation
    E-mail Author
    SINDUJA V. SRINIVASAN is an assistant policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. Her overarching research interest is in economic development and growth. She focuses on poverty alleviation, entrepreneurship, labor market reforms, and education reforms. Recent publications include: “The Impact of Labour Market Regulation on Employment in Low-Income Countries: A Systematic Review” (prepared for the Department of International Development, 2012) and “Indonesia Urban Poverty Analysis and Program Review” (prepared for the World Bank, 2012).
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