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Beyond Posters and Pennants: College-Going Messaging at Three Racially and Economically Diverse Public Schools

by Melissa A. Martinez, Isaac Torres & Katherine Lewis - 2019

Context: It has been argued that high schools with a majority of students of color and from low-income backgrounds must be purposeful in fostering a college-going culture in order to address the challenges and inequities historically underserved students face in preparing for and accessing a higher education. However, what this looks and sounds like in practice is not always clear, leaving schools seeking common ground on how to create a college-going environment.

Purpose: Through a symbolic and ecological model of college readiness framework, the messaging associated with the college-going culture at three racially and economically diverse Texas high schools that had consistently high college ready graduate rates was examined. The research questions that guided the study included: What types of college-going culture messages are conveyed at the schools, and how? How might such messaging impact students, school staff and leaders?

Research Design: This study drew on data from a three-year, multi-site descriptive case study of three public high schools in different regions of Texas that all served approximately 50% or more of students with financial need and 72% to 97% students of color, specifically Latina/o and Black students.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data was collected during week-long, yearly visits to the three schools and included: school and district documents; individual and group semi-structured interviews with 194 individuals including administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents, and community members; observations of common areas and classrooms; archival data; and researcher-derived documents including field notes, memos, and photographs of the school grounds and school activities. This paper primarily drew on the pictures taken of the schools (in hallways, classrooms, and shared spaces like cafeterias and libraries), field notes, memos, and interview data that specifically spoke to the visual and verbal messaging associated with the college-going culture. Analysis of data revealed six themes: college is a revered goal with many options; varying degrees of integration; support and resources are at your reach; think college and career; finding funding for college is vital; college is an individual and shared success.

Conclusions: This study’s findings suggest the need to: reconsider what a strong college-going culture entails, re-envision college-going cultures as dynamic, multi-layered, and responsive, reframe postsecondary opportunities so they are more expansive and varied, and re-evaluate inequities in college-going messaging and academic rigor.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 11, 2019, p. 1-42
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22810, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 11:16:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Melissa Martinez
    Texas State University
    E-mail Author
    MELISSA A. MARTINEZ is associate professor in the Educational & Community Leadership master’s and Ph.D. in School Improvement programs at Texas State University. Her research focuses on equity and access issues along the P-16 education pipeline as it relates to college readiness, college access, and fostering a college-going culture for underserved communities, the preparation of equity-oriented school leaders who understand and can meet the needs of underserved communities, and the experiences of faculty of color in academia. Some of her scholarship has been published in The High School Journal, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Race Ethnicity and Education, Journal of Research on Leadership Education, and the Journal of School Leadership.
  • Isaac Torres
    Texas State University
    E-mail Author
    ISAAC TORRES is a doctoral candidate in the Ph.D. in School Improvement program at Texas State University, and the Director of High School, College, and Career Success at the E3 Alliance. His research interests focus on critical discourse analysis, juvenile justice, and emerging instructional technologies for alternative settings. He has presented some of his research at the 2016 University Council for Educational Administration Conference, 2016 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, and the 2017 Annual AERA Conference.
  • Katherine Lewis
    Dominican University of California
    E-mail Author
    KATHERINE LEWIS is an assistant professor of Education and Chair of the Multiple Subjects Credential Program at Dominican University of California. Her primary research interests are focused on the social, cultural, and philosophical aspects of education and include projects about gendered educational experiences and gender diversity in K-12 schools. Katherine presented her most recent research at the 2018 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting and some of her work is featured in the Journal of Educational Administration and History and in the Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership.
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