The project will build on a previous study Penner conducted. In it, Penner and her collaborator found that enrollment in a ninth-grade ethnic studies class substantially increased attendance, grade point averages, and course credits for students who were labeled at-risk of dropping out of high school based on eighth grade performance. (Read more here.)
Penner’s work will involve collaborations across three existing research-practice partnership teams formed by faculty from multiple universities, K-12 administrators and educators, and graduate students who are examining ethnic studies scale-up efforts across three districts. “This work is really rooted in collective efforts to better understand where and how ethnic studies boosts students’ outcomes so that we can understand how to successfully scale-up these programs.”
“This is an incredible honor for an early-career researcher,” said Richard Arum, dean and professor, UCI School of Education. “Professor Penner is leading innovative research into this critically important field, and we look forward to the critical insights that her research will generate on this topic.”
Penner will begin this research by synthesizing current approaches to ethnic studies teaching and mentoring practices. In the later stage of the grant, she will observe ethnic studies classrooms and conduct interviews with teachers in several districts to better understand core aspects of effective practices. Linking these data to administrative records, Penner will examine how the observed teaching practices predict student outcomes. Finally, using data from interviews with district leaders and teachers, as well as observations of ethnic studies professional development activities, Penner will investigate how school districts can recruit and train new ethnic studies teachers to use these practices.
“There have been a number of recent collaborative efforts to formalize and share ethnic studies curricula and pedagogy to support district efforts to expand their ethnic studies course offerings,” Penner said. “It’s going to be really exciting to see how teachers are enacting these resources in their classrooms and how they’re engaging students through that work.”
Penner intends that her research will provide an understanding of teaching techniques that support learning and student success. Furthermore, she hopes this understanding will result in policies, tools, and training for K-12 educators that can be communicated nationally.
Several states have developed ethnic studies curricula and expanded course offerings for K-12 students, including California, Indiana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia. This rapid expansion has important implications for teacher education programs.
“While K-12 ethnic studies offerings are expanding, we do not have a robust pipeline for recruiting and training teachers prepared to include ethnic studies in their classrooms. As districts are finding new teachers to become trained in this field, they need models and best practices of professional development to emulate. We also need more research about those training efforts.”
“Our ultimate goal in all of these efforts is to learn from and support ethnic studies teachers in ways that foster engaging, critical, and caring experiences for all of their students,” Penner said. “I very much appreciate the honor and the research funding awarded to me by the William T. Grant Foundation to advance my research in this socially critical and time-sensitive area.”
Launched in 1982, the William T. Grant Scholars Program supports the professional development of promising researchers in the social, behavioral, and health sciences who have received their terminal degrees within the past seven years. To date, the program has sponsored more than 197 researchers.
Penner is the first School of Education professor to be named a William T. Grant Scholar while at UCI. In 2007, while at the Arizona State University, the William T. Grant Foundation named current School of Education Professor Sandra Simpkins one of its Scholars.