In her 1980 article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” Jean Anyon, an education researcher, studied differences in teaching practices among public fifth-grade classrooms across a range of socioeconomic brackets. In lower income brackets, Anyon observed an emphasis on giving orders and following rules, a way of training students for working class jobs. Meanwhile, in higher income regions, schools placed a focus on student agency and independence. These striking differences in methods of teaching, Anyon concluded, represented yet another of many inequalities in the public education system.
For her 2017 Levitt Summer Research Fellowship, Sabrina Boutselis ’19, a literature major, plans to conduct a similar investigation, focusing instead on a younger demographic: preschool students. Though many studies have been done concerning inequalities in the K-12 education, almost none address problems in the preschool realm, where the first instances of education stratification occur.
“Children enter kindergarten with a wide range of reading and verbal capabilities, and I want to study the degree to which inequalities in daycare affect this early linguistic gap,” said Boutselis.
Major: Literature and Creative Writing
Hometown: Andover, Mass.
High School: Andover High School
To do this, Boutselis is conducting observational research at three different preschools. In order to observe a variety of teaching methods, she has diversified her samples, selecting three sites which cover as broad as possible a range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Over the course of the summer, Boutselis will visit each of the locations approximately 6-8 times, playing close attention to the pedagogical differences across sites.
In addition to first-hand observation, Boutselis also plans to further research educational theory, developing, in this way, a more nuanced understanding of classroom behavior and practice.
“I am interested in studying the effectiveness of home-based learning programs as supplements for students in underfunded areas,” she said.
By identifying specific teaching discrepancies between the three preschools and then developing strategies to lessen these differences, Boutselis hopes to find a good model for improving learning in underfunded areas.
Next summer, Boutselis hopes to teach in some capacity, transferring her findings to a real-life application. “As a person interested in pursuing a career in education, I think it is very important to understand the specific challenges facing the system, so that I am able to work with them in mind,” she said.