Clark University Research
950 Main Street • Worcester, MA 01610
Tel: 508-793-7711 •

Course Road Maps

Transforming High Schools:
Field Research in Youth Development

International Development, Community, and Environment Spring 2004

Field Research in High School Transformation and Youth Development

Course Overview and Objectives

The Worcester Education Partnership (WEP) is one of seven urban school districts that has been chosen to participate in the Carnegie Corporation of New York's "Schools for a New Society" initiative. Five main themes frame the WEP vision of effective high schools: 1. small, personalized learning communities; 2. academic opportunity, support, challenge, growth and achievement; 3. a collaborative professional culture; 4. youth development; and 5. school-community integration and partnership.

The purpose of the local WEP evaluation is:

  1. To monitor the implementation of school restructuring and new teacher, family, and community practices as described in the WEP Plan.
  2. To assess changes in academic achievement, youth development, and school experiences in WPS high school students.
  3. To attribute improvements in student academic achievement and development to specific elements of the WEP Plan.
  4. To use the results of this study:
    • In the form of a formative evaluation-to help implementers of the plan see progress to understand deviations in plan implementation, and to make necessary changes in the plan.
    • In the form of a summative evaluation-to highlight performance outcomes of the plan.
    • Within the Worcester community to serve as a community engagement and mobilization mechanism.
    • Across Carnegie sites in the form of a critical friends network.

Students in this class will work directly on the local WEP evaluation and will learn about applied research, in a hands-on manner. Students participate in literature reviews and the creation of focus group protocol, and survey designs. They also conduct the interviews and focus groups with high-school students in Worcester's new small schools. The Clark students are involved in data analysis and report writing. Students are encouraged to write about their research for events such as Academic Spree Day.


We are in a powerful but delicate position in this project. We are bridging research and action; the public schools and Clark; students and teachers. We are being entrusted with potentially sensitive information. Thus, a high degree of professionalism is required-professionalism in how you present yourself to teachers and students, in how you present information, in how you respect confidentiality, and how you keep appointments with the schools. We will reflect on these dynamics often in class. We are being allowed access to high school students, largely during the school day. As students' primary responsibility is to learn, whenever they are taken out of class is a serious matter. We must respect the school's schedule and reputation throughout this process.

We will establish an interviewing schedule based on your availability. It is imperative that you keep your appointments or provide at least 24 hours notice to me and your team if you cannot make an interview, focus group, or meeting with student researchers. Your process and quality of engagement with the schools will be evaluated as highly as the actual completion of interviews and data analysis.

Flexibility is also paramount in this project. The schools' schedule will ultimately dictate our schedule. In this regard, you will also notice that the class schedule gets less specified as semester progresses. We will update this as we move through various phases of the project.

It is expected that students will spend at least 10 hours a week on this class. In addition to class time, the additional hours will be spent preparing for class, and in the schools-interviewing, conducting focus groups, and in the student researcher process-entering data, data analysis, report writing, and possibly presenting findings.


This course will involve multiple ways of working. Class time will be used to provide background on the Worcester Public Schools and discuss readings on the Small School movement and qualitative research methods. We will develop and/or modify interview instruments, develop protocols, and have training on interviewing, data entry, and analysis. We will plan student researcher activities. We will also discuss and analyze our emerging findings in class. Much of your time will be spent in the field with students. There are three main areas of field work:

  • Interviewing
  • Focus Groups
  • Student Researchers

And, there are 4 quadrants in the Worcester Public Schools

  • Burncoat
  • Doherty
  • North
  • South

At times, we will work in class in teams based on quadrant and areas of work.


In addition to an expectation to be highly engaged and involved in class discussion and activities, your grade will be based on four components:

  1. Weekly analysis memo(20%). These 1-2 page papers will be posted on the class blackboard by Sunday of each week. They should reflect on class discussion, reading, and fieldwork. They should involve the following three components:
    • Emerging themes-supported by direct quotes from interviews, focus groups, and/or student researcher sessions
    • Lingering questions and ideas for follow-up/next steps
    • Reflection on your role as a researcher/student researcher coordinator
    You will start your analysis memos once you begin data collection and student researcher work in the schools. We will spend time each class discussing the memos, so you should read all of the memo entries before class each week.
  2. Literature review on small schools (20%). Each student will choose a topic connected to small schools on which to conduct a 5-8 page literature review. In addition to resources I have, students should review 5-8 Internet and scholarly journal sources. Possible topics include:
    • SLCs and youth voice
    • SLCs and teacher preparation
    • SLCs and issues of ethnicity, race, class, and urban environments
    • SLCs and family/community involvement
    • SLC philosophies and structures
    • Promising practices and challenges in SLC planning, implementation, and sustainability
    • SLCs and student outcomes
    • Others???

    DUE: February 24. No analysis memo is required this week. In addition to handing in a hard copy, literature reviews should be posted to the Blackboard.

  3. Completion of interviews, focus groups, and student researcher work (30%). You should plan on completing:
    • 8 interviews and 2 focus groups
    • 5 interviews and student researcher process

    This includes data entry, transcribing focus groups and student researcher sessions, and preparation time for all of these activities. Additionally, a data analysis exercise will be assigned.

    Data analysis assignment is due March 30
    All interviews and focus groups will be completed by April 9

  4. Final analysis report (30%). At the end of the semester, there will be seven final reports, one per small learning community. Analysis memos will be shared to create the reports. You will integrate the preliminary report findings into your work.

Final analysis reports due May 7.

Class Materials
Meier, D. 2002. In Schools We Trust. Beacon Press: Boston.

Weis, L. and Fine, M. 2000. Speed Bumps: A Student Friendly Guide to Qualitative Research. Teachers College: New York.

"WEP and Qualitative Research Packet"

You will also discover materials through the literature review process and share them with the class.

Class schedule

1/20 Overview of Worcester Education Partnership Cohort Study

  • Team building
  • Class expectations
  • Review Manual
  • Review class contract
  • Discuss Research Team Schedule
  • Discuss 3 types of work-interviewing, focus groups, student researchers

1/27 What are small learning communities? What are we trying to do?

Read: Meier, Part One (pp. 9-91) The Schools We Need-in reading packet Review SLC Reading packet Review Interview tool and Focus group protocol

  • Team building
  • Review readings and discuss them in relation to interview and focus group
  • Confirm Research Team Schedule
  • Confirm contract
  • Discuss professionalism and the Researcher Contract

FRIDAY 1/30 Action Oriented Qualitative Research Read: Weis and Fine, Chapters 1-3.

Review Interview Tool and practice 3 times with another person

  • Team building
  • Discuss readings
  • Practice interviewing in pairs

2/3 Reflecting on the role of an Action Researcher Read: Weis and Fine, Chapter 4

Continue to practice interview tool
Review Student Researcher portion of manual

  • Team building
  • Discuss reading
  • Plan for interviewing in the schools
  • Practice interviewing

THURSDAY, FEB 5TH 5:45 PM SPECIAL SHOWING OF "THROUGH OUR EYES" You are strongly encouraged to attend.

FRIDAY 2/6 Prepare for Interviews

  • Practice interview tool

2/10 Preparation for Focus Groups
Read: Meier, Part Two
Assignment: Formulate focus group questions
Review last semester's focus group transcripts

  • Review and discuss focus group protocol
  • 'Check-in' on interviewing
  • Prepare focus group format
  • Check-in on student researchers

2/17 Preparation for Focus Groups

" 'Check-in' " Discuss focus groups " Discuss interview logging protocols

2/24 Focus group preparation and Interview check-in

  • 'Check-in' on interviews and student researchers
  • Finalize focus group protocol

Literature Review Assignment Due

3/2 Data entry class
  • Bring all interviews to class. Class will be held in IDCE computer lab


3/16 Data analysis class

  • Be sure all interviews you have are entered

3/23 Data analysis discussion, Findings Brainstorm

3/30 Problem solving class

  • Data analysis assignment is due; no memo is required

4/6 Report Writing

  • All interviews and focus groups must be completed this week
  • All data must be entered by April 9

4/13 Creating queries

4/20 Group Work

4/27 Group Work

5/7 Final Report Due


Contact Information Search

Additional Resources
Field Research Home
Interview with the Professor
Interview with Students
Team Service Learning Project
Course Structure
Course Syllabus
Learn More

IDCE Professor Laurie Ross

Participating Worcester Schools
and their Small Learning Communities

ALL SchoolConnect Academy
Burncoat High SchoolPatriot Academy of Math and Science
Doherty High SchoolEngineering Technology Academy
North High SchoolHealth Science Academy
South High SchoolInformation Technology Academy
Worcester Vocational High SchoolAlden Academy
University Park Campus School

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