Changing the way we research to make change

From working in Title I schools throughout my entire career, I have seen lots of ‘research’ being used to justify why we are making sudden changes to our methodologies and curriculum. However, it does not seem that those who are making these decisions are thinking about whether these changes make sense for our students. For example, did they ask questions such as what was the setting of the study? Did participants share a similar context to our students and teachers? With this in mind, I was pleased to see that our readings this week were connected to action research, as maybe I could find some evidence to support my feeling that action research or traditional research for that matter is not necessarily directly transferable to students within my own context.

To start, it was refreshing to see that the study conducted by Bautista, Morrell, Bertrand, D’Artagan and Matthews (2013), was rooted in the fact that low-income students of color are not only not given the same educational opportunities as higher income students, but that any research that involves these students “consistently lacks the voices of these students themselves” (p. 1). I agree with them on their points that traditionally, we have seen research that simply legitimizes the experiences of some and just ignores the perspectives of others (Bautista, et. al., p. 3). It is because of this that the researches suggest an alternative approach to action research, such as implementing participatory action research, where the subjects are directly involved and invested in the investigation process.

I absolutely can see why having the participatory action research approach is crucial in thinking about my own research agenda. I am interested in the best approaches to teaching kids how to read. I cannot be completely objective in researching these approaches if I do not include student judgment. From the research that is out there, students are coming from multiple contexts; who knows whether or not they are similar to those students that I am trying to help? As students are the ones who I want to help, shouldn’t they then have a voice in the process? Yes they should, as the point of action research is to identify a problem in a particular setting or community and to have the participants be the ones who give us the knowledge from the study (Bautista, et. al., p. 3).

There is absolutely an issue with our most disadvantaged students reaching their full potential due to the barriers associated with poverty. We can theorize and theorize for hours about how to solve the problem, but the reality is that it will not get solved unless those affected are participating in their own research to ensure that their oppressions are overcome (Bautista, et. al., p. 10). This is especially critical when we think about the power ownership of learning has on students and families. As Liou, Antrop-González, and Cooper (2009) show, high achieving low-income students of color identified family as the reason they are successful academically, above school (p. 541). These students had families who supported them because they believed they were going to college; they felt like they ‘owned’ this goal. Therefore, I believe this same notion could be applied to action research. Action research will only be successful if students and families play a key role in the process, as they do not see the school, as the largest influence. If we do not involve students and families, we researchers take the risk that the work we conduct will not increase educational access.


Bautista, M. A., Morrell, E., Bertrand, M., D’Artagan, S., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth : Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teacher’s College Record, 115(100303), 1–23.

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Improving Access for Success


Engle, J., & Tinto, Vincent. (2008). Moving beyond access: College success for low-income, first generation students. The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, 1-30.

In looking at a variety of scholarly readings this week, I discovered Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students. This reading was focused on college attainment rates in the United States for underrepresented populations. The authors focused on providing a well defined report that, “examines the current status of low-income, first-generation college students” (Engle & Tinto, 2008). The information presented was supported by data from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, Beginning Postsecondary Students Study, and Baccalaureate and Beyond Study. Included in the report were metrics on degree attainment rates and persistence. The report also provided details on barrier’s that are being faced by the students in the selected research community.

The writers in this case introduced their research with an executive summary that focused on the four following topics.

• Why does college success matter?

• How do low-income, first-generation students fair in college?

• What are the constraints on college success for low-income, first-generation students?

• How can we promote college access and success for low-income, first-generation students?

Each of these topics was represented with supporting material that helped to frame the problem. The introduction of the study then continued to outline the issues at hand with degree completion numbers with the fore mentioned student populations. Graphical charts and information were presented throughout to show data and statistics on first to second year persistence, six-year outcomes by types of institutions first attended, transfer rates, student retention rates by major, degree completions rates, and many more.  Essentially the article was inundated with materials to help support the position being presented. Engle and Tinto (2008) feel that large gaps persist in terms of access  to and success in higher education in this country.

As an individual who is looking to develop my own research skills, I have put lots of thought into the best way to present my research to ensure it will be able to have an impact in the future. After reading this article by Engle and Tinto, it helped me to see that it is important on how you organize and present your research information and data, to engage and capture your intended audience. In presenting information and supporting data in a coherent manner that flows smoothly for the reader, it can make a difference on capturing a wider audience. For those who are interested in looking at research on educational attainment rates and college completion rates, I would recommend this reading. The strength of the argument was good, and the supporting material helped support the argument of the authors.

Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income, First-Generation Students grabbed my attention not only for the subject matter being discussed, but also because the smooth format, flow, and clear presentation of data within the report. It read as a very well put together writing with both clean, clear, and concise information while also showing support for key topics. The use of research data and statistics, to help support the final recommendations was a sound approach for this reading. Each area of the article was well defined, sections were strategically placed to capture the reader’s attention. The visual aids of charts and graphs were well placed, and  helped me see the result of what the writers were intending for readers to gain from their study. The reading certainly helped me see, “that while college access has increased for low-income, first-generation students, the opportunity to successfully earn a college degree has not” (Engle & Tinto, 2008). I will also note that the data and information were presented in methods that I understood and could see myself duplicating a similar style in my own research, in the future.

The findings that were presented in this report were significant and presented with a logical approach. Engle and Tinto did a good job at presenting appropriate materials by use of their research data, to support their theory. The examples presented throughout the writing engaged me as a reader and the authors choice to use visual aids helped to grasp my attention as a reader. Because they offered such a wide variety of data and material, the visual aids were well placed in were key to the supporting metrics not get lost in the writing. Although my preconceived knowledge agreed with their position, the study findings did help to reinforce my position that there is a problem with low-income, first-generation college students and the various barriers that are continuing to hinder college completion rates for this student population.

The conclusions to the reading were determined to provide insight and data to support efforts for educators and policy makers to improve college access and success. (Engle & Tinto, 2008) There was  a connection made to materials being presented and the theoretical position of the authors. The authors had a well stated position from the initial summary and introductory pieces; that continued to flow through their concluding words. I felt this article did a nice job of summing it all up in the end by making  sure readers understood the problem presented, and the recommendations to help combat the issue moving forward.

After reading Why College Retention Matters, I noticed its relation to the study Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection by Tyrone C. Howard. Although they are not directly linked, both articles crossed paths with their communities of practice, in focusing on low-income, first-generation college students, their access, and the educational attainment rates of these populations. I think further study in the combined areas of critical reflection, educational attainment rates, and research looking at success rates for minorities might help me build on this research. In looking at both readings that I blogged about this week, they have helped me as a reader come up with new ideas for research as my action research cycle swings into motion.