"It's Like Giving Us a Car, Only Without the Wheels": Performance of Latina Students at an Early College High School
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This dissertation presents the results from an empirical study of the perspectives of Latina students who were underperforming in an early college high school (ECHS), regarding their academic performance and school experiences. These students' perceptions were used to assess the viability of the ECHS as a policy intervention to prepare first generation and students of color for college. Qualitative methods were employed specifically interviews, prolonged engagement, document analysis, observations and student journals. Freedoms to achieve, unfreedoms, and deformed choices were used as the conceptual frameworks guiding the analyses of the study. Analyses revealed a school which promoted meritocratic notions of achievement, despite social justice foundations. These meritocratic ideals suggest that students are largely responsible for their academic performance and achievement. That is, the school discourse promotes a stance of a level playing field-such that opportunity to achieve is available and all students should be free and able to take advantage of these opportunities. However, interviews with the students and prolonged engagement in the setting revealed elements of the students' lives (such as outside employment and/or responsibilities) which work to derail student performance, despite individual effort. These unfreedoms often disallow students from taking advantage of freedoms, or opportunities to achieve, that the school provides. Unfreedoms may force students to make deformed choices-that is, choices they would not make if unfreedoms did not exists. Results suggest without consideration of the real lives of students and families, and without consideration of how students perceive their performance and school experiences, schools can expect little change in student outcomes. Moreover, as a social justice policy intervention, early college high schools have a greater obligation to consider students' authentic lived experience. My findings suggest the early college program was designed with good intentions, however, as a policy intervention it is not as effective as it could be. The program comes from the perspective that opportunities (or freedoms) to achieve-which the school provides-are accessible to all students. Unfortunately, this limited perspective naively ignores the constraints (or unfreedoms) students face in their lives. Unfreedoms are often unavoidable, and tend to undermine students' progress toward high academic performance. Recommendations include suggestions to increase students' authentic freedoms to achieve through policy, practice and research.
Locke, Leslie Ann (2011). "It's Like Giving Us a Car, Only Without the Wheels": Performance of Latina Students at an Early College High School. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from