Study shows that outreach to parents is an effective strategy for improving high school STEM learning and increasing the likelihood of STEM career selection

A decade-long study of high school course-taking, college majors and career tracks by the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work has shown that communicating with parents of high school students about the importance of upper level high school math and science courses significantly increases the rate at which students take those courses and also results in a larger percentage of those students choosing careers in STEM fields.

The higher level of course-taking in rigorous high school math and science courses resulted in higher ACT math and science scores, more STEM course-taking in college and eventually more decisions to pursue careers in STEM fields.

The most recent paper on the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a summary of the results was posted by Education Week.

Two key tools of the Wisconsin parent outreach effort were a brochure that was distributed to parents and a web site with supporting information.  That web site is here, and both the brochure and a 2012 paper that discusses the high school course-taking results can be downloaded there.

Regular readers (both of you) might be wondering how my in-person parent outreach work at Mosley High School connects to the Wisconsin results.  The short answer is that it doesn’t.  Or at least it didn’t – since none of the people involved in the Mosley work were aware of the Wisconsin project when we began.  I was invited to talk with parents at Mosley by MAPPS guidance counselors Laura Evans and Sharon Hofer as an experiment – we didn’t really know how effective those meetings would be.  And it should be noted that those meetings were only part of a school strategy to increase enrollments in upper level math and science courses that involved counselors and teachers and had the support of the school administration.  The results were remarkable – an increase of more than 50% in chemistry enrollments, a factor of six increase in physics enrollments, and increases in precalculus and calculus as well.

But even at Mosley we didn’t reach every parent, and there haven’t been similar parent outreach efforts at other Bay County high schools.  So we are now exploring supplementing our in-person work with a brochure-and-web-site strategy like the one that worked so well in Wisconsin.

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