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The Executive Officer’s Column

The Sociology Pipeline Begins in High School

A very small percentage (0.3%) of students declare sociology as a major when they enter college. This small number is in part due to a lack of exposure to the field in high school. Guaranteeing a full pipeline of students flowing into higher education sociology departments across the nation is an important objective, and to address this, ASA has engaged in a number of activities to help enhance the pipeline’s flow.

In January, ASA summarized some of these activities in a presentation at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Conference on Educational Reform and Human Resource Development in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. The meeting was called to examine shared needs across social science disciplines, none of which is well integrated into the nation’s K-12 level (kindergarten through 12th grade) educational system. Results of the meeting will be used to organize a national workshop and to develop a long-range plan of action for educational reform, research, and human resource development in the social and behavioral sciences.

Thus, ASA isn’t alone in identifying the high school constituency as key to a science discipline’s future. For example, just last month the NSF announced the latest of its major K-12 education reform programs, a $20-million five-year effort. The program solicitation (NSF 03-532), titled NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12), supports fellowships and associated training that enable graduate students and advanced undergraduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to serve in K-12 schools as resources knowledgeable about both the content and applications of these disciplines (see This is an excellent opportunity for sociologists wishing to make a positive impact on the presence of social and behavioral science in the K-12 domain.

Advanced Placement

ASA’s Task Force on the Advance Placement (AP) Course in Sociology is working to develop a quality course and course materials and to undertake teacher preparation. Regardless of whether the College Board approves a sociology AP exam, this course will provide a model for teachers. The day after the ASA 2003 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, ASA will sponsor a daylong continuing professional education course on “Teaching an Advanced Placement-level High School Sociology Course.” Finally, ASA is also collaborating with the National Council on the Social Studies to increase the social science component in social studies curricula in the K-12 domain.

High School Affiliate Program

In August 2002, ASA, with Council’s enthusiastic endorsement, approved the creation of a formal “affiliate relationship” between ASA and high school teachers (and their social studies departments). ASA launched this High School Affiliate program to better link high school teachers with the ASA and to help us share ideas and materials (see December 2002 Footnotes, “ASA Launches New Link with High School Sociology”). While some high school teachers are full members of ASA, the affiliate relationship provides nonmember high school teachers (and their departments) with an opportunity to access key publications at member prices, and to be informed of the special professional opportunities to advance their sociological education. We have already received numerous inquiries about the program in response to a recent promotion. High school departments subscribing to the High School Affiliate Program receive a subscription to Contexts magazine as well as the opportunity to order Teaching Sociology and other ASA teaching resources at ASA member prices. With its very readable articles, accessible format, attractive design, and focus on social issues with a high appeal to general audiences, Contexts is uniquely suited to appeal to high school audiences. In its effort to actively recruit high school departments to this program, I invite readers to recommend the program to your local high school social science teachers. Consider contacting via e-mail to obtain copies of brochures about the program or other information.

Other ASA education-focused activities serve high school teachers and students less directly, but they too enhance the attractiveness or familiarity of the discipline to high school students and benefit the discipline in other ways. Though less directly impacting high school students, these efforts nonetheless are important potentially to increase the number of students who view sociology as an inviting undergraduate major. Let me mention some of these activities.

Undergraduate Research

As the result of a separate ASA effort to enhance scientific training in undergraduate sociology, we may also increase the attractiveness of college-level sociology to promising high school students who otherwise might choose other courses and majors. The typical undergraduate major has a two- or three-course sequence in research methods and statistics. However, that sequence is typically disconnected from other sociology courses in the curriculum, either lower-division courses or other courses in the major. Through an NSF-funded project called Integrating Data Analysis (IDA), ASA solicited sociology departments (see November 2002 Footnotes, p. 4) and is now working intensively with 12 of them to transform their curriculum to incorporate research exposure “early and often.” Using U.S. Census and other data sets, the IDA project serves as a model for other sociology departments seeking to share the excitement and challenge of empirical work to students throughout the curriculum.

A Welcoming Face

ASA’s MOST (Minority Opportunity Through School Transformation) program succeeded in showing the discipline how sociology departments could reconfigure themselves to be more welcoming and supportive to students of color and more successful at graduating minority majors. Minority high school students will be more attracted to sociology departments that implement the lessons learned through MOST. By transforming departments (including their curriculum, climate, mentoring, pipeline, and research training), ASA has created a road map that can lead the discipline to be more inviting to talented minority students. The link between departmental excellence and inclusivity (both in the student body and faculty) will be key to high school students viewing sociology as an inviting field in which to pursue their undergraduate education. While ASA’s MOST program and our longstanding predoctoral Minority Fellowship Program have brought much progress toward diversity in the discipline, the small but stable numbers of PhDs of color points to the need to focus on earlier segments in the pipeline (e.g., high school) to impact more proactively the flow of minority students into the discipline.

All sociologists should consider what other means we can summons to better insert sociology into high school education.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer