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New Project: Mapping the Civics Education Landscape: Identifying the Role of Research and Politics in Educational Decision-Making

In ensuring our research has real-world application, it is critical to understand gaps between research production and practical use. This research project will explore how school decision-makers weigh research at the intersections of political and contextual factors, when selecting and implementing civics programming.

This project will: 1) document conditions and strategies to improve research use, and 2) work with community members to develop and test tools to improve the use of research evidence.


(Funder William T Grant Foundation Scholars Program, Principal Investigator Kornbluh).

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Current Project: Who is Hearing “Youth Voice” Research? Strengthening the Use of Research Evidence from YPAR

Youth participatory action research (YPAR) aims to produce knowledge that is local, timely, and meaningful to young people. This youth-guided approach has the potential to inform educational policy and practice and promote accountability to young people among district and school leaders.


In this study, in collaboration with Dr. Emily Ozer (University of California Berkeley), Dr. Ben Kirshner (University of Colorado), Dr. Adam Voight (Cleveland State University), and others -- we are examining the conditions under which school and district decision makers use youth-generated research to inform policies and practices.


Data collection consists of documenting (via surveys, observations, interviews, and archival analysis) the use of YPAR research in 16 schools across 7 districts.


Key Questions Include: How do adults make sense of and apply the YPAR findings in their work? How does the use of research relate to their more general support for youth voice, the roles and power relations of students and adults in the YPAR projects, and the broader school and state policy context?


The study is a new area of research in understanding what happens when students produce their own research and the conditions under which this research is used.


(Funder William T Grant Foundation, Principal Investigators Ozer, Kirshner, and Voight,  Co-Investigators Abraciznskas, Cohen, & Kornbluh).

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Ongoing Project: Civic Media Literacy in a Networked Society: Supporting Mindful Circulation

As the internet and social media are now central to the practice of civic engagement civic media literacy, the ability to use media intentionally to achieve civic goals, has been identified as a core civic competency and goal for civic education.


There has been little attention given to one of the most common practices of civic engagement in the digital age – circulation of civic media (media related to social or political issues) through online social networks.


When young people share civic media through social network sites, they have the opportunity to amplify attention to issues that may be overlooked by media elites and connect with others who share their concerns. This is particularly important for under-represented groups. 


This study led by Dr. Ellen Middaugh (San Jose State University) explores: 1) what goals and decisions guide youth decisions to share online media issues, and 2) what cues or other factors influence youth to be mindful and intentional circulators of civic media?


Current data collection and analysis includes 50 interviews and 700 surveys exploring key factors impacting how explore youth engage with social media content related to civic issues. 


(Funder: Spencer Foundation, Principal Investigator Middaugh, Co-Investigators Bell, Felton, & Kornbluh)

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Completed Project: Exploring the role of Critical Consciousness in Relation to Educational Attainment

Racial and ethnically minoritized students are often disproportionally affected by multi-level systems of oppression within their school and community environments.

This study focused on the role of critical consciousness for racially and ethnically minoritized students navigating higher education. Longitudinal surveys, focus groups, ethnographic field notes, and photovoice were used to capture students' lived experiences. 


Findings highlighted the important role played by adult helpers in supporting  students in relation to student learning, academic achievement, and school cross-cultural programs and freedom schools. Adult helpers provided aid to students in developing skills in cultural humility, facilitating consciousness raising discussions (i.e., exploring issues of systemic inequality), and exploring and celebrating ancestral resiliency.

Notably, critical consciousness provided students with a framework and language to name experiences of oppression, and instilled in them a sense of agency to combat such systems while persisting within their educational environment


This study was funded by the Spencer Grant Foundation, New Civics Initiative (Principal Investigator: Kornbluh)

Photovoice Exhibit
 Completed Project: Tapping Into Children's Understandings of Inequality

Tapping into children and adolescent conceptualizations of inequality is key to understanding how they make sense of the world, and how this understanding relates to their own identities and personal narratives in relation to agency, educational attainment, and overall well-being.


In partnership with Dr. Connie Flanagan (University of Wisconsin-Madison), data were collected from 598 participants within the U.S. ranging from 6th to 12th grade.


Findings indicated that Black participants and youth from families that had fewer resources saw U.S. society as more stratified as compared to white participants and those with more resources who chose a more egalitarian image of U.S. society today.


While cognizant of social inequities, these same youth were also more likely to internalize meritocratic beliefs surrounding the underlying mechanisms of inequality, thus potentially adopting deficit focused-narratives that have been tied to poor academic, developmental, and health outcomes.

This project was fund by the William T Grant Foundation (Principal Investigator:  Flanagan). 

Presenting at Society for Research on Child Development
Completed Projects: Civic Activism, Stress, and Coping during the 2020 Presidential Election

The 2020 U.S. election brought heightened levels of political and social conflict, coinciding with the unprecedented stress and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This study explored the role of critical consciousness and identity in relation to young peoples' civic activism. 

Findings suggest the role of identity, impacted by both privileging and oppressive systems, is associated with distinct types of civic participation (outside of the system versus inside of the system).

Furthermore, opportunities to promote critical consciousness are strongly associated with a range of diverse forms of civic participation (e.g., volunteering, activism in support of the Black community). Findings identify future directions for research design and community programming that can further unpack and bolster racial justice-oriented civic identity development for young people.

This project was funded by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina, and the Society for Community Research and Axtion (Principal Investigator: Kornbluh).


This study was conducted in partnership with Brooklyn College, Fordham University, Montana State University, North Carolina State University, San Francisco State University, University of Michigan, University of Washington Tacoma, and Wake Forest University.

2020 Presidential Election
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