Center for Research on Educational Opportunity Continues Expansion

Author: Mike Danahey

The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO), part of the University’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, has welcomed three new sociologists in the last year.

The new hires are the highlight of what has been a particularly successful year for the center and its research into schools and the learning process, says Mark Berends, CREO director and professor of sociology.

“Because of these additions to CREO,” he says, “we further our hopes of being the place to pursue a degree in the sociology of education. These individuals are excellent scholars who will make a major impact on the field and our students for years to come.”

Research Agendas

Amy Langenkamp

The newest faculty member, Amy Langenkamp, joined the center and the Department of Sociology in August 2011 as the O’Shaughnessy Assistant Professor of Educational Studies. Her research, Berends says, “focuses on how students’ social relationships can help or hinder the transitions between middle and high school or high school and college.”

Langenkamp received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Her recent projects include “Unbundling Youth, Family, and Community Involvement in College Access: On the Ground in Austin, Texas,” which was funded through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I was drawn to the study of sociology of education because it is the institution within which opportunity is increased for individuals as well as a place where stratification and inequality can be exacerbated,” she says. “I find the study of both of those processes—what creates opportunity, what are the processes that exacerbate disadvantage—extremely interesting and important.”

“The Gates grant was one piece that allowed me to get at some of those questions by studying the transition to college among traditionally disadvantaged groups.”

Megan Andrew

Another recent addition to CREO is Megan Andrew, whose research explores “social inequalities in higher education, with a particular focus on gender and educational expectations,” Berends says.

An assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Andrew came to Notre Dame in 2011 after a two-year post-doctoral research fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to research the relationships between differential outcomes in education and health among immigrant and native-born minority young adults in the United States.

“I am generally interested in the reproduction of socioeconomic inequality over time, particularly social-psychological facets of this process,” she says.

Andrew received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where her dissertation research evaluating different dynamics of social inequality in post-secondary education was supported by the Spencer Foundation; the research has also been published in Social Forces.

Steven Alvarado

Steven Alvarado, who also received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently began a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at CREO.

“His research focuses on the impact of neighborhood context on student outcomes, such as student achievement and obesity,” Berends says. “We are delighted to have Steven Alvarado join us.”

While at Notre Dame, Alvarado also plans to investigate how Catholic schools—and the notion of the “common good”—affects science and math-course taking.

Advancing Scholarship

New research at CREO also includes a major project in which Berends and colleague David Stuit from Basis Policy Research and graduate student Megan Austin are examining value-added models of teacher effectiveness within the state of Indiana.

Mark Berends

“These models are a collection of statistical techniques designed to estimate the effects of teachers or schools based on changes in students’ test scores over time,” Berends says.

In theory, value-added models provide a more accurate estimate of what individual teachers contribute to student learning. In practice, however, they involve technical challenges—and much debate.

“For this project,” Berends says, “we looked at whether using different tests or administering them at different times influence the estimates of teacher effectiveness and the implications for educational policy.”

A report of the findings is currently under review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, and Berends says he hopes to be able to release results within the next few months.

In other research news, Berends was recently appointed co-editor of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the premier American Educational Research Association journal on educational policy.

“My colleagues and I are excited about this opportunity with EEPA,” he says, “because of the central role it plays getting the word out about rigorous research findings that can shape education policy and practice.”

Community Collaboration

Maureen Hallinan

After three years at the helm of CREO, Berends says he continues to be struck by the dedication of students, staff, and faculty to their work.

“Maureen Hallinan, former director of CREO and an endowed chair in the department, is retiring this year, but her leadership over the years in CREO and sociology as a whole have made significant contributions that are highly valued,” he says. Most recently, he notes, she served as the inaugural editor of Frontiers in Sociology of Education, a new series of forward-looking volumes that addresses how to approach thinking about and solving tomorrow’s educational dilemmas.

Berends also credits the success of the center to the friendly collaboration that extends across CREO, as well as the Institute for Educational Initiatives, the Department of Sociology—and beyond.

William Carbonaro

He is particularly proud of the idea exchanges that occur through the center’s CREO Seminar Series. Last year, under the leadership of Associate Professor Bill Carbonaro, assistant director of the center and director of graduate studies for the Department of Sociology, several prominent speakers visited Notre Dame through the Henkels Lecture Fund of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.

“With Bill’s leadership, we were able to bring in several national experts to talk about research on Latino education within the United States and on federal education policy,” he says, adding that Carbonaro was also elected to serve as 2012–13 chair of the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Education section.

This level of commitment to the center’s educational mission was quickly evident to one of the team’s newest members.

“It’s great to be part of a growing, vibrant community,” Langenkamp says. “There are only a few places where people are working as collaboratively as they are here.”

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Originally published by Mike Danahey at on April 18, 2012.