Distributed March 6, 2003
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Kristen Cole

U.S., British and Russian teens

Janine Bempechat looks at poor students who succeed, those who don’t

Education researcher Janine Bempechat is leading a two-year study in the United States, Great Britain and Russia, attempting to learn why some teens from low-income backgrounds are motivated to achieve academically and others are not. The project is an offshoot of Bempechat’s study of achievement differences between Catholic and public school students in the United States.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A two-year study of high school students in the United States, Great Britain and the Russian Federation aims to identify common factors that lead to successful learning by low-income teens.

The qualitative study – based on narratives rather than numbers – will amass data through interviews and through diaries maintained by participants. Each of 128 youths involved in the study will receive a wristwatch that beeps eight times a day on a random schedule. When the watch sounds throughout a seven-day period, the students will write in their diaries the answers to several questions surrounding their actions and their emotions at the time.

At issue are questions about what motivates some students to learn and achieve while others are not motivated, and whether culture or context (living in urban, suburban or rural areas) influences adolescents’ view of education, according to Janine Bempechat, senior research associate in Brown University’s Center for the Study of Human Development. Bempechat is the project’s lead researcher.

“What differentiates poor kids who get ahead from poor kids who don’t?” asked Bempechat. “We wanted a chance to sit and talk with students to find out.”

Bempechat is conducting the study with Jin Li, assistant professor of education at Brown University; Susan Holloway, adjunct professor of education at University of California–Berkeley; Joe Elliott and Neil Hufton, professors of education at the University of Sunderland, England; and funding from the William T. Grant Foundation.

Bempechat’s research on student motivation and achievement also includes the study of success differences of low-income students of color in Catholic versus public schools. Outcomes for poor students enrolled in Catholic schools are much better than outcomes for their peers enrolled in public schools by any measure – test scores as well as college matriculation rates, said Bempechat. She is nearing the end of a four-year longitudinal study of the motivational underpinnings of academic achievement in both education settings.

Bempechat is the author of Getting Our Kids Back on Track: Educating Children for the Future (Jossey-Bass, 2000), and Against the Odds: How ‘At Risk’ Students Exceed Expectations (Jossey-Bass, 1998), which followed more than 1,000 poor and minority students who achieved academic success and detailed the common factors among them.