Of peripheral concern: Associating center-periphery differences with opportunity to learn rigorous curricula

Year: 2016

Author: Thier, Michael, Todd, Jandee, Perry, Laura

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Shils (1961) theorizes a societal center that houses authority, causing tension at the periphery. Consolidating power at the center yields a singular definition of success that privileges urban areas, particularly around educational inputs and outcomes (Tyack, 1974). Amid power dynamics that favor schools in urban centers, Biddle and Azano (2016) call for research to examine “diverse socio-spatial realities in the context of 21st century globalization” (p. 32). The current study applies a center-periphery conceptual framework to answer that call by examining secondary school students’ opportunities to learn rigorous academic curricula, which Adelman (1999) characterizes as a form of power due to its potential to alter secondary students’ postsecondary trajectories. Prior research has exposed differential access to rigorous academic curricula between urban centers and peripheral communities in rural and/or remote areas. Geographic disparities have applied to International Baccalaureate (IB) access in Australia (Dickson, Perry, Ledger, under review) and the United States (Provasnik et al., 2007; Thier, 2015), as well as U.S. Advanced Placement (AP) access (Anderson & Chang, 2011; Gagnon & Mattingly, 2015; Klopfenstein, 2004; Malkus, 2015; Thier, Beach, Todd, & Coleman, 2016).No study to date has examined such disparities with multinational data or as a function of population clustering. As part of our broader program of inquiry about center-periphery differences and opportunity to learn, we merged publicly and privately maintained data sets to analyze geographic characteristics of 3,172 schools across 167 nation-states. We were mindful that scholars have contested so-called rural-urban divides (Corbett, 2015; Greenough & Nelson, 2015; Koziol et al., 2015; Thier, Beach, Martinez, & Hollenbeck, 2016). Furthermore, Shils (1961) conceived of centers as having a “more or less definite location within the bounded territory” but not being exclusively geography-dependent (p. 1). Consequently, we modeled schools’ offering of IB Diploma Programme and AP coursework across three definitions of center: each nation’s capital, each nation’s most populous city, and very large urban-metro areas (population > 1,000,000) to ask three related questions: Is availability of IB Diploma Programme and/or AP coursework proportional to population clustering within 1. national capitals? 2. nations’ most populous cities? 3. very large urban-metro areas?Preliminary results show considerable disproportionalities; urban opportunities surpass periphery opportunities by 4:1 ratios in some analyses. We use these findings to suggest strategies schools can use to increase parity of IB/AP access without having to trade locally relevant content for the center’s definition of rigorous.