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Research Tea: Manuel S. González Canché

Photo of Manuel S. González Canché.

For the Libraries’ next Research Tea, Manuel S. González Canché will speak about his recent work on geographical bias in standardized testing.

An associate professor in the Higher Education division of Penn’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), González Canché’s scholarship focuses on the interplay between environmental circumstances and educational/occupational outcomes. González Canché is an affiliated faculty member of GSE’s Human Development and Quantitative Methods division and its International Education Development Program, a senior scholar in the GSE’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy, and a senior research associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Read more about González Canché’s work in the Q&A below, register for his September 17 talk here, and stay tuned for additional faculty Research Teas scheduled on October 15 and December 3.

Your research aims to quantify and decode complex systems of inequality. Can you describe some of the methodologies that you use to untangle data? 

I rely on network theory and methods, along with quasi-experimental design and spatial econometrics, to model structures and systems that are interdependent. I use these approaches to identify groups of people who may be systematically affected by their surroundings and different access to resources.

What specifically ‘geographical’ factors most significantly impact educational outcomes? 

Within my discipline, ‘geographical’ refers generically to factors that capture spaces and places where individuals experience life. The most influential such factors include poverty, family composition (such as single mother households), and local unemployment rates. These factors remain important predictors for educational outcomes even after accounting for individual-level indicators of academic performance, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

What factors signal higher educational and occupational success rates for individuals in otherwise adverse circumstances?

By any measure, the most important one is a solid K through 12 foundation that eases the transition from high school to college. Unfortunately, for a variety of geopolitical factors, students who live in poorer zones also attend underfunded schools, which serves to perpetuate the vicious cycle of lack of college readiness. In a recent study (forthcoming in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences), I elaborate further on this topic and also show how traditional measures of oppression, such as standardized admission tests, can instead be used as tools to enhance equity and prospects of success.

The social problems that you study are compound and therefore require multi-part solutions. That said, what one measure could you foresee most powerfully alleviating inequality?

It would have to be a combination of political and legal measures based on willingness to support people’s prospects of upward mobility. As a scholar, I aim to present the best evidence that I can possibly obtain, but most of the times, this evidence remains in the form of a published paper, which is frustrating. We need decision- and policy-makers to review and believe this evidence in order for the necessary changes to take place.

Are there ways in which university libraries (and librarians) might help support the educational success of minority and at-risk students? 

Very much so. Libraries and librarians are in a privileged position to offer extracurricular activities to these types of students.