Rice professor Ruth Lopez Turley didn’t come from a home that you might think would produce a college professor.
"My mother had an 8th grade education. My father had a third grade education. Large family. Very poor. But I had some individuals in my life, through the school that I went to, that gave me the information that I needed at just the right time and that absolutely changed my life."
So she became a sociology professor, because she was interested in why some people including herself turn out the way they do.
"That’s what got me into this field in the first place, because I wanted to know why."
Now Turley wants to find out how to give more people with her background a better education. Starting in September, she’ll be in charge of a group of researchers at Rice, who will work with HISD and study things the district may want to know more about: for instance, the question of class size. How big of a deal is it really?
"Class size is one where there’s some evidence that suggests that smaller class sizes are better for students and there’s other evidence that suggests that it’s not really class size persa, but what matters more is the expertise and qualifications of the teacher."
Another topic the district could decide it wants more information about is the role of the family in determining a student’s academic future. On this topic, Turley has her own opinion.
"Family obviously matters a lot. But it’s not just family. It’s also what is happening in those schools."
The goal of the Rice and HISD research partnership is to come up with answers to closing socioeconomic achievement gaps in Houston schools. Turley admits they already know a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. But as inner city schools continuing to struggle, she says there’s still plenty of research to be done.