Margaret Eisenhart
Distinguished Professor Emerita
Educational Foundations, Policy & Practice • Research & Evaluation Methodology

School of Education, Room 238 
University of Colorado Boulder
249 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309

Margaret Eisenhart is University Distinguished Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice/ Research and Evaluation Methodology. Since 2004 she has held the Bob and Judy Charles Endowed Chair of Education. From 1995-98 and 2001-03, she served as Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Education.

Dr. Eisenhart specializes in educational anthropology and ethnographic research methods.  Her research focuses on the social and cultural experiences of students in U.S. schools. She has examined racial dynamics and identities among elementary students, gender imagery and relationships among college students, and student experiences of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in high school.  From 1999-2009, she directed and studied after-school programs in science and technology for non-privileged girls of color in Denver. Her most recent projects examine high school students’ opportunities to learn STEM and the subsequent pathways they take to college.  Some of this research relies on text messaging and Facebook data, as well as more standard ethnographic techniques. 

Dr. Eisenhart teaches graduate-level courses in qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, and culture and ethnography in schools. 

Dr. Eisenhart was the 2001 recipient of the Elizabeth Gee Lectureship Award for outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and service for women and the 2003-04 recipient of the University of Colorado’s Distinguished Research Lectureship, the highest faculty award given at the University of Colorado. She is the author or co-author of over 100 research articles and 3 books: Educated in romance: Women, achievement and college culture; Designing classroom research; and Women’s science: Learning and succeeding from the margin.  

Dr. Eisenhart is a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association and a Founding Fellow of the American Educational Research Association.  In 2004, she was elected to the National Academy of Education.


PhD Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1980
MA Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1975
BA French Literature, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 1972

My research is in the subfield of educational anthropology. In general, I study patterns of culture, social interaction, and identity formation that affect academic performance, primarily in the U.S. The data I collect and write about are primarily ethnographic; that is, they come from extended periods of first-hand fieldwork in schools and from in-depth interviews with school participants, and they are primarily qualitative (text-based). In my first book, Educated in Romance: Culture, Achievement and College Culture (1990, University of Chicago Press), Dorothy Holland and I documented how college women—even those identified as high achieving and career oriented as freshmen—made day-to-day choices that were guided by a cultural code that ultimately subordinated success in school to romantic identities. In my latest book, Women's Science: Learning and Succeeding from the Margins (1998, University of Chicago Press), I identified the social and cultural features of school and work settings where women are attracted and succeed in science (or engineering) even if it means lower status and less pay. I have written over 60 articles on these and related topics.

In recent years, education research methodology and the professional training of education researchers have become increasingly important topics in my writing. In my second book, with Hilda Borko, Designing Classroom Research: Themes, Issues, and Struggles (1993, Allyn & Bacon), we argued for the compatibility of qualitative and quantitative research methods. The bookís chapter on standards of validity for qualitative research was used as the basis for the National Science Foundation 2000 report, Guiding Principles for Mathematics and Science Education Research Methods. More recently, I have worked on committees of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Educational Research Association, and the Social Science Research Council to help develop standards for qualitative research in education. Publications such as Scientific Research in Education (National Research Council, 2002) and Advancing Scientific Research in Education (NRC, 2004) bear the stamp of my involvement with these issues at the national level.

For the past 10 years I have directed afterschool science and technology outreach and research projects with Denver-area Latina and African-American middle and high school girls. These programs use insights and data gained from my previous work on girls and women in science, along with on-going data collection in the local community, to inform development of science and technology activity units that can attract and sustain the interest of girls in this community. Some of this work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Most of my research is done in collaboration with faculty members and students at CU and beyond. Anyone with a special interest in pursuing any of the topics listed above, please feel free to contact me.

My teaching interests are in the areas of anthropology and education, qualitative (especially ethnographic) methods, research methodology, and womenÌs studies.

Courses frequently taught:

Qualitative Research Methods I (EDUC 8250)

Education research is a complex endeavor involving several different methodological approaches. This course focuses on one kind of approach: qualitative methods. These methods include various means of obtaining in-depth information about the behaviors and beliefs of people in naturally occurring social settings. This course aims to provide students with an introduction to the theoretical perspectives that underlie this methodological approach and the techniques for and issues in gathering, analyzing, writing-up, and using qualitative data. 

This course is part of the required doctoral core in Education and is open to first-year doctoral students in Education only. Qualitative Research Methods II extends and elaborates on the topics covered in this course.

Culture and Ethnography in Education (EDUC 6325)

Applies anthropological perspectives to research in educational settings. Focuses on theories of culture, cultural transmission and acquisition, and cultural reproduction and production for understanding schooling and its outcomes. 

Open to graduate students only.

Ethnographic Methods in Educational Research (EDUC 7346)

Explores the history of ethnography in cultural anthropology and its translation into educational research. Students learn about and practice participant observation, interviewing, journal writing, artifact searches, strategies for qualitative analysis and interpretation, and styles of reporting.

Open to graduate students only.


Eisenhart, M. (2009, April). Civic Engagement as History in Person in the Lives of High School Girls. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Associatoin Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.

Eisenhart, M. (2009, April). Consequential Differences: Variations in School Support for Engineering. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Associatoin Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.

Eisenhart, M. (2009, April). Empty Choice: Can Girls “Want” Engineering If They Don’t Know What It Is? Paper presented at the American Educational Research Associatoin Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA.

Professional Service List

  • Member, Social Science Network of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, 2004 to present
  • Member, AERA Task Force on Reporting Standards for AERA Publications, 2005-2006
  • Member and Subcommittee Chair, National Research Council Committee on Research in Education 2003-2004
  • Lead Partner, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Initiative on the Doctorate, 2002-2005
  • Member, National Academy of Education, elected 2004
  • Member, National Research Council Committee on Scientific Principles in Educational Research, 2000-2002
  • Fellow, American Anthropological Association, elected 1992
  • Member, Council on Anthropology and Education
  • Secretary/Treasurer, Council on Anthropology and Education, 1983-1986
  • Member, American Educational Research Association
  • Annual Meeting Program Chair, American Educational Research Association, 1999-2000

University Service (selected)

  • Program Chair of Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice, 1988-1995
  • Director of Graduate Studies, 1995-98, 2001-03
  • Director, Center for Science, Culture, and NewMedia, 1999 to present
  • Chair, University Research Misconduct Committee, 1991-92
  • Dean Search Committee, 1997
  • Advisory Board Member, Hughes Biological Sciences Initiative, 2003-05
  • Individual Tenure and Promotion Committees
  • Faculty Search Committees

(For complete list of publications, please see the faculty member's curriculum vitae.) 

Selected Articles

Eisenhart, M., Weis, L., Allen, C.D., Cipollo, K., Stich, A., & Dominguez, R. (2015). High School Opportunities for STEM: Comparing Inclusive STEM-Focused and Comprehensive High Schools in Two US Cities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(6), 763-789.

High School Opportunities for STEM: Comparing Inclusive STEM-Focused
and Comprehensive High Schools in Two US Cities
High School Opportunities for STEM: Comparing Inclusive STEM-Focused
and Comprehensive High Schools in Two US Cities

Bystydzienski, J.M., Eisenhart, M., & Bruning, M. (2015). High School Is Not Too Late: Developing Girls’ Interest and Engagement in Engineering Careers. The Career Development Quarterly, 63(1), 88-95.

Eisenhart, M. (2013).  Life in three-walled rooms. In  M. Weaver-Hightower and C. Skelton (Eds.), Leaders in gender and education: Intellectual self portraits, 42-53. Boston: SENSE Publishers.

Eisenhart, M. (2008).  Globalization and science education in a community-based after-school programCultural Studies of Science Education, 3(1), 73-95. 

Eisenhart, M. (2008).  Generalization from qualitative inquiry. In K. Ercikan & W-M. Roth (Eds.), Generalizing from educational research:  Beyond the qualitative and quantitative polarization, 51-66.  New York: Routledge Press.

Brickhouse, N., Eisenhart, M. & Tonso, K. (2006). Identity politics in science and science educationCultural Studies in Science Education, 1, 309-324.

Goodman, B. Eisenhart, M., DeHaan, R., Kemm, R., Rodenbaugh, D., & Pelaez, N. (2007). Scientific principles of education researchAdvances in Physiology Education, 31, 374-376 (meeting report).

AERA Task Force on Reporting of Research Methods in AERA Publications. (2006). Standards for reporting on empirical social science research in AERA publicationsEducational Researcher, 35(6), 33-40. (I was a member of the committee that produced this document.)

Eisenhart, M. (2006). Qualitative science in experimental time. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 19(6), 697-707.

Eisenhart, M. & DeHaan, R. (2005). Doctoral preparation of scientifically based educational researchersEducational Researcher, 34(4), 3-13.

Eisenhart, M. (2005). Hammers and saws for the improvement of educational research. Educational Theory, 55(2), 245-261.

Eisenhart, M. (2005). Science plus: A response to the responses to scientific research in educationTeachers College Record, 107(1), 52-58.

Eisenhart, M., & Edwards, L. (2004). Red-eared sliders and neighborhood dogs: Creating third spaces to support ethnic girls' interests in technological and scientific expertiseChildren, Youth and Environments, 14(2), 156-177.

Eisenhart, M. (2001). Educational ethnography past, present, and future: Ideas to think withEducational Researcher, 30(8), 16-27.

Eisenhart, M. (2000). Boundaries and selves in the making of 'science'. Research in Science Education, 30(1), 43-55. Original publication available at

Eisenhart, M. (1998). On the subject of interpretive reviewsReview of Educational Research, 68(4), 389-397.

Eisenhart, M., Finkel, E., & Marion, S. (1996). Creating the conditions for scientific literacy: A reconsiderationAmerican Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 261-295.

Eisenhart, M. (1995). Promises and puzzles of culturally-sensitive teachingPracticing Anthropology, 17(3), 22-25.

Eisenhart, M. (1995). The fax, the jazz player, and the self-story teller: How do people learn cultureAnthropology and Education Quarterly, 26(1), 3-26.

Eisenhart, M., Borko, H., Underhill, R., Brown, C., Jones, D., & Agard, P. (1993). Conceptual knowledge falls through the cracks: Complexities of learning to teach mathematics for understandingJournal for Research in Mathematics Education24, 8–40.

Borko, H., Eisenhart, M., Brown, C., Underhill, R., Jones, D., & Agard, P. (1992). Learning to teach hard mathematics: Do novice teachers and their instructors give up too easily? Journal for Research in Mathematics Education23, 194–222.

Eisenhart, M. (1991). Conceptual frameworks for research circa 1991: Ideas from a cultural anthropologist; Implications for mathematics education researchers. In R. Underhill (Ed.), Proceedings of the thirteenth annual meeting of psychology of mathematics education – North America. Blacksburg, VA: Psychology of Mathematics Education.

Howe, K., & Eisenhart, M. (1990). Standards for qualitative (and quantitative) research: A prolegomenonEducational Researcher, 19, 2-9.

Eisenhart, M. (1988). The ethnographic research tradition and mathematics education researchJournal for Research in Mathematics Education19, 99-114.

Selected Chapters

Eisenhart, M. (2005). Reforming the doctoral program in education research at the University of Colorado. In C. Hancock & P. Paul (Eds.), Essays on the role and nature of research within the PhD program in education. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University, College of Education.

Eisenhart, M. (2001). Changing conceptions of culture and ethnographic methodology: Recent thematic shifts and their implications for research on teaching. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (4th ed., pp. 209-225). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Eisenhart, M., & Graue, M. E. (1992). Constructing cultural difference and educational achievement in schools. In E. Jacob & C. Jordan (Eds.), Explaining the school performance of minority students: Anthropological perspectives (pp. 165-179). Norwood, NJ: ABLEX.

Eisenhart, M., & Howe, K. (1992). Validity in educational research. In M. LeCompte, W. Millroy, & J. Preissle (Eds.), The handbook of qualitative research in education (pp. 642-680). San Diego: Academic Press.

Eisenhart, M., & Cutts-Dougherty, K. (1991). Social and cultural constraints on students' access to school knowledge. In E. Hiebert (Ed.), Literacy for a diverse society: Perspectives, programs, and policies (pp. 28-43). New York: Teachers College Press.