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Doris A. Santoro
Teachers often characterize their interest in and commitment to the profession as moral: a desire to support students, serve their communities, or uphold civic ideals embedded in the promise of public education. These initial and sustaining moral impulses are well documented in research on teaching and teacher education. However, moral commitments can also be a source of teachers’ dissatisfaction and resistance, especially in the age of the market-based Global Education Reform Movement. This article explores the phenomenon of conscientious objection in teaching as an enactment of professional ethics. Conscientious objection describes teachers’ actions when they take a stand against job expectations that contradict or compromise their professional ethics. Teachers who refuse to enact policies and practices may be represented by popular media, school leaders, policymakers, and educational researchers as merely recalcitrant or insubordinate. This perspective misses the moral dimensions of resistance. Teachers may refuse to engage in practices or follow mandates from the standpoint of professional conscience. This article also highlights varieties of conscientious objection that are drawn from global examples of teacher resistance. Finally, the article explores the role of teachers unions as potential catalysts for collective forms of conscientious objection.
Teacher unions (or alternatively “education unions”) are organizations formed to protect and advance the collective interests of teachers and other education workers. What the collective interests of educators entail and how they should be pursued have been and remain active matters for debate within these organizations. Different unions at different times have responded differently to these questions, for example, in relation to the degree to which an industrial versus a professional orientation should be adopted, and the degree to which a wider political and social justice agenda should be embraced.
Several ideal-type models of teacher unionism have been identified, as well as various strategic options that these unions might employ. A spirited debate is ongoing about the legitimacy and power of teacher unions. One perspective portrays them as self-interested special interest groups, and another as social movements advocating for public education. The status of teacher unions as stakeholders in educational policymaking is contested, and union–government relations occur across a spectrum of arrangements ranging from those that encourage negotiation to those characterized by confrontation and hostility.
Internationally, education unions face significant challenges in the early decades of the 21st century. Neoliberal economic and industrial policies and legislation have eroded the capacity of unions to collectively organize and bargain, and the global education reform movement (GERM) has created a hostile environment for education unions and their members. Despite these challenges, education unions remain among the most important critics of GERM and of global neoliberal social policy generally. The challenges posed and the strategies adopted play out differently across the globe. There is evidence that at least some unions are now prepared to be far more flexible in adopting a “tapestry” of strategies, to examine their internal organization, build alliances, and develop alternative conceptions of the future of education. Researchers, however, have identified certain internal factors in many teacher unions that pose significant obstacles to these tasks. Unions face difficult choices that could lead to marginalization on the one hand or incorporation on the other.
Activities that actively and deliberately support museum visitors’ engagement with art and promote learning occupy a distinct, though contested, place in the history and current framing of the art museum across the globe. Despite its many benefits, educational work in art museums has grown erratically, frequently without formal structures, systems, or strategies, and it has been critiqued in the past for lacking a robust theoretical framework and consistent methodological principles. It remains the case that the field is broad, diverse, and continually evolving; in the early 21st century, the boundaries are shifting, for example, between what constitutes curatorial practice and learning practice in contemporary art museums. This fluidity and heterogeneity has enabled the emergence of creative and responsive practice that encourages visitors to learn with, through, and about art, but it poses challenges when the goal is to present a coherent overview. Therefore any summary of this complex domain will necessarily be selective. Nonetheless, taking the practice as it has been developed in the United Kingdom and the United States, where this work has been theorized and communicated to the greatest extent (and with reference to the practice in Europe, Canada, and Australia), it is possible to identify common historical developments, shared philosophical and pedagogical principles, and collective challenges and opportunities that contribute to a comprehensible picture, albeit one that is replete with contradictions. As a field, art-museum education continues to define itself. And although valuable research and theorization have been undertaken, in part by practitioners drawing on their own experiences, further work is required, not least to broaden the understanding of the practice as it is manifest globally and to make explicit the increasingly important role of art education within the art museum.
Teaching self-efficacy refers to the beliefs that teachers hold about their instructional capabilities. According to Bandura’s social cognitive theory, individuals develop a sense of efficacy by attending to four sources of information: mastery experiences (i.e., performance attainments), vicarious experiences (i.e., observing social models), social persuasions (i.e., messages received from others) and physiological and affective states (e.g., stress, fatigue, mood). Personal and contextual factors also play a role in the development of teaching self-efficacy. Understandings of teaching self-efficacy, its sources and its effects, have been limited by poor conceptualizations and methodological shortcomings. Nonetheless, researchers have provided ample evidence that teachers with a high sense of efficacy tend to be more psychologically healthy and effective than teachers who doubt their capabilities.
Surendran Sankaran and Norazlinda Saad
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
Technology proficiency is the ability to use technology to communicate effectively and professionally, organize information, produce high-quality products, and enhance thinking skill. In classroom settings, technology proficiency refers to the ability of teachers to integrate technology to teach, facilitate, and improve learning, productivity, and performance. These abilities are needed to participate in a technological world. Technology proficiency will guide teachers to encounter and explore a wide variety of technological devices in order to have the possibility to know and choose those that best respond to teaching content and pedagogical aims. Basic proficiency in information technologies among teachers is typically used to communicate electronically, organize activities and information, and create documents in schools or higher education institutions.
Proficiency in using technological devices can be achieved through experience and instruction. It is a necessary condition to introduce, experiment with, and maintain an accessible technological tool for teaching practices. Technology proficiency in fact seems relevant for many aspects of the teaching profession, such as lesson preparation. Other aspects that impact teacher decisions to introduce technology into classroom activities are beliefs about the way the subject should be taught and skills associated with competence in managing classroom activities. Teachers must be able to apply the technology knowledge and skills required in their professional job role and responsibilities in order to achieve the expected outputs.
Theories of complex systems originated in the natural sciences, where it became necessary to move away from describing systems in simple cause–effect models to using descriptions that take into account nonlinearity, emergence, path dependence, the interrelation of continuous (quantitative) and discontinuous (qualitative) transitions, and the interrelation of phenomena at multiple scales. Although some educators have begun to explore the usefulness of complex systems theories for describing educational phenomena at the different levels of scale, the vast majority of educational research continues to be dominated by simple and simplistic (quantitative and qualitative) models. After definition and discussion of different conceptions of systems, this article presents constraint satisfaction networks, chaos theory, and catastrophe theory, as dynamic models for social processes in education. The different models are introduced with easily accessible phenomena from the natural sciences. The models not only are sources of analogies and metaphors for articulating a variety of phenomena in educational systems, including learning and development, conceptual change, decision making, categorization, and curriculum implication, but also can be used for studying real educational systems. Readers find how these models can be used to think about and predict the behavior of systems at scales as small as student–teacher talk to school systems as a whole. The concepts are used to show why educational systems tend to be stable even when policymakers intend change and why some classroom contexts do not provide the conditions for student development despite well-meaning efforts of dedicated teachers.
The Principles, Possibilities, Politics, and Potential Pitfalls of Community-Based Educational Research
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
Globally, there is a shift, however slight, toward embracing educational research that has a social justice intent, based on the principles of inclusion, authentic participation, and democratic decision-making. This shift toward doing research with participants, rather than on them, could be seen as a reaction to the criticism of contemporary universities being exclusive and in need of finding ways to connect with traditionally marginalized groups. In short, universities need to be more responsive to the real learning and development needs of communities and use their theoretical knowledge to complement and facilitate, rather than to direct, research conducted in partnership with those whose lives are directly affected by the phenomenon being studied. Community-based educational research (CBR) accepts local knowledge as the starting point of sustainable change and the learning and development of all involved as a nonnegotiable outcome of the research process. CBR has thus an educative intent; it is also inherently political because it aims to change systems that breed inequity.
Yet these very characteristics stand in opposition to the neoliberal, silo-like models of operation in academia, where the bottom-line trumps social impact in most strategic decisions. Negotiating the bureaucratic boundaries regarding the ethics of community-based research becomes a major hurdle for most researchers and often leads to compromises that contradict and undermine the ideal of partnership and equitable power relations. There is a pressing need to rethink how we “do” community-based educational research, to ensure it is truly educational for all. This begs the question, in what ways does the academy need to change to accommodate educational research that contributes to the sustainable learning and development of people and to the democratization of knowledge? Community-based educational research can help close the gap between theory and practice, between academic and community researcher.
The Role of Leadership in Obtaining International Accreditation of Educator Preparation Providers (CAEP Requirements)
Sulaiman Al-Balushi, Mahmoud Emam, and Khalaf Al-Abri
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
Leadership is conceptualized in various ways. In general, however, leadership is defined as a transaction between leaders and followers. In 2016, the College of Education at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) successfully obtained international accreditation by the U.S. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which is now known as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). This achievement was recognized nationally by policymakers and was commended internationally by education experts. In fact, the journey toward international accreditation was so challenging that without the contribution of sustained leadership it could not have been completed. The college leadership contributed considerably and played an inspirational role to achieve that goal.
In the early stages of the process, the college leadership conducted a thorough needs assessment in which opportunities, assets, and risks were identified before a decision regarding seeking international accreditation was made. Given that national accreditation was established recently in Oman, the college leaders focused on communicating the vision and mission clearly to the college faculty and administrative staff as well as students. This was followed by leading change within the institution through a careful inspection of the resources that could be deployed and the incentives that could successfully promote the new accreditation culture and build positive attitudes. Through forming teams of leaders within the institution as part of the distributed leadership, the college was able to set up an action plan in which various gaps could be covered.
The college leadership adopted different approaches to lead the college, its faculty, staff, and students toward the attainment of the international accreditation. A combination of distributed, transactional, and transformational leadership approaches was used by the college leadership in order to pursue and accomplish accreditation. The college relied on the academic accreditation steering committee (AASC) as a form of distributed leadership. The AASC included faculty members with experience in academic accreditation and assessment and represented focal points for other faculty members. The college leadership restructured the roles and responsibilities of the Heads of Departments (HoDs) as a form of transactional leadership in order to embed accreditation work within the normal flow of operations.
The college provided constant feedback on performance, adhered to equity and equality principles, considered personal differences among staff and students, and responded to their diverse needs. As a form of transformational leadership, the college worked on creating the culture for accreditation, stimulating innovation and creativity, encouraging scholarship and research activities, and sharing potential risks. The college sought to build a community of practice by creating a positive collegial atmosphere for teamwork and capacity building. The adoption of a combination of successful leadership styles helped the college to overcome the potential ambiguity and conflict between academic duties of faculty and the demanding tasks of accreditation. Additionally, it helped faculty members, staff, and students to change from being passive observers to positive players.
Furthermore, the effective leadership was the means by which the college faced the resistance that some faculty members showed initially. Such resistance was met with various management strategies, such as stressing the shared aims and values within the institution, fostering a collaborative and supportive environment, respecting the cultural and contextual values, encouraging faculty to participate in decision-making, instilling trustworthiness and integrity, and acting as role models. In short, it can be said that the achievement of international accreditation, though a tough journey, was possible only because the college leaders thought it could be realized and worked for it.
D. Brent Edwards Jr. and Inga Storen
Since the 1950s, the World Bank’s involvement and influence in educational assistance has increased greatly. The World Bank has not only been a key player, but, at times, has been the dominant international organization working with low-income countries to reform their education systems. Given the contributions that education makes to country development, the World Bank works in the realm of education as part of its broad mission to reduce poverty and to increase prosperity. This work takes the form of financing, technical assistance and knowledge production (among others) and occurs at multiple levels, as the World Bank seeks to contribute to country development and to shape the global conversation around the purposes and preferred models of education reform, in addition to engaging in international processes and politics with other multi- and bilateral organizations.
The present article examines the work of the World Bank in historical perspective in addition to discussing how the role of this institution has been theorized and research by scholars. Specifically, the first section provides an overview of this institution’s history with a focus on how the leadership, preferred policies, organizational structure, lending, and larger politics to which it responds have changed over time, since the 1940s. Second, the article addresses the ways that the World Bank is conceptualized and approached by scholars of World Culture Theory, international political economy, and international relations. The third section contains a review of research on (a) how the World Bank is involved in educational policy making at the country level, (b) the ways the World Bank engages with civil society and encourages its general participation in educational assistance, (c) what is known about the World Bank in relation to policy implementation, and (d) the production of research in and on the Bank.
D. G. Mulcahy
The idea of a liberal or general education is one of the most consequential and enduring in the history of education. From its origins in antiquity, the idea and the form of liberal arts and sciences curriculum associated with it grew to become a shaping force in the formation of the universities of the Middle Ages. With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century both liberal education and the largely classical content of the curriculum ran into strong opposition. By the late 20th century the traditional idea and varying modifications of its conceptualization and curriculum content on both sides of the Atlantic were frequently reasserted. In response, discontent with liberal education and its curricular expressions took new and increasingly challenging forms. The debate surrounding the idea as applied today in both schools and colleges has a new vibrancy. This is especially evident among those arguing for innovative conceptualizations of the venerable notion of liberal education.
Jie Park, Sarah Michaels, Renee Affolter, and Catherine O'Connor
This article focuses on both research and practice relating to academically productive classroom discourse. We seek to “expand the conversation” to include newcomers to the field of classroom talk, as well as practitioners and youth researchers who want to contribute to knowledge building in this area. We first explore a variety of traditions, questions, and methods that have been prominent in work on classroom talk. We also summarize some key findings that have emerged over the past several decades:
• Finding 1: Certain kinds of talk promote robust learning for ALL students.
• Finding 2: The field lacks shared conceptualizations of what productive talk is and how best to characterize it.
• Finding 3: Dialogic discourse is exceedingly rare in classrooms, at all grade levels and across all domains.
• Finding 4: A helpful way forward: conceptualizing talk moves as tools.
Following the presentation of each research finding we provide a set of commentaries—explicating and in some cases problematizing the findings. Finally, we provide some promising approaches that presume cultural and linguistic assets among both students and teachers, including curricular programs, teacher education, professional development programs, teacher research, and intergenerational communities of inquiry. In all of this, we try to make our own assumptions, traditions, and governing gazes explicit, as a multi-generational and multi-role group of authors, to encourage greater transparency among all who work in this important and potentially transformative field of study.
David Litz and Rida Blaik-Hourani
One of the most widely discussed and utilized notions that has risen to the forefront of educational administration is the concept of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership was initially conceived as a process whereby leaders strategically transform the system or organization to a higher level by increasing the achievement and motivation of their followers. Early theorists would also argue that transformational leadership and change are inexorably intertwined, which in turn underscored the importance of a leader’s ability to positively transform the attitudes, norms, institutions, behaviors, and actions that structure our daily lives. Later writers and researchers would gradually extend and develop the theory and argue that the ultimate goal of transformational leadership is to transform people, as well as organizations.
While early work on transformational leadership concentrated on politics, business, and the armed services, the research emphasized the value of “followers” as a distinguishing factor present in the transformational leadership model. This distinction is likely what attracted scholars to begin applying its tenets to modern educational contexts, which are typically characterized by significant pressures to implement widespread reforms and change. In this regard, transformational leadership is often viewed as well suited to education as it empowers followers (i.e., instructors) and provides them with a sense of hope, optimism, and energy as it defines the vision of productivity as they accomplish goals. Additionally, transformational leaders work toward influencing shared beliefs and values to create a comprehensive level of change and innovation, and aim to nurture a school culture that is oriented toward a learning ethos, whereby such leaders seek to expand the capacities of each employee, enhance his or her way of thinking, and promote individual ambition. In this way, learning and growth becomes a shared responsibility.
Kristiina Brunila, Elina Ikävalko, Tuuli Kurki, Ameera Masoud, Katariina Mertanen, Anna Mikkola, and Kalle Mäkelä
The ethos of vulnerability plays a central role in shaping cross-sectoral youth transition policies and their implementations. Despite good intentions, the ethos of vulnerability emphasizes personal accountability and stigmatization. This is the situation in Finland, where young people tend to be recognized through the prism of inherent vulnerability, with a parallel notion of the self that is damaged and fragile. This “turn inward” to the self does not necessarily help to see problems as societal but as individual, which may perpetuate systematic inequalities.
Sara Vogel and Ofelia Garcia
Translanguaging is a theoretical lens that offers a different view of bilingualism and multilingualism. The theory posits that rather than possessing two or more autonomous language systems, as has been traditionally thought, bilinguals, multilinguals, and indeed, all users of language, select and deploy particular features from a unitary linguistic repertoire to make meaning and to negotiate particular communicative contexts. Translanguaging also represents an approach to language pedagogy that affirms and leverages students’ diverse and dynamic language practices in teaching and learning.
Translanguaging theory builds on scholarly work that has demonstrated how colonial and modernist-era language ideologies created and maintained linguistic, cultural, and racial hierarchies in society. It challenges prevailing theories of bilingualism/multilingualism and bilingual development in order to disrupt the hierarchies that have delegitimized the language practices of those who are minoritized.
Translanguaging concepts have been deepened, built upon, or clarified as scholars have compared and contrasted them with competing and complementary theories of bilingualism. Scholars debate aspects of the theory’s definition and epistemological foundations. There are also continued debates between scholars who have largely embraced translanguaging and those who resist the theory’s premises or have accepted them only partially.
The use of translanguaging in education has created the most interest, and yet the most disagreement. Many educators working on issues of language education—the development of additional languages for all, as well as minoritized languages—have embraced translanguaging theory and pedagogy. Other educators are weary of the work on translanguaging. Some claim that translanguaging pedagogy pays too much attention to the students’ bilingualism; others worry that it could threaten the diglossic arrangements and language separation traditionally posited as necessary for language maintenance and development.
Translanguaging as a sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic theory has much to offer to our understandings of the languaging of bilinguals because it privileges bilingual performances and not just monolingual ones. As a pedagogical practice, translanguaging leverages the fluid languaging of learners in ways that deepen their engagement and comprehension of complex content and texts. In addition, translanguaging pedagogy develops both of the named languages that are the object of bilingual instruction precisely because it considers them in a horizontal continua as part of the learners’ linguistic repertoire, rather than as separate compartments in a hierarchical relationship.
Although much curriculum work continues to take place within national borders (often informed by governmental policies and priorities), accelerating processes of economic and cultural globalization, together with an increase in various types of cross-border movements of people, resources, ideas, and images, are blurring nation-state boundaries and destabilizing national authority in curriculum decision-making.
Typically, transnational work is understood as acting across national borders with a view to optimizing the interrelationships between local, national, regional, and global spheres of curriculum formation and change. This is distinguished from international collaboration (actions taken by conventional nation-states) and supranational work, which includes initiatives and interventions by broader global institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, UNESCO, OECD, and so on. The involvement of supranational institutions such as the World Bank and IMF has tended to support curriculum policies derived from neoliberal economic perspectives, which focus on the measurable production of human capital. Transnational curriculum work encourages critical examination of the impact of globalization in relation to national and international debates on such matters as human rights; social justice; democratization; national, ethnic, and religious identities; issues of gender and racial justice; the concerns of indigenous peoples; and poverty and social exclusion. Transnational curriculum work is also a response to the discourses of standardization and homogenization of curriculum thinking that characterize modern nation-states.
G. Sue Kasun and Patricia Sánchez
Transnationalism describes the ways in which ties between two or more nations are maintained; these maintenance ties abound in countless social practices that are, at times, situated within rigid governing structures. Transnationalism not only implies physical movement across borders, commonly referred to as “immigration,” but also emotional ties across borders. It also includes distinct ways of knowing that are informed by social media, loved ones, and cultural practices that span borders, including in education.
The transnational social spaces in which youth are raised are often filled with deep understandings of geopolitical contexts that weave together multiple national perspectives, personal navigation of physical borders (both with and without authorized documentation), and complex social networks in more than one country sustained through ever-changing media applications. However, these knowledges often remain unengaged in and under-acknowledged by schools.
Globalization has increased the practices of transnationalism and is a process often dominated by people with vested power interests who overtake the voices and interests of the masses most affected by shifts in power. Anti-immigrant sentiment and isolationism are fairly recent shifts in power that have swayed the impacts of globalization. Transnational practices are not so much limited but rather impacted as to where they shift people’s imaginations about what is possible. For instance, transnationals may consider moving to additional countries and returning to original sending countries in ways they may not have previously considered, all the while maintaining increasingly dense networks that cross multiple national borders.
The disciplines of sociology and anthropology have informed much of the research on transnationalism, though from different standpoints. Sociology has taken a more literal sense of transnationalism, focusing narrowly on physical bodies’ movements back-and-forth over borders. Anthropologists have more robustly engaged the emotional and psychological aspects of transnationalism as it impacts the groups generally described as “immigrants.” Unfortunately, most of the research related to transnational children and education has been under the larger framework of assimilation. The lamentable result is that the focus on how immigrants assimilate misses the opportunity to interpret (and perhaps misinterprets) a larger set of accompanying phenomena alongside the immigration act itself.
For education, transnational experiences can help students develop a sense of identity, which helps them achieve in the school settings of both receiving and sending countries, should they have to return. Similarly, transnationalism complicates and makes notions of citizenship more robust. Immigrant students are always potentially engaged transnationals during their settlement processes—the possibility always exists that they will remain actively connected to their home countries and even potentially return for visits or permanently. Educational research has more recently examined how transnationalism helps create and can deepen literacy practices, especially digital literacies.
Numerous education scholars have called for educators to draw upon students’ transnational lives in the curriculum. This can help to prepare all students for an increasingly globalized world. This does not suggest a “learning styles” approach where transnational students are considered a monolithic group in need of a repertoire of instructional strategies to meet the group’s needs. Instead, educators need to create the space where students’ transnational experiences and perceptions are allowed to be aired, understood, and built upon in schools. In education, the commonly stated goal is for the classroom to function as a “community of learners.” If, in fact, educators aspire to build true communities, transnational students’ lives should no longer remain hidden from the view of their peers and teachers.
John N. Hawkins
The demographic, historical, cultural, and political-economic complexity of the vast Asia Pacific Region poses a great challenge to making sense of the region’s higher education (HE) trends. Yet, several of these trends are indeed enduring and comparable. The interplay of these trends and developments continually shape the architecture of higher education in the region. A sampling of these trends focuses on one of the basic frames of higher education, namely that of increasing access, equity, and capacity. This, in turn, has led to the tension between massification on the one hand, and issues of quality assurance on the other. While national development is often the primary goal of tertiary education, regionalism has increasingly challenged these more parochial concerns. Within the region, student and faculty mobility, migration, and internationalization have emerged with greater force within the sometimes confusing context of globalization. At the upper end of the HE spectrum, the pressure of seeking to achieve excellence in research and innovation has resulted in another predicament, leading to what might be called an accelerated academy. These forces and factors, among others, are influencing the pathway of HE in the Asia Pacific region as we move into the 21st century.
There is a growing awareness of the crucial role that trust plays in every aspect of a school’s functioning and especially to student outcomes. To trust another person or group is to be at ease, without anxiety or worry, in a situation of interdependence in which valued outcomes depend upon the participation and contribution of others. The trustor can rest assured that their expectations will be fulfilled based on confidence in the other party’s benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. As citizens across the globe have become increasingly distrustful of their institutions and leaders, the trend away from trust creates a special challenge for schools because trust is so fundamental to their core mission of educating students. The philosopher Annette Baier observed that we tend to notice trust as we notice air, only when it becomes scarce or polluted. These days, it seems evident that trust in our society as a whole has indeed been disrupted and is in scarce supply. As contemporary society has grown more complex, as changing economic realities, changing demographics, and changing expectations in society have made life less predictable, we are beginning to notice trust much more. There are a number of things that make cultivating and maintaining trust in schools challenging. These include the effects of social media, and other new forms of information and the propensity for the news of potential threats to one’s well-being, as well as the well-being of one’s children and community to spread farther and faster than positive news.
Trust matters in schools and in our world because we cannot single-handedly either create or sustain many of the things we most cherish. Parents send their children to schools, trusting that they will be safe from harm, as well as guided and taught in keeping with our highest hopes for them. Schools are also invested with a significant share of a community’s collective resources in the form of tax dollars, school buildings, and local employment opportunities. In addition, schools are charged with keeping and promoting a society’s shared values and ideals. They foster and protect the collective ideals of respect, tolerance, and democracy, as well as the vision of equity of opportunity. Indeed, the future of a society rests with the quality of its schools. It is evident, then, why trust has become such a pressing issue for schools in these challenging and turbulent times.
Urban charter schools are public schools located in major metropolitan areas with high population densities. The majority of urban charter school students identify as Black or Latinx and often live in under-resourced communities. Urban charter schools are touted as high-quality educational options in the school choice market, yet debates about the merits of charter schools versus traditional public schools yield mixed results that substantiate arguments on both sides of the political aisle.
However, even high-performing urban charter schools have a bad reputation as mechanisms of school segregation and cogs in the school-to-prison pipeline. Higher than average test scores and graduation and college enrollment rates do little to mollify those who complain about severe discipline, racial segregation, unqualified teachers, teacher attrition, rigid scheduling, and a narrow curriculum. Urban charter schools’ emphasis on standardized testing and college preparation may overlook the culturally relevant educational experiences that low-income, racially diverse students need to compete with their wealthier, White peers.
As such, education reformers have offered a myriad of suggestions to improve urban charter schools. Most prominently is the need to racially and economically desegregate urban charter schools to enhance the social and material resources that supplement students’ learning. This includes increasing teacher diversity, which research demonstrates minimizes the frequency of suspensions and expulsions of racial minority students. Urban charter school teachers should also be knowledgeable about the sociocultural landscape of the community in which their school exists so that they understand how students’ out of school lives affect their learning processes. Finally, curricular revisions are necessary to support students’ post-high school goals beyond college enrollment. Enacting such reforms would facilitate equitable, rather than equal, learning opportunities that may help narrow racial and economic achievement gaps in the United States.
In the United States, policymakers have exhibited a resilient confidence in the idea that reforming urban schools is the essential key to improving the life chances of children, especially African American and Latino youth. Since the mid-1960s in particular, this resonant belief, as articulated in different forms by politicians, interest groups, local communities, and the broader public, has served as motivational impetus for small- and large-scale school change efforts. Despite such apparent unanimity regarding the importance of city schools, disputes have emerged over the proper structural and systemic alterations necessary to improve education. Often at issue has been the notion of just who should and will control change efforts. Moreover, vexing tensions have also characterized the enacted reform initiatives. For instance, urban school policies created by distant, delocalized outsiders have routinely engendered unanticipated local effects and fierce community resistance. In addition, particular urban school reforms have manifested simultaneously as means for encouraging social justice for marginalized youth and as mechanisms for generating financial returns for educational vendors. Regardless of such tensions, faith in urban school reform has persisted, thanks to exemplary city schools and programs that have helped students thrive academically. For many reformers, such success stories demonstrate that viable routes toward enabling academic achievement for more children living in urban areas do indeed exist.