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.
Kitty te Riele, Glenda McGregor, Martin Mills, Aspa Baroutsis, and Debra Hayes
International organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as governments in OECD member countries are implementing policies aimed at increasing secondary school completion rates. Some decades ago, the senior secondary years were an exclusive option for an elite minority. Now, a common expectation is that they will cater to 90% or so of young people. However, too often the practices in contemporary schooling contexts have not kept up with this change. In particular, there is extensive evidence that concerning numbers of socially and educationally marginalized students are rejected by, and themselves reject, mainstream schooling. As a result, in many jurisdictions alternative educational provision has been central to re-engaging young people and enabling their secondary school completion. Such provision includes “flexible,” “second-chance,” or “alternative” schools that, although not all the same, often have in common an inclusive and democratic approach to educating young people who have not been well served in mainstream schools. Rather than such alternative schools being seen only as a useful “stop-gap” measure for marginalized students, they offer a valuable opportunity to re-imagine education. Such sites demonstrate structural, relational, and curricular changes that enable a range of education and learning options. First, in terms of structures, practical support and wraparound services are central to removing or alleviating structural barriers and clearing a path for learning. Second, supportive relationships are significant in enhancing the quality of young people’s educational experiences and outcomes. In particular, connectedness and partnerships are key factors. Finally, a diverse curriculum is needed to facilitate an education that is meaningful and authentic, and builds the capabilities young people need in the 21st century. Initiatives aimed at speaking more meaningfully to young people who have traditionally been poorly served by schooling are at the core of many alternative schools, but they are also present in outstanding mainstream schools. These innovations offer inspiration for reform across all schools, for all students. Embedding such reform through broad systemic change in mainstream schooling is necessary to facilitate an education for all young people that is: meaningful in holistic ways, democratic and respectful, supportive and enabling, and equips them with the skills and knowledge to progress their hopes, dreams, and imagined futures.
Students in danger of not completing a particular level of schooling have been termed “at-risk.” Reasons that students may be at risk include individual characteristics, family circumstances, poor school conditions, and lack of community resources. Studies of single factors, multiple factors, and programmatic interventions have all identified specific variables associated with greater risk of dropping out of school. The various factors associated with dropping out can offset one another to reduce the risk or reinforce one another to enhance the risk that students will leave school early.
Kevin Roxas and Ramona Fruja
Refugee children and youth encounter challenges in the process of resettlement and as they transition to schools. Their needs and specific situations have to be considered both structurally and at individual levels, and their narratives of transition should not be oversimplified, with resettlement as the end point of challenges. Backgrounding these considerations, teachers can be prepared to understand the vast scope of refugee students’ adaptive experience and its impact on educational practice. Teacher education that is attuned to these needs can be informed by several anchoring principles: recognizing the complex educational and sociocultural challenges refugee students face in schools; actively engaging with both conceptualizing and enacting effective practices within and against public school structures; and participating in ongoing reflection and reconceptualization of the tensions that arise in academic and identity work with refugee youth.
Globally, more and more students with disabilities are choosing to continue on to post-secondary education following high school. Nevertheless, in comparison to their non-disabled peers, young people with disabilities are persistently underrepresented in this area. As with students without disabilities, a post-secondary diploma or degree will enhance opportunities for employment, both in terms of options and income. Bridging the gap between high school and post-secondary education can be daunting for most students, but with the added complexities associated with disabilities, the challenges will be intensified. Hence, a supportive and efficacious transition between secondary and post-secondary settings is not only helpful, but essential. For post-secondary education to be inclusive, it must be accessible. To be accessible, the transition must support the student by taking into account their strengths, challenges, interests, and goals, while considering the post-secondary environment. Successful transition plans must be student-centered, collaborative, begin early, and include measured and specific steps that are individually designed to help individual students bridge the gap. Key elements and considerations include: (a) assessing the environment and the fit; (b) developing the student’s self-advocacy skills; (c) tailoring accommodations based on the academic, social, and independent living skills of the student; and (d) supporting the student emotionally and mentally through the transition and beyond. Additional considerations include the use of assistive technology, mentoring programs, and familiarizing the student with the environment in advance of the change. Although often considered the panacea for the many academic and organizational challenges faced by students with disabilities, assistive technology is most beneficial if introduced early; this allows the student to experiment, select, and become familiar with it before leaving high school. Mentorship programs and supports, both formal and informal, should be given careful consideration as effective means of facilitating the transition. In addition to the academic and social challenges, the disruption of routines and the unfamiliar aspects of the post-secondary environment can be particularly daunting for students with disabilities. To negotiate and mitigate these aspects it might be beneficial to create opportunities for the student to become familiar with the post-secondary institution before going there. By easing and supporting the transition of students with disabilities in these and other ways, some of the barriers they face are ameliorated. Affording equal opportunity for students with disabilities to progress to post-secondary education and the subsequent workforce is not only just, it is a moral obligation and essential to an inclusive society.
William T. Pink
From a comprehensive analysis of the extant educational literature on school change, it is evident that two activities are essential for the successful reform of schools in the United States. While the focus in this article will be on the programmatic shifts implemented in U.S. schools, the danger of exporting these same failed programs to other countries also will be noted. The first requirement is a systematic critique of the major school reform strategies that have been employed since the 1960s (e.g., the Effective Schools model, standardized testing and school accountability, the standards movement, privatization of schools, charter schools, and virtual/cyber schools). The major conclusion of this critique is that each of these reform strategies has done little to alter the connection between schooling and their production of labor for the maintenance of Western capitalism: beginning in the early 1970s an increasingly strong case has been made that the design and goal of U.S. schooling has been driven by the need to produce an endless supply of differentiated workers to sustain the U.S. economy. Moreover, while both equality and equity have entered the conversations about school reform during this period, it becomes evident that the relative position of both poor students and students of color, with respect to their more affluent White peers, has remained at best unchanged. The second essential requirement is the exploration of an alternative vision for school reform that is grounded in a perspective of equity, both in schools and in the society. Beginning with the question “What would schools look like, and what would be the role of the teacher in a school that was committed to maximizing equity?” such an alternative vision is built on the concept of developing broadly informed students able to play both a thoughtful and active role in shaping the society in which they live, rather than be trained to fit into a society shaped by the interests of capital. From this exploration of the literature emerges a new role for both schools and teachers that repositions schooling as an incubator for social change, with equity as a primary goal. Also addressed is the importance of inequitable economic and public policies that work to systematically inhibit student learning. A key element in forging a successful transition to schools functioning as incubators for reform is the ability of preservice teacher preparation programs to graduate new teachers capable of doing this intellectual work, and for current classroom teachers to engage in professional development to achieve the same end What is clear from a reading of this literature is that without this re-visioning and subsequent reform of schooling, together with a reform of key public policies, we must face the high probability of the rapid implosion of the public school system and the inevitable escalation of class warfare in the United States.
There is an increasing interest in policy and research regarding the educational experiences of refugee and asylum-seeking children. In many countries across the globe these children constitute a growing segment of the student population. Like other student categories, refugee and asylum-seeking children have rights to an equal and meaningful education. Nevertheless, numerous research contributions have proven that these children are, from the outset, in a disadvantaged position that has been further exacerbated by poorly educated teachers, a lack of resources, the absence of appropriate support, exclusion, and isolation. There is far less evidence of positive examples. Three distinct perspectives have been widely discussed in the literature: a) inclusion and exclusion through organizational spaces; b) pedagogical practices and classroom-based interventions; and c) relations between schools and refugee and asylum-seeking parents. A review of the literature suggests that refugee and asylum-seeking students or, for that matter, other migrant students with poor socioeconomic status in a host country will never have equal educational opportunities unless their previous experiences are properly assessed, understood, and recognized and unless their first language is acknowledged as a vital vehicle for learning. Furthermore, scaffolding must be provided by language support teachers, and students must be granted access to inclusive spaces on the same terms as other non-migrant students. Finally, parents ought to be provided with platforms for active involvement and a tangible opportunity to advocate for their children’s educational rights.