Friday, February 29, 2008

Education, Social Mirroring, and Immigrant Students

In the United States, unfortunately, many immigrant students receive negative social mirroring from the classroom and outside world. Immigrant students tend to feel segregated and discriminated against in school. In comparison with European immigrants, Latino and Asian immigrant students tend to have a hard time assimilating into mainstream society due to their skin color. Some immigrant students believe their skin color is the barrier keeping them from fitting into the mainstream society. Some have experienced being laughed at for their foreign accents and non-fluent speaking skills. Immigrant students consider "being white" and speaking "correct," "fluent," and "native-like" English as pathways to success in American society. Their painful experiences usually lead to negative feelings towards school and then contribute to their low academic achievement in comparison with white students.

Moreover, as white students regard receiving higher education as pathways towards higher socioeconomic (highly-paid) occupation, immigrant students have a tendency to believe that many doors are closed, many job opportunities are limited, and social stratification exists in the society even when they obtain educational credentials. In fact, immigrant students tend to get low-paid jobs and the least desirable jobs because of the class stratification and restricted social mobility. Limited job opportunities may hinder immigrant students' motivation towards going to school, and they may consider going to school as a waste of time. Developing the above perspectives, the issue of to what extent formal education can help immigrant students succeed in the society should be taken into serious consideration. How can schools provide all students with a supportive environment and offer them equal opportunity for future development? Could the supportive school environment compensate for negative social mirroring that immigrant students receive from the outside world?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Possible blog topics

For those of you still looking for a topic to post on, here's a summary of a new study on mentoring for men and women who earned PhDs Chemistry in the early 1990s. The gender differences here are pronounced, and they stretch from undergraduate education all the way through graduate school. Men report getting more help from professors as undergrads and they seem more satisfied with advising that they received from the dissertation advisors.

Do you think that these mentoring gaps persist in higher education today? What do you think their implications are? What can be done to do away with them? Post away!

UPDATE: Hey! Here's another blog-worthy article. Education Week takes a close look at the subtle differences between Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's approaches to educational policy. Do any of the debates that we've entertained during the course of this quarter shed light on any of the issues that the candidates disagree about?


Deconstructing whiteness

Following along with our discussion of race and how it relates to education, I just read an article called Deconstructing Whiteness as a Part of a Multicultural Framework (Rhoads & Ortiz, 2000). This was a fascinating article in that it looked at how we as educators on a university level should approach multicultural education. The authors challenge the "universalization of whiteness" and propose a framework where "deconstruction" of whiteness is important when taking a multicultural approach.

One of the main claims of the article is that "whiteness" is often overlooked as a race or ethnic identity, and that we don't talk about the social construction of the white race. The authors propose that in order to effectively engage in discourse about race and truly enable multicultural education in classrooms that there must be a discussion about white race as well as other racial and ethnic identities. In addition, there must be a critical evaluation of how whiteness has been socially constructed and become seen as the "dominant" race and associated with power and privilege. Finally, they propose a multistep process to deconstruct whiteness and implement a multicultural educational plan into college campuses.

I found this article fascinating and important because the white race is often "universalized", or seen as the norm, while not ever really being talked about. White people in America are not normally thought of as having race and the authors assert that this reinforces whiteness as the dominant culture. I agree that these issues must be addressed, in particular in college classrooms as they suggest in the article.


LAUSD takes on the home advantage

By teaching immigrant parents simple ways to help their children and to reinforce what is being learned in class, kindergarten teachers at Lillian Elementary in Los Angeles are taking practical steps to reduce immigrant children's drop out rates in Southern California. Parents are instructed to direct their children in tracing numbers in salt on cookie sheets, make letters with play-doh, or simply improve children's verbal abilities through increased communication. The teachers believe that lack of parental help sets children up for a disadvantage when they enter school, so the course emphasizes parents acting as the primary educators.

I think this program sounds very beneficial as long as there are parents, like the ones mentioned in the article, who are eager to help their children achieve academically and have the time to consistently make the extra effort to build their children's academic foundation. The article mentions how the principal gave incoming kindergarten parents exercises and goals the May before the school year to help their children catch up, however when they entered kindergarten the same children were still behind. While parents may want to try and help their children, it may just come down to a time issue rather than simply not knowing how to help their children. However, if parents can make the commitment, I can see that teaching them how to help their children will be extremely beneficial and will effectively reduce the dropout rate, especially since LA Unified policy does not aid these children until second grade.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A comment on universal pre-K

As the graduate student who presented on Early Child Education, it is obvious that I think your post is right on target! Early education is an important addition to the public school system (or funding system in general). First, parents (especially low-income and working-class parents) may have difficulty finding and affording supervision for their children. Second, a child's early years are an opportunity to decrease the disparities between high and low SES students. Because these disparities are seen even before entry into traditional public schooling, and because we may "harvest" the benefits of early education for longer periods of time (Heckman, 2004), we should be pushing for federal, state and local initiatives that make early childhood education a priority. Unfortunately, traditional ideas about who should care for children (i.e. Why should the "government" take care of children?)seem to impede progress towards making quality early childhood education available to all families.
One note of caution, however: It may not be true that *any* type of childcare is beneficial for children. There has been an extensive amount of research showing that only *quality* early childcare can have these positive developmental impacts on children's social, emotional and academic functioning. In fact, some studies find that lower quality care may have detrimental influences on development such as weaker reading and academic skills (i.e. NICHD ECCRN, 1999). Vandell & Wolfe (2000) discuss some of the indicators of quality care. These include, but are not limited to, low child-adult ratios, small class sizes, formal education/training for teachers, adequate health and safety provisions within the site, warm interactions with caregivers and peers, using age-appropriate materials, and involvement in language reasoning experiences, motor activities and creative activities. Obviously, the list is extensive! This may be the reason that most early childcare and education offered in the U.S. is of fair to poor quality (see Vandell & Wolfe, 2000).

In other words, not only do we need to advocate for early child care, but *quality* early childhood education. Interestingly, a government initiative that almost reached fruition in 1971 included both these features. The Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 called for universal funding for early child care and after-school care. It also included quality requirements and a focus on children in poverty. The comprehensive bill was certainly ahead of its time, and it was passed by both the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Nixon! If you’re interested, you should definitely take a look at this act and compare it to the segmented system we have now. My how things could have been different!


Pre-school education for all!

After the presentation about the importance of early education we had in class today, it got me thinking about how much we prioritize the schooling we have before kindergarten. On an article talks about a situation in Idaho where a movement is afoot to change state law to include funding for children less than 5 years old (a.k.a. money for Pre-School programs). The current law prohibits the use of money for public schools for children under 5.

The question is: Should we use money, coming from taxpayers, for a public system of education geared towards children who are not yet in formal public education. A survey done by a group called Kids Count suggests that the public would like to see money go into pre-schooling. I would also agree that the early we get children into the classroom, the better the entire system will be. Despite costing a lot of money, the time we spend in the early years of their development will have exponential returns. Kids Count also says that an early education could save state money by reducing later costs for special education and social services. It is shown that any type of pre-school received by a child better adapts them to any schooling in the future: socially and mentally, so this supports the idea that it will save money over time.

In the end, the responsibility lays on parents to decide whether their child needs education before Kindergarten. I would imagine the idea of free public pre-schooling is very attractive for the working class. It would give an option to have your children in a highly stimulated area of learning while you wouldn’t have to look for a babysitter. I see a trend of starting children their educational process at a younger and younger age.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Narrow economic inequality: Provide financial ed for all

Financial management is a skill is that many young people of this generation lack. Today, only 17 states require economic course in public schools as a graduation requirement, and most teens are unaware of the consequences of irresponsible spending. Educators are beginning to propose more financial education programs in schools across the United States. According to the the chief executive offer of the National Endowment for Financial Education "there's been a steady building in recognition that we need to give students basic financial skills." Although different organizations have been providing assistance on the education of high schoolers through interactive lessons, more effort is needed to assist kids to understand the concept of credit, loan, saving, and stocks. The national economy is heavily affected by financial choices people make. As a result, it is crucial for educators to teach teens about financial decisions.

The articles also points out that, "Many parents are unwilling or unable or uncomfortable about providing financial education to their own kids, or they've made mistakes themselves, or are part of the unbanked population." The lack of financial knowledge among lower class kids is a reflection of the theory of social and cultural capital. Without having parents that are well versed with managing money, kids from disadvantaged communities lack the knowledge needed to achieve greatly mobility. Because many parents do not expect their kids to be able to handle money well, their children find it hard to achieve financial independence in adulthood. People who lack such background really miss out on opportunities as well as economic success. Elites on the other hand, tend to do a better at teaching their children about investment and economic strategies.

A great way to narrow this gap is to provide financial education for pubic school kids. Instead of having people learn the hard way, funding of financial education programs is a small investment to make considering the potential benefit to the economy. Whether if it is accepting a credit card offer, buying a car, or opening a checking account, financial improvement comes from knowing all the options and consequences of different decisions. Curricula in economy will provide the much needed resources that lower class kids would otherwise not get.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Teaching -- or reinforcing? -- cultural capital

Last month the President of Johns Hopkins University, William R. Brody, opted to take time out from his administrative duties to teach two courses during intersession. One of his courses, Uncommon Sense: A Practical Approach to Problem Solving for Your Personal and Professional Life, strikes me as an overt attempt to build the cultural capital of JHU students. In his course President Brody aims to give undergraduates specific approaches to everyday problems that are rooted in “intuition and judgment” that aren’t taught in a traditional academic setting. In essence, President Brody is drawing on his vast experiences to supplement the cultural capital of JHU undergraduates so that in the future they can appear savvy in the workforce. I commend President Brody for stepping out of his office and attempting to teach students the untaught but I have to wonder is he preaching to the choir? As a prestigious university, I imagine that Hopkins admits the upper echelon, students that may already be “in the know” or have immediate access to individuals who are “in the know”. So, are President Brody’s efforts wasted on the undergraduate population of Hopkins? My brief look at the student demographics yielded only a description of the racial distribution of Hopkins (it’s mostly white and Asian) and omitted any data on socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, this data gives little insight as to whether Hopkins undergraduates are likely to possess the cultural capital valued by the dominant white-middle class.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Free for the taking

The Los Angeles Times has two front page stories that are endemic of education today. First up is a story about Stanford University, which has pledged to use part of its $17 billion endowment to fully pay for tuition for students who come from families earning less than $100,000/year. This follows the move of other private universities with large endowments (Harvard, Yale, Pomona, and others) who have pledged to fund tuition for their lowest income students. While these actions are laudable, it is worth asking how many students are actually affected by these policies. At Stanford, 15-20% of students come from families who earn less than $60,000/year and Stanford has pledged to pay all fees for these students (room, board, and tuition). The truth of the matter is that the bread and butter of these schools are rich, often legacy, students with stratospheric family incomes. How else could they amass endowments greater than $1 billion? Its a nice PR move, but it doesn't change the imbalance in elite, private institutions which weighs heavily toward reproduction of cultural and economic elite.

The second article looks at the looming budget crisis in California's K-12 system. The budget see-saws in California have been a significant drag on the state's efforts to adequately educate its students. This most recent crisis, like most of the ones before it, will disproportionately affect students in poor, often urban districts. These are, ironically, the same types of students whom Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, are willing to give a free ride to. I guess the elite colleges figure that if a student is strong enough to make it out of Compton, for example, that should be worth something. How many students, however, are going to make it out of Compton, to stick with the example, to actually take Stanford et al up on their offers? When you do the math, you see how it is possible for these elites to make these "generous" offers.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

An article in the Washington Post led me to think about the emphasis placed on developing critical thinking skills in schools. Critical thinking, according to the article, “has become a mantra among educators from pre-kindergarten through graduate school …yet there is no agreed-upon definition of what it is or how it can be developed.” According to Jean Anyon, working-class and middle-class schools largely fail to foster critical thinking skills in their students. She claims that there is a “hidden curriculum” of schoolwork that is implicitly preparing working-class children for low wage, low prestige jobs, while preparing upper-class children for positions of social power and prestige. Although this assertion may be overly simplistic, and it seems to paint a gloomy and deterministic view of the educational system, I think it raises an important question: Can critical thinking skills be taught to students at all levels?

Without a firm grasp of factual knowledge, I do not think students are able to think critically about subjects. As one educator in the article put it, “You can’t acquire these processes in the absence of facts.” With this in mind, perhaps the curriculum in working-class schools is structured this way out of necessity and not to covertly prepare students for their future societal roles. Considering the strong link between family background and achievement, working-class students may start school with less content knowledge (and less cultural capital) than their more affluent counterparts, and thus may be less equipped to handle tasks requiring higher level critical thinking. Another factor to consider is the role that NCLB has played in forcing schools to place a higher emphasis on standardized testing. Educators may be more apt to teach to a test than try to develop a student’s critical thinking skills by teaching at a more conceptual level.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Even Stephven: Cash for Grades

For those of you who don’t know what Even Stephven is, here’s a clip:

I strongly recommend you to watch that clip, get a sense of what Even Stephven is, before you read on.

--------------------------------Even Stephven---------------------------------
Stephen: Tonight’s topic. Should we pay students for good grades? NO!

Steve: YES!

Stephen: NOOO!

Steve: YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!! You get pay for doing your job, and students should get pay for good grades.

Stephen: Steve, we are already paying them. We pay them in the forms of free lunch, free books, and free teachers. Why should we pay students to do something that they are supposed to do anyway? They are students; thus they should study. Just like I never paid the babysitters. It’s their job to baby-sit.

Steve: You have children?

Stephen: No, I just like to have high school girls at my place on Friday nights.

Steve: (Looked Confused) Anyway, I, unlike someone who sounds like a pervert sitting in front of me, care about students’ academic achievements. According to a recent study* students who participant in an incentive program also increase their participation in AP classes and receive higher scores on the exams.

Stephen: It is people like you that are making our country not the greatest in the human history. We are now the second greatest country in the human history, second to the U.S in the 60’s. Give students money for good grades will decrease their intrinsic motivation. Students who are intrinsically motivated to learn are persistent, happy, and challenges-driven. Money for grades will only create you a generation of test-taking machines. Yes, machine! I don’t want the terminator to lead our country or my state for that matter, in the future.

Steve: Intrinsic motivation? Have you been to a high school classroom recently? Those students are not intrinsically motivated whatsoever. By offering money, you are not damaging their intrinsic motivation because they have none! To give them money, you can at least jump start their motivation, and maybe later on, you can do your intriguing motivation thing.

Stephen: It’s intrinsic motivation.

Steve: Don’t you correct me! You judgmental, condescending piece of Sh..

Stephen: Watch your language, this is a class website not cable TV.

Steve: I am sorry.

Stephen: It’s ok. Incentive program will also increase the chance of cheating. I can see students trying to play the system, find the loophole, and then cash in. That’s not learning! That’s cheating! Do you want to create a group of cheaters?

Steve: Have you cheated before?

Stephen: Let’s not talk about me… (Act nervously)

Steve: Have you? Stephen? It’s ok. You can trust me. It’s just you and me here.

Stephen: ……(Long silent) I just wanted to pass kindergarten.

Steve: So, what did you do, Stephen? (Very motherly voice)

Stephen: (With tearing eyes) I wrote the alphabet on my panty.

Steve: Your WhAt?!!?!

Stephen: I am Stephen Colbert.

Steve: And I am Steven Carell.

Stephen/Steve: This has been Even Stephven

*Jackson, C., K., (2007). A little now for a lot later: A look at a Texas advanced placement incentive program


The Community College and Latino/as

The community college is in large part the major entry institution of higher education for Latina/o students. The community college is one of the 3 levels of public higher education outlined in California's Master Plan of Education, which admits a large number of students seeking vocational certificates, remediation courses, workforce training, community services courses, and finally but not least to the long list of community college missions is the lower division education for university transfer. In May 2007, a Latino Policy and Issues Brief from UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center examined the Latino transfer function to 4-year institutions.

According to the CA Postsecondary Education Commission (2004), of 100 Latina/o first time college students, 75 will enroll in a community college. Just 7 of these students will transfer to a public 4-year institution, 1 to a UC and 6 to a CSU. The need to increase the pipeline for more transfers to higher education institutions is critical and requires policy attention. Why aren't Latina/o students transferring from the community college? The answer is multifaceted and under critical research. Key theorists would argue that the community college is an institution of stratification and social reproduction. Sorokin would argue that society places individuals in their proper position within society and the community colleges are societal sorting machines. In addition, some community college administrators would also mention that the community college goals are not simply to transfer students but to address all of its missions. The article recommends the need for more effective transfer programs in which the responsibility is on the institution to disseminate information. How can the community college balance all of it missions while serving their respective community and exhibiting appropriate 'transfer cultures' for Latinas/os?


Friday, February 15, 2008

Do cash rewards boost student motivation?

Thanks to a new cash incentives scheme, Baltimore students are being paid a hundred dollars for improving their scores on Maryland's high school exit exam. This will create an incentive for students to improve their test scores. The program will cost an estimated nine hundred thirty five thousand dollars. The advocates of this reward system feel that for the progress that students could make, the investments are a small price to pay. However, opponents argue that money should not be used as means of motivation. By money being the motivation for these students, it devalues both their human capital and their cultural capital.

Each student's worth is somewhat decreased because of the superficial nature of the reward. Money leads students to a hollow understanding of what they are being taught. Whereas a student learning information on their own would gain a thorough understanding that would most likely stay with them throughout their educational careers. This follows with the ideal of cultural capital in that these students that follow the economical motivation will most likely not gain the necessary background to succeed. The families of the students who are succeeding in school are usually high income families. These families already have expectations from their children. A student's human capital would also inevitably be affected. Schultz would argue that this would be an investment that each student would be involved in.

Instead of actually helping students in lower classes, we think that this incentive scheme could be an instance of "the rich getting richer". High income families will take advantage of this opportunity because of the advantage that they themselves already have academically and socially.

-GROUP 5, ED175

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New study: Poverty matters more in U.S. schools

We have all heard it before – the education offered in U.S. schools trails much of the developed world. In science, American 15-year olds ranked 17th out of the 30 industrialized nations that participated in the 2006 Program for International Student Assesment (PISA). American students did even worse in math, ranking 23rd.

That’s bad news, but for poor students in the U.S., the news gets even worse. In America, student socioeconomic background is considerably more closely related to student math and science performance than in other PISA countries. While affluent students in the U.S. are globally competitive, poor students in the U.S. do far, far worse than their peers in high-performing nations like Finland and Canada.

Ross Wiener of the Education Trust says the exam’s results are not surprising. “We give students less of everything that makes a difference in school.” Wiener argues that the PISA study “demonstrates that we’re simply not doing as well as we can for these students.”

Every student should have an equal opportunity in having a distinguished education. This relates to the class reading by Bourdieu where he speaks upon the stratification in terms of status and money. We can simply make a change in the structure of our financial allocations to schools, instead of just complaining about how low our PISA scores are. This way we will see a more productive outcome among all the students in America, not just the privileged. Making an effort to make education an equal opportunity for all students should not just be a concern for few but rather an obligation.

-GROUP 4, ED175

Monday, February 11, 2008

Postsecondary Tracking

I think it would be interesting to note that in some ways, the current post-secondary educational system is one extremely large multi-tracking system. We have stratified everything from two year community college schools, certificate programs, and vocational schools, to the very elite, top tiered and Ivy League status universities. Furthermore, within the post-secondary educational system, tracking stratifies by major, educational goals, career ambitions which can or may determine admissions into graduate schools, professional schools, or employment.

For example, the desire to attend an elite school or an elite program is a motivating force behind the post-secondary stratification system. It comes down to a matter of resources: time and money. Prestigious program offer elite professors and researchers, doctors, and business corporations who carry clout, experience, and large foundations as a consequence of their accomplishments. It could be in the best interest of any students to attempt to gain admission into those types of programs. Having said that, if all of us came out with the same education, with no means to signal the most hardworking from the least, how would anyone ever be able to advance? Lets say, you really wanted a job with corporation X because they could pay you a lot of money. How much time would it take corporation X to interview and try out with every equally eligible applicant until they found the one with the most potential to employ? The “signal” is informative in such circumstances. Perhaps the opposition against tracking is an opposition against the idea that the educational systems serve to “signal” ability and accomplishment; a signal that stratifies to be efficient.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tracking and School Inequality

The elementary school I described yesterday in ED175 provides us with an example of within-school inequality as well as tracking. To recap, the student population is highly diverse, with 70% Latino, 16% White, 10% Asian, 2% Filipino, and 2% African American students. However, achievement, as measured by the 2006 California Standards Test (CST) in English Language Arts (ELA), shows that groups of students are much more successful than others. Specifically, 83% and 70% of Filipino and Asian students, respectively, are achieving at the proficient or advanced levels, however only 57%, 42%, and 34% of White, African American, and Latino students, respectively, are proficient or advanced. Which sociological concepts could explain this disparity?

Sorokin would argue that schools in the U.S. serve to sieve students into their proper place within our stratified society. Thus, highly successful Filipino and Asian students are meant to fill jobs as doctors, lawyers, and the like. White students will fill white collar jobs, such as managerial positions. African American and Latino students will take menial positions that reflect their low status. Bourdieu would concur with Sorokin that this school is effectively doing its job of reproducing the social classes.

Another possible explanation lies within the distribution of human, social, and cultural capital. As we have seen, these forms of capital are distributed unequally within our society. More specifically, Coleman would say that it is likely that Asian, Filipino, and White families have a higher level of social capital. It may be that these families have closed social networks in which many of the mothers know each other and can serve as a support system for their children. The parent-teacher network is more likely to be closed as well; when a problem arises for a child at school, the parent has access to speak to the teacher about it and come up with solutions. Schultz would say that higher levels of human capital are also at work in this example. The highly successful children most probably have parents who possess skills and knowledge that are conducive to school learning, such as literacy, computer skills, and math skills. If the parents don’t possess the skills themselves, they probably have access to outside resources, such as tutoring, to help their children. Finally, cultural capital comes into play as parents provide their children with what Bourdieu calls “cultural wealth”, in the form of exposure to literature, the arts, science, etc. This cultural knowledge provides children with a rich background knowledge from which to draw that helps them to be successful in school.

Oakes would argue that the summer achievement gap probably also comes into play in this particular example. Only 33% of the students on free lunch (economically disadvantaged) achieved at the proficient or advanced levels on the ELA CST. It is highly likely that the high- and possibly middle-SES students at the school have access to enriching summer activities, such as museum visits, summer library reading program, science camp, etc. that enable them to continue their cognitive growth. The lower SES children probably don’t have access to these activities, resulting in flat growth over summer, and this is reflected in lower test scores at the end of the academic year. We don’t know this for sure, because this school, like most schools, only tests students once per year (in May).

The outcomes of this inequality are evident in the numbers of students represented within the gifted (GATE) classes at the school. Rather than mirroring the general student population of the school, the 5th grade gifted class is comprised of 38% Latino, 35% Asian, 21% White, 3% African American, and 3% Filipino students. We can see that early tracking in 1st grade occurs, with English only (EO) students tracked into 2 classes (one high achieving) and English Language Learners (ELL) tracked into 4 classes by their English language abilities (beginning, middle, or high ELL). The EO classes are comprised of White, Asian, African American, and Latino students. Virtually no White students and very few Asian students are enrolled in the ELL classes. This tracking actually begins in Kindergarten; all children are assessed on skills such as alphabetic knowledge and counting in the summer. This data is used by the teachers to sort students into Kindergarten classes that are distributed roughly by language status and Kindergarten readiness. The tracking continues in a less prominent way in 2nd and 3rd grades. The students are all tested for gifted in 3rd grade, then in 4th grade tracking become much more prominent again, with students sorted very clearly by achievement into 4th grade GATE and regular education classes. Students are retested in 4th grade and any newly identified students or “gifted potential” students join the GATE students in the 5th grade GATE class. 6th grade also has a GATE class. We know that school readiness, such as phonological awareness (e.g., ability to rhyme words, knowledge of letter-sound relationships), is predictive of later reading success. Thus student differences in pre-Kindergarten may account for achievement gaps later on in students’ academic careers. Don’t forget only 20% of all ELL at this school achieve at the proficient or advanced level of achievement. So language is clearly an important factor.

This example brings up some very interesting issues. Oakes’ (1985) research questions related to her study of tracking within high schools seem appropriate here. Namely,

· Do the children at this school have the same opportunity to learn content (e.g. math, science, social studies, and literature)? Or are the differences only in terms of pace of instruction or mode of presentation?

· Do some groups receive more instruction than others?

· Are some children exposed to more highly valued content?

· What is the role of school opportunities in determining how much students learn?

Food for thought…


Monday, February 4, 2008

To Track or Not to Track: That is the Question!

School tracking has been a major topic of controversy since the Reagan Administration backed A Nation at Risk. This document declared, "The educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people". With the increased curricular requirements as well as standardized testing, more and more schools have begun to turn to tracking and pathway systems to keep up with the rigid demands placed on the school systems. The question is whether these tracking systems are beneficial or detrimental to the student body. Many say the tracking system is detrimental.

Tracking is a common part of the education system within the United States, but when does it go to far, where should the line be drawn? In the article written by Damien Jackson, he describes how eighth graders in North Carolina are being forced into a "pathways" program in which the students must choose one of four pathways or career options. They choose from a four-year college or university track, a community college or technical college track, a direct entry into job market track, and lastly an "occupational" pathway that is reserved for students with disabilities. There is much controversy over this system.

Many argue that students are too young to make such an important decision. Others argue that once a student is in one pathway it is very difficult to change to another pathway. Some guidance counselors think that the system will result in more summer school students and less students graduating in four years. They say it may take many students five years to graduate. One parent in the article, Idola Scimeca wonders what this system will do for black and brown children. She says, "It's like they're categorizing these kids by the eight grade and telling some you're going to work at IBM and you're going to work at McDonald's". The negative view of tracking is not only demonstrated in Jackson's article, but it is also seen in Jeannie Oakes article, The Distribution of Knowledge. Oakes shows that there are a disproportionately larger number of non-white students in the lower tracks and a disproportionately smaller number of non-white students in the higher tracks at multiple schools. Oakes also demonstrates the overwhelmingly large difference in what the students learn in the high tracks vs. the low tracks. Student responses in the higher tracks demonstrate a general positive interest in the topics being learned where as the responses in the lower tracks demonstrate a lack of interest and enthusiasm in the topics being learned. Both authors depict an overall theme of inequality due to the tracking and pathways systems. It seems that students who fall into the lower tracks are at a definite disadvantage. Maybe tracking is not the answer to improving out education systems. It may be that tracking is causing more inequality and making the achievement gap even larger.

Students should be encouraged by their parents, teachers, school counselors, mentors, and peers to challenge themselves to take college-prep courses. All courses should be open for all students. School should look at the student's ability in each subject (their previous level grade and performance in classes, not only on one-spot placement tests) before placing them in classes. Offering after school programs (although it is a lot of work to accomplish this in public schools) such as more extra help or classes to catch up for students who are behind in their classes. Students should not be limited to classes that they have chosen as their "pathways". Many teenagers, even college students and adults cannot decide their future path. It is important to let the students and their parents know the importance of education.

One of the biggest problems with the tracking system is the difficulty of switching "pathways" in the event that a student does change their mind. Countless number of college students who reconsider their majors and have changed them--on some occasions even numerous times. This system does not allow for a sort of "trial and error" period for students, as the path they choose right out of high school is what will determine the rest of their academic and professional future. Because of this, the pathway system, in and of itself, is highly unforgiving.

Above all, it seems most unfair to sort students based on their potential. This sort of program seems to show school administrators focusing on an elite set of students whom they deem full of potential, and simlpy give up on those who fall short. When in hindsight, the sole job of a teacher is foster whatever potential the student does have--regardless of the
amount--and utilize it to help the student grow into the best they can be. These sorts of systems seek to show how students are failing in their school system, when in reality, it is the school system that is failing its students.

-GROUP 3, ED175

Achieving real integration

Desegregation is not integration when SES factors play a critical role in the social stratification of schools. A completely heterogeneous school is not entirely possible since access to resources, as a result of SES, will inadvertently influence the students’ core educational foundation. Students of dissimilar SES backgrounds will be exposed to different experiences, whether cultural, or ideological, that will color their interest and the identities they develop. Whom students choose to affiliate themselves with will vary as a reflection of their interests, identities, and academic talents. Ultimately, the establishment of stratified and segregated micro communities becomes inevitable within the “integrated” school.

Secondly, desegregation as a means of access to new resources does not entirely equate to adaptation and achievement. It is only a part of the equation. Human capital without cultural capital cannot necessarily be perceived as a complete formula to anything. All the resources possible may be available but without the right circumstance, knowledge, and motivation, the student will not succeed. The problem of low achievement is present not just as a consequent of financial and racial inequalities; rather it varies based on SES, ethnicity, and geographic location. In the end, perhaps it is not the students we should be focused on integrating but rather the parents, teachers, and school administrators.