ISSUE: Students who are placed at risk due to poverty, race, ethnicity, language, or other factors are rarely well served by their schools (Hilliard, 1989; Letgers, McDill, & McPartland, 1993). They often attend schools where they are tracked into substandard courses and programs holding low expectations for learning (Oakes, 1985; Wheelock, 1992). If schools are to achieve the desired goal of success for all students, they must hold high expectations for all, especially this growing segment of learners. They must view these students as having strengths, not "deficits," and adopt programs and practices that help all students to achieve their true potential.
OVERVIEW: The question of what it means to be "at risk" is controversial. When children do not succeed in school, educators and others disagree about who or what is to blame. Because learning is a process that takes place both inside and outside school, an ecological approach offers a working description of the term at risk. In this view, inadequacies in any arena of life--the school, the home, or the community--can contribute to academic failure when not compensated for in another arena. Why is there a need to focus especially on at-risk students? The personal, economic, and social costs of academic underachievement are high and growing. Each year, increasing numbers of students enter school with circumstances in their lives that schools are ill prepared to accommodate. Yet from this academically and culturally diverse population must come the next generation of scientists, engineers, and other skilled professionals.
Traditionally, schools have responded to student diversity and poor academic performance with approaches such as ability grouping, grade retention, special education, and pull-out programs--in which students are removed from their regular classrooms and offered remedial instruction in particular subjects (Letgers, McDill, & McPartland, 1993). After 30 years of practice, however, researchers and educators (e.g., Slavin, 1988; Oakes, 1985) now believe these approaches may actually reduce student engagement and learning opportunities while stigmatizing students. (For a summary of the research, see Compensatory Education: Traditional Responses and Current Tensions.") Instead, the most promising alternative approaches focus on student assets (including their backgrounds and prior experiences), varied teaching strategies, and meaningful learning in collaborative settings. Also of critical importance to each child's success is the school's emphasis on high expectations for all students (Benard, 1995).
Today, schools are encouraging the development of thinking skills in remedial programs. They also are embracing schoolwide restructuring programs and heterogenous grouping as alternatives to pull-out programs. Many of these new programs and practices have proven themselves in the classroom (Levin, 1988; Slavin et al., 1989). Schools also are exploring new ways to involve parents and families in their children's education. Research indicates that parent involvement makes an enormous impact on students' attitudes, attendance, and academic achievement. This Pathways issue illustrates what schools are doing to successfully teach and support at-risk students.
Diane Jackson, efficacy coordinator for the Detroit Public Schools, talks about the process involved with the efficacy approach. [195k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Schools That Work: The Research Advantage, videoconference #7, Preparing Students for Work in the 21st Century (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1992). A text transcript is available.
Howard Gardner, director of Project Zero at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talks about the theory of multiple intelligences as a framework for thinking about human cognition. [210k audio file] Excerpted from the video series Restructuring to Promote Learning in America's Schools, videoconference #4, Multidimensional Assessment: Strategies for the Classroom (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1991). A text transcript is available.
ACTION OPTIONS: Educators can take the following actions to provide effective schooling for students:
A school climate marked by caring and support,high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation can foster resilience and counteract the risk factors in a child's life (Benard, 1995). This effect occurs not only for children in urban schools but in other schools as well.
Resiliency is the ability to adapt and succeed despite risk and adversity. Resilient individuals commonly exhibit the following traits: social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense of purpose and future (Benard, 1995).
Tracking is the process of assigning students to different groups, classes,
or programs based on measures of intelligence, achievement, or aptitude. Most
elementary schools use these grouping
practices to create within-class ability groupings, while middle schools
and high schools use them to track students into particular classes or programs
Because tracking historically has limited learning opportunities for poor and minority children (Oakes, 1990), many schools are shifting from tracking toward heterogeneous grouping. This process is called detracking. In a fully detracked school, students typically learn with other students of varying ability or age. Teachers no longer pace their instruction to the "average" student, but individualize learning through personalized assignments and collaborative practices such as cooperative learning and peer tutoring. Successful detracking in middle and senior high schools requires a systemic approach that includes parent involvement, professional development and support, and district and state support.
For students to remain motivated to learn, they must believe they can achieve success if they try hard. Thus, schools must become professional communities that provide extra help to students as needed. In some successful programs, adults or other students serve as tutors for students needing help. Other programs motivate students by recognizing incremental improvement in addition to high achievement.
Students sometimes see little connection between their education and future. Programs such as Upward Bound and Roosevelt Renaissance 2000 help prepare at-risk students for the transition from school to work or college.
The Reading Recovery program is explained first by the narrator of the videotape and then by Marie Clay, founder of the Reading Recovery program. [615k QuickTime slide show] Excerpted from the videotape Collaborations in Education: Reading Recovery (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994). A text transcript is available.
Gay Su Pinell, professor of education at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, discusses why early intervention is critical to the success of Reading Recovery. [180k audio file] Excerpted from the videotape Collaborations in Education: Reading Recovery (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1994). A text transcript is available.
Educators and community members may fail to specify the problems afflicting their school and instead search for someone to blame.
In an effort to improve, schools may adopt programs and practices that conflict with the school culture or the participants' vision for the school.
School and community members may underestimate the human and fiscal costs of effectively implementing an improvement plan, especially the time needed for staff development and training. (Refer to the Critical Issues " Realizing New Learning for All Students Through Professional Development" and " Finding Time for Professional Development."
Teachers, administrators, or parents may fear that focusing efforts on at-risk students will divert attention and resources from the needs of high-achieving students.
Teachers may feel inadequately prepared to use effective strategies and approaches with students at risk (Licklider, 1991-92).
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW:
Some educators believe that students must master basic skills before they can engage in complex thinking or challenging, authentic tasks.
Some educators believe that tracking is the most effective way to meet the needs of a diversity of students.
Resilience: The Minneapolis Approach
Cooperative learning at Joliet West High School, Joliet, Illinois
Dr. Martin Luther King African-American Immersion Elementary School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Kanoon Magnet School, Chicago, Illinois
Key Elementary School and Key Renaissance School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Phillips High School, Chicago, Illinois
Middletown Mentoring Program, Middletown, Connecticut
Working Together to Succeed in School, Chicago, Illinois, a community-based parent and student training program
Upward Bound program in Connecticut
Renaissance 2000 at Roosevelt High School, Portland, Oregon
Sites and Schools Using the Success for All Program
Juarez-Lincoln Accelerated Elementary School, Chula Vista, California
Reading Recovery in Upper Arlington City School District, Upper Arlington, Ohio
Noble High School, Berwick, Maine
Walden III High School, Racine, Wisconsin
Minnesota New Country School, LeSueur, Minnesota
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR)
Johns Hopkins University/Howard University
Center for the Social Organization of Schools
3505 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21218
(410) 516-8800; fax (410) 516-8890
Contact: John Hollifield, Associate Director
Coalition of Essential Schools
Providence, RI 02912
Education Commission of the States
707 17th St., Suite 2700
Denver, CO 80202-3427
(303) 299-3600; fax: (303) 296-8332
Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound
122 Mount Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 576-1260, ext.10; fax (617) 576-1340
National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning
Center for Applied Linguistics
1118 22nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
National Center on Education in the Inner Cities (CEIC)
933 Ritter Hall Annex
13th and Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Contact: Margaret Wang
National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
University of Connecticut
362 Fairfield Road U-7
Storrs, CT 06269-2007
(203) 486-4626; fax (203) 486-2900
Contact: Siamak Vahidi
Organizations offering information on multicultural education
School Development Program
47 College St., Suite 212
New Haven, CT 06520
(203) 737-1020; fax (203) 737-1023
Contact: Cynthia Savo
Success for All/Roots & Wings
Johns Hopkins University
3505 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21218
(800) 548-4998 or (410) 516-8896; fax (410) 516-8890
Date posted: 1996