WITH THE END IN MIND: INCLUDING STUDENT VOICE
IN SCHOOL REFORM
B.A., Regis University, Denver, Colorado, 1994
M.S.S., University of Colorado at Denver, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education
by Shelley Zion
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
has been approved
//. oS. QT~
Zion, Shelley (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
With the End in Mind: Including Student Voice in School Reform
Thesis directed by Professor Deanna Iceman Sands
Law and public policy require that all students in the United States be provided
with equal educational opportunities and outcomes, yet we often fail to provide those
opportunities to students who are culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse.
Much has been done in the way of school reform to address these issues, but we have yet
to see sustainable, scalable reforms that result in equity for all students. In this
dissertation, I engaged high school students in conversations about their high school
experience and life goals and examined the data through a critical lens to uncover both
the realities of their experiences and to suggest new possibilities for the way we do public
school. This work is based in a framework of systems design that suggest that we must
stop attempting to fix the educational system, and instead focus on a redesign based on
the purpose of school as named by the learners it is intended to serve.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
Deanna Iceman Sands
For my daughtersknow that anything is possible!
To all my family, friends, mentors, and colleagues who helped me get here
you know who you are. For those who thought I couldnt, thank you for the
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM................................... 1
Indicators of the Problem................................. 3
Who Are Our Students?................................. 4
Segregated Schools.................................... 5
Discipline and Suspension............................. 7
Achievement on Assessments............................ 8
Completion and College................................ 9
Consequences of Unequal Education.................... 10
So Now What?......................................... 11
Conceptual Framework..................................... 12
Research Questions....................................... 14
Researcher Roles and Assumptions......................... 16
Results and Conclusions.................................. 16
Organization of the Dissertation
2. LITERATURE REVIEW.............................................. 19
So What Have We Done About Inequity in School Outcomes?..... 19
History of Public School.................................... 23
Is There Another Way to Think About School and Learning?.... 26
Defining Justice....................................... 28
Democratic Schooling, Multicultural, and Antiracist
Dominance, Power, and Privilege........................ 35
Identity and the Politics of Recognition, Whiteness Studies. 37
Social Justice Education.................................... 39
So, If We Want to Change the System, Where Do We Start?..... 41
Conceptual Framework........................................ 44
Student Voices.............................................. 49
3. METHODOLOGY.................................................... 53
Purpose of the Study........................................ 53
Research Design............................................. 54
Site Selection, Description of Groups....................... 56
Participant Selection....................................... 59
Data Collection Tools and Process......................... 61
Focus Groups and Researcher Field Notes................ 61
Student Demographic Worksheet......................... 63
Student Review........................................ 64
Data Analysis.............................................. 64
4. PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS...................................... 72
Perceptions of School...................................... 72
Adult Aspirations and Necessary Learning Experiences....... 78
Other Ways to Learn and Experience Those Things............ 81
Inequities in Access to Resources and Supports............. 84
Awareness of Issues of Equity.............................. 85
Analysis of Findings....................................... 88
5. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS........................... 92
Lessons Learned: Addressing Findings and Assumptions....... 96
Value of School............................................ 97
Issues of Access.......................................... 100
Limitations of the Study.................................. 103
Implications and Areas for Further Study.................. 105
A. QUESTIONS AND PROMPTS...................... 112
B. STUDENT DATA WORKSHEET..................... 115
LIST OF FIGURES
1.1 Population distribution.................................................... 5
1.2 Special education.......................................................... 6
1.3 Test scores................................................................ 8
1.4 Transition to college...................................................... 9
2.1 System design framework................................................... 45
LIST OF TABLES
3.1 Group description....................................................... 58
3.2 Group demographics...................................................... 60
3.3 Coding structure........................................................ 66
3.4 Access/No access demographics........................................... 69
3.5 Revised coding structure................................................ 70
4.1 Responses by theme...................................................... 73
INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM
Beginning in 1954 with the legal decision in Brown v the Board of Education
that required schools to provide an equal educational opportunity for all students and
reinforced through current legislation including the No Child Left Behind Act
(NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
(IDEA, 2004), law and public policy have established a requirement that all students
in the United States be provided with equal educational opportunities. NCLB
established a high-stakes accountability system that not only holds schools
responsible for students learning but also explicitly holds schools accountable for
improving the performance of historically low-achieving students, including low-
income, limited English proficient, special education students, and students of color
[No Child Left Behind Act, 2002, Â§ 1111 (b)(2)(C)(v)(II)(aa-dd)]. IDEA, as it was
reauthorized in 2004, not only addresses the broad notion of ensuring a free and
appropriate education for students with disabilities but makes specific requirements
about eliminating the disproportionate representation of students of color in specific
special education disability categories and settings. These requirements have
spawned a need for solutions to issues of inequity in educational opportunity,
achievement, and outcomes that plague our educational system, as evidenced by
disparities in achievement between White students and students of color;
disproportionality in special education referral, identification, and placement; high
dropout rates for students of color; disproportionate discipline and referrals for
students of color; under enrollment of students of color in higher education, and an
array of other issues related to decreased education and life opportunities for students
of color, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, students from immigrant
families, and students in urban areas (Kozol, 1992; Ogbu, 1987; Patton, 1998; U.S.
Department of Educations National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2005).
Much has been done in the way of school reform efforts to address these
issues, yet we have not seen sustainable, scalable reforms that result in equity for all
students. Bela Banathy (1996) offered a potential solution to this problem with a
conceptual framework that suggests that we must stop attempting to fix the
educational system and instead, redesign it with the purpose of school as the frame of
reference for how schools might work. Students are affected daily by educational
decisions made by adults inside and outside of school, but their voices often go
unheard in the raging debates about schooling and school reform (Glendon, 1991;
Lincoln, 1995; OHair, McLaughlin, & Reitzug, 2000). In fact, there is a great deal
that we educators might learn by talking to students about their life goals, learning
needs, and ideas about how to learn what they need to know to meet their life goals.
Students can provide insights that could frame a conversation about the function and
purpose of schooling, and create a framework for thinking about learning outside of
the box of our current educational system.
The focus of this research project was to uncover, from the perspectives of
students, the purpose of school and to use that information to suggest new
possibilities for the ways we do public education in the United States that will allow
us to live up to the promise of equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for
all students (Klingner et al., 2005).
Indicators of the Problem
In this section, I present a variety of information that highlights the current
inequities in our educational systems, including segregated school settings, disparities
in achievement, disproportionality in the referral, identification, and placement of
students labeled special education or gifted, disparities in school completion and
transition to college and work, and disparities in the allocation of resources. I follow
this data with information on the consequences that flow from these disparities that
include reduced life chances for individual students, and for society as a whole. I do
want to highlight an important point in relation to this data- it is all national data, that
attempts to average the experiences and outcomes of all students in the public
education system. While this can give us an idea of the breadth of the problems our
systems face, it can also hide the depth of some issues, in that the data is aggregated
across numerous schools, so some schools will have lesser or greater variations of the
issue. An example of this is the area of disproportionality in special education
placement; nationally, Black students have a risk that is just over two times that of
White students. However, school systems do exist in which the risk is 10 to 15 times
greater (Klingner et al., 2005).
Who Are Our Students?
In 2003,42% of public school students were part of an ethnic or racial
minority, and 19% of all school age children spoke a language other than English at
home. Seventy percent of Black students, 71% of Hispanic students, and 23% of
White students in fourth grade are eligible for free and reduced lunch (the available
indicator for poverty; NCES, 2005). While our public school population is becoming
increasingly diverse, our teacher population remains primarily composed of white,
middle class, female teachers. Eight out of 10 public school teachers (82%) are
female (National Center for Education Information [NCEI], 2005). Both teachers and
students bring into the classroom values, beliefs, and assumptions that are grounded
in their cultural experience (race, ethnicity, gender, and social class are some of the
contributors). Public schools are designed to support the values of the dominant
culture (white and middle class). As school populations become more diverse, but
the teaching population remains essentially homogenous, the likelihood for
disconnects between students and teachers increases, contributing to the gaps named
in this section (Klingner et al., 2005).
Student Population High Poverty Schools
Figure 1.1. Population distribution.
Students of color are more likely than White students to be concentrated in
high poverty schools; 47% of Black students and 51% of Hispanic students attend
high poverty schools (defined as those with greater than 75% poverty), while only 5%
of White students attend high poverty schools. This holds true across urban,
suburban, and rural areas, with 61% of Black students, 64% of Hispanic students, and
12% of White students attending the highest poverty schools (NCES, 2005). Schools
are further segregated by race and ethnicity, in that 38% of Black students and 39% of
Hispanic students attend schools in which more than 90% of the total student
population is students of color. Research shows that low income elementary school
students do better in school when they attend schools that have less than 50% of
students in poverty (Gottleib, 2002) and that racially integrated schools have higher
success rates for students of color than racially segregated schools (Orfield & Lee,
Students Labeled Disabled
Total MR EBD SLD Gifted
Figure 1.2. Special education.
In 2000, 8% of all public school children were labeled as having mental
retardation (MR), emotional disturbance (EBD), or a specific learning disability
(SLD). Boys are twice as likely as girls to receive one of these labels. Black students
account for 17% of the public school population, but are disproportionately
represented in all three categories, accounting for 33% of students classified as MR,
27% of students classified as ED, and 18% of students classified as SLD. Not only
are Black students identified at rates much higher than White students, but once they
are labeled, they are much more likely to spend their school time in self-contained,
segregated classrooms (NCES, 2005).
White students with disabilities were more likely than students of any other
race/ethnicity to spend 80% or more of their day in a regular classroom. In contrast,
Black students with disabilities were more likely than students of any other
race/ethnicity to spend less than 40% of their day in a regular classroom and were the
most likely to be placed outside of a regular school. Students are also labeled, via the
special education process, as gifted. White students are 3.3 times more likely to be
enrolled in gifted programs as Black or Hispanic students (NCES, 2005).
This is problematic, as the research shows a significant decrease in positive
life outcomes for students placed in special education, particularly if they are placed
in segregated settings. Current work in the area of disproportionality names bias in
the assessment process, discipline process, and general education setting as the
genesis of this unequal placement and identification (Klingner et al., 2005; Monroe,
2005; Patton, 1998; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002).
Discipline and Suspension
In 2000, black students made up 17% of total public school enrollment, but
constituted 34% of suspensions (NCES, 2005); in 2002, Black youths made up 16%
of the juvenile population but represented 43% of juvenile arrests, while White
youths were 78% of the juvenile population but 55% of juvenile arrests. Further, in
1999, minority youths accounted for 34% of the United States juvenile population but
62% of the youths in juvenile facilities. Because higher rates of suspensions and
expulsions are likely to lead to higher rates of juvenile incarceration, it is not
surprising that Black and Latino youths are disproportionately represented among
young people held in juvenile prisons, again leading to reduced life opportunities and
increased costs to society (Advancement Project, 2005).
Achievement on Assessments
Black Hispanic White Asian Native American
1 m i
T a A 1
Dt il EBD Gifted
Figure 1.3. Test scores.
One of the primary requirements of NCLB is that states must have an
accountability system in place to assess student achievement related to state standards
in reading and math. Nationally, the gap in achievement between racial/ethnic groups
is staggering, with White and Asian students scoring much higher than Black,
Hispanic, and Native American students. In 2005, 41% of White students and 42% of
Asian students scored at or above proficient on state fourth grade reading assessment,
compared to 13% of Black students, 16% of Hispanic students, and 18% of American
Indian students. Thirty nine percent of White students and 40% of Asian students
scored at or above proficient on state eighth grade reading assessments, compared to
12% of Black students, 15% of Hispanic students, and 17% of American Indian
students. In 2005,47% of White students and 55% of Asians students scored at or
above proficient on state fourth grade math assessments, compared to 13% of Black
students, 19% of Hispanic students, and 21% of American Indian students. Thirty
nine percent of White students and 47% of Asians students scored at or above
proficient on state eighth grade math assessments, compared to 9% of Black students,
13% of Hispanic students, and 14% of American Indian students (NCES, 2005).
While there is debate as to the validity of the various state mandated tests, and the
utility of these tests as a measurement of learning, the gaps in scores indicate a gap in
the opportunity and outcomes for African American, Latino, and Native American
Completion and College
Figure 1.4. Transition to college.
In 2003, 93.7% of all White students completed high school, along with
88.5% of Black students, and 61.7% of Hispanic students. After completing high
school, 68.9% of White students transitioned directly to college, as compared to
59.4% of Black students and 53.3% of Hispanic Students. Of students who do go to
college, 53.9% of White students earn at least a bachelors degree, as compared to
38.7% of Black students and 29.4% of Hispanic students (NCES, 2005). In the
United States, a high school diploma is necessary for most employment, and the
completion of college opens doors to an array of career and life choices that are not
readily available to those without.
Consequences of Unequal Education
The consequences of inequity in educational opportunities and outcomes have
both immediate and far reaching effects. Life choices change, based on education, in
relation to overall physical health, employment, and earnings. In 2001, the better
educated a person was, the more likely that person was to report being in excellent
or very good health (NCES, 2005). Among adults age 25 and above, 78 % of those
with a bachelors degree or higher reported being in excellent or very good health,
compared with 66 % of those with some education beyond high school, 56 % of high
school completers, and 39 % of those with less than a high school education. In
2003, 13% of all persons ages 16-24 were neither enrolled in school nor working; that
number is 27.8% for American Indians, 20.3% for African Americans, and 17.6% for
Latinos, as compared to 10% for Whites and 9.2% for Asians. In 2003, African
Americans without a high school diploma earned an average of $17,900; Latinos
earned $21,100; and Whites, $23,100. African Americans with a high school diploma
earned an average of $25,500, compared to Latinos at $24,000 and Whites at $29,100.
With a bachelors degree or higher, African Americans earned $40,900, Latinos,
$37,600, and Whites, $43,400 (NCES).
In summary, the data show across all areas of the educational system unequal
educational opportunities and outcomes for students of color, whose first language is
not English, who are economically disadvantaged, and who are labeled as needing
special education services. Not only are these students being marginalized in school,
but the reduced quality of their education continues to impact them as they move to
college, to the workforce, and to being productive members of society. While
individual students pay the price for inequitable opportunities and outcomes, so do
entire communities, and in subtle ways, society as a whole (National Center on
Education and the Economy, 2007).
So Now What?
The question then, is what is going on that creates a situation in which our
public school system seems unable to live up to its mission to provide equitable
educational outcomes and opportunities for all students? In chapter 2,1 address the
history of educational reform efforts in this country, the history of public schooling,
theories of systems change, critical theory, and social reproduction to show that as
long as we fail to address underlying issues of inequality, power, and privilege,
school reform efforts will continue to fail large segments of our student population. I
use a conceptual framework developed by Bela Banathy (1996) that suggests we
cannot change social systems such as education without moving our scope and focus
of inquiry to the purpose of schoolingas long as we are intent upon looking at
schools as they currently exist, we will only tweak the current system rather than
redesigning a system, from the ground up, that will work for all. In order to do this, I
spoke with students, to uncover their experiences in schools, their perceptions about
the utility of school to prepare them for adulthood, and options for learning and
experiencing the things they need in order to be prepared for adulthood.
The conceptual framework for this study is grounded in the work of Bela
Banathy (1996), and meant to enable designers to transcend the existing system,
establish boundaries of design inquiry, and create some major design options of a
desired future system (p. 63). In this framework, the purpose of systems design is to
transcend existing, flawed, systems and thus create new systems that will achieve the
original intent and purposes of the system under examination. Banathy addressed the
inherent resistance of people to change, particularly on a massive scale and proposed
that, in order to create the kind of massive change required to transcend existing
systems, we must move our focus and scope of inquiry from specific issues within the
existing system to the needs of the community and overall society and that we must
cease to focus on governance, administrative, or even instructional levels with our
inquiry and instead move to a focus on the learning experiences of those the system is
designed to serve. As a result, in this study, I spoke with students about their
experiences with high school, and their learning and experience needs if school is to
achieve its purpose of providing opportunities for success as adults. This path is
explicated by Jones (1984):
Designing, as I see it now, is, or could be, the process of unlearning what we
know of what exists, of what we call the status quo, to the point where we
are able to lose our preconceptions sufficiently to understand the life, and the
lives, for which we design, and where we are aware of the ways in which new
things, added to the world, can change the way we see it. (p. 172)
In addition to Banathys framework for systems design, I have incorporated
critical theory in to my framework, particularly in terms of my analysis. Henry
Giroux (1983) named education in the United States as having the purpose of
preparing students for the world of work and suggested that this is wrong headed- in
fact, the purpose of schooling should be to meaningful, critical, and emancipatory.
He named schools as political sites that represent arenas of contestation and struggle
among differentially empowered cultural and economic groups (p. 3). His work was
guided by the work in critical theory of the Frankfurt School, which developed a
theory of critique intended to reveal and break existing structures of domination.
Raymond Guess (1981) described critical theories as designed to assist those who use
them to determine what their true interests are by creating a reflective space in which
to question dominant ideologies, by uncovering the roles those ideologies play in
supporting, stabilizing, or legitimizing certain kinds of social institutions or
practices (p. 15). Uncovering these ideologies allows us to uncover the issues of
hegemony and social reproduction that contribute to ongoing oppression through the
creation of self fulfilling prophesies. Within this theoretical framework, it is possible
to uncover instances of domination and oppression, the role of power and privilege,
and to understand how the hidden curriculum and reproductive nature of our school
system conspire to perpetuate inequities between members of dominant and
In chapter 2,1 address the conceptual framework for this research in depth.
This was a qualitative study, designed to explore the perceptions of high
school students related to their experience of high school, their plans for adulthood,
the relevance of high school to the accomplishment of those plans, and in the event
that they do not perceive high school as it is currently designed to be beneficial, to
discuss the other ways in which they might learn and experience what they need to be
successful in their projected futures. In order to elicit this information, I asked groups
of students the following questions:
1. What is high school like?
2. What do you want to do as an adult?
3. What do you need to learn and experience in order to do that?
4. Is high school helping you learn and experience those things?
5. In what other ways, besides high school, might you learn and experience
6. What does this mean for the way we do school?
Framing the questions in this way moves us from efforts to change the
existing system, into possibilities for designing a new system, focused on the purpose
of education in our current society.
This study used a phenomenological approach, grounded in socio-cultural and
critical theories. I began by asking students who represented diverse demographics
the above questions, in order to explore their perspectives on their cultural and
educational histories, their understandings, expectations, and desires about their life
trajectories, and the degree to which they viewed these as linked to a placed called
school. The questions prompted them to explore their notions of school as well as
to re-conceptualize the notion of learning environments. I used a convenience sample
(Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999), allowing for representation from a broad
group of students, creating the opportunity to determine differences and similarities in
perspective across different groups of students, thus accounting for differences in the
lived experiences of students based on gender, race/ethnicity, social class, and school
success. In this study, I used focus group methodology (Gibbs, 1997), in which I met
with 12 groups of 5-9 students (N = 80). Utilizing the focus group methodology
allowed me to not only gain insights from individual participants regarding their
experiences, beliefs, and attitudes about learning, but to also capture the interactions
between individuals within the group (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2003; Krathwohl, 1998).
In addition to the focus groups and researcher field notes, another adult observed the
groups and used a field note protocol to capture interactions within the group.
Finally, I engaged a lead student in data review. After each focus group, the lead
student reviewed the researchers field notes to confirm or edit the perceptions of the
researcher for his/her respective focus group. This member check served as a fourth
data source and allowed for triangulation in data analysis from the perspective of the
researcher, the observer, and a participant (Yin, 2003). Audio tapes from all focus
groups conducted were transcribed and entered into NVIVO for analysis.
Researcher Roles and Assumptions
As a researcher, my role was to capture, as accurately as possible, the
perceptions of the student participants, and then to apply a critical lens to the analysis
of the data, in an effort to uncover the roles that power and privilege play in
informing the experience of the participants. A central value of critical theory is a
commitment to penetrate the world of objective appearances and to expose the
underlying social relationships they often conceal (Giroux, 1983, p. 7). I came to
this with a set of assumptionsthat power and privilege do impact the everyday
experience of us all, that education should be emancipatory, that schools should
provide equitable opportunities and outcomes for all students, and that we are often
unaware of the impact of power and privilege on our own behavior. I also assumed
that students would be able to engage in a conversation about ways to learn outside of
school, and those students for whom school was not a positive experience would be
able to identify alternative ways for them to meet the educational needs associated
with their future aspirations. In fact, students responses did not support these
assumptions, as seen in the following section.
Results and Conclusions
The results of this study show that, while high school students are able to
identify a variety of issues related to their high school experience and to name that
experience as not particularly helpful in contributing to their life aspirations, they
unilaterally believe that high school, and continuation to college, is something they
must do in order to be successful. There were sharp distinctions between students
who I have named as having access and not having access with regard to
knowledge of the system, supports and resources, and histories that open the doors of
Students who have access to the dominant culture system see college as a time
to explore their options for adulthood and determine what they want to do as adults,
while students who do not have access see college as a place in which to learn the
skills they need to do the job they have already identified for themselves, based on
what they see as available options in their families and communities. Those students
with access to the system understand the ways to choose, apply, and finance a college
education, those without do not understand the ways to do these things.
Students without access are able to identify, via family or community
resources, options for learning what they need to be successful outside of the formal
education system, while those with access are unable to identify alternatives to
conventional education systems. Students with access to the system were able to
recognize on some level the privilege they have, and that others may not have the
same access to the system but believe that the current educational system affords the
opportunity to all to gain access to the greater system. Students without access are
aware of some of the limits in their opportunities and experiences, particularly related
to issues of economic equity. They do not, however, have the tools or believe they
have the right to the same level of resources that the have access students do, and thus
become participants in their own ongoing marginalization.
Organization of the Dissertation
In chapter 2,1 examine the literature in school reform, equity issues, student
voice, and critical theory. I also lay out the conceptual framework used in the
development of the dissertation questions, and link these bodies of literature to the
scope of the problem and the focus of the research I conducted. Chapter 3 contains
the detailed methodologyincluding the sampling methods, a discussion of the
participants, the forms and tools used, the variety of data collected to ensure
triangulation, and the method of analysis. Chapter 4 is the analysis of the data across
themes, and chapter 5 contains my overall conclusions and lessons learned. It also
addresses next steps for further research.
In this chapter, I provide a review of the literature relevant to understanding
the problem of inequities in public schools, the conceptual framework used to
develop the research project, and the conceptual framework that guides the analysis
of the data. This includes a review of educational reform efforts to date, a history of
public school in the United States, a series of theoretical frameworks for thinking
about the function and purpose of school, a theoretical framework for systemic
change that leads into the conceptual framework of redesigning social systems, and a
discussion of the stakeholders to be included in systemic change work, focusing on
the voices of students. This body of literature creates a framework for thinking about
the purpose of school, and thus implications for school reforms that might address the
issues of inequity set out in the problem statement.
So What We Have Done About Inequity in School Outcomes?
The widening gaps in achievement and the differential success of students
belie the school reform efforts that have been a part of what we have done in public
schools since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983 (Berends, Bodilly, & Kirby,
2002; Hamann, 2005; Hatch, 2000; Kushman & Yap, 1999; Sa, 1992; Slavin &
Madden, 2000; U.S. Department of Education, 1983; Walker, 2003). Large scale
improvements have been funded by foundation monies, federal and state dollars, and
local monies. However, it would appear that to date, very few if any of these efforts
have been sustainable or successful at scaling up to impact large systems (Berends
et al.; Hamann, 2005). In fact, the recent release of the report Tough Choices or
Tough Times by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE, 2007)
has underscored the pervasive, ineffectual nature of many school reform efforts and
calls for extensive secondary education reform in the United States. In essence, we
find ourselves addressing similar critiques of schooling as those levied in 1983.
Most school reform efforts aimed at addressing issues of inequity in school
outcomes focus on process and content-that is, reformers strive to identify the key
features of successful schools (defined as schools who are meeting the standards set
for high achievement on standardized measures) and then to design reform agendas to
assist low-performing schools to implement those features, thus improving outcomes
for students. The following paragraphs detail some of the research on a few of the
many school reform efforts implemented over the past decade, including The New
America Schools, Onward to Excellence, Promising Futures, High Schools on the
Move, and The Panasonic Foundation Partnership Program.
The New America Schools project funded reform efforts in 147 schools
nationally beginning in 1991, assuming that a whole school reform design process
with implementation support would have a substantial impact in terms of improving
student outcomes for large numbers of urban schools. However, approximately half
of the schools failed to show improvement in student achievement by the end of year
three, and the half that did experienced declining gains over the 3 years. The
evaluations of the project indicated conflict between the current educational contexts
of high stakes testing and the time needed to implement whole school reforms.
Overall, they indicate that these efforts did not result in significant effects on student
achievement (Berends, Bodilly, & Kerby, 2002; Hatch, 2000; Ivers, 2004).
The Onward to Excellence project was implemented in 33 rural, high poverty
schools in Mississippi over a 5 year period. General findings of the evaluation
included that there was uneven implementation across schools, that schools engaged
well in the design phases but had little success in changing teacher practice, and that
there was no change over time in terms of student achievement trends. As in the New
America Schools, school leadership, implementation, and competing mandates
contributed to the challenges of implementing this model (Kushman & Yap, 1999).
Promising Futures (Maine) and High Schools on the Move (Vermont) are two
school reform efforts that originated in state departments of education, which
developed sets of promising practices for high schools to be implemented within their
respective states through a whole school reform model. In both states, funding and
support was provided to participating schools, which again experienced varying
levels of implementation. In the final analysis, however, neither state showed
significant improvements in student achievement, grade point averages, or graduation
rates (Hamann, 2005).
The Panasonic Foundation Partnership Program funded whole school reform
efforts in 9 urban districts over a period of 4 years to provide school-based, whole
school, systemic reform support. The evaluation data from this program indicates
improvements in teacher professionalism, greater collaboration between state, district,
and school, and an increased capacity at the district level to support whole school
reform. Again, the overall results as reported by Panasonic are that we cannot, in
fact, claim with certainty that many students are learning more or learning better (Sa,
1992, p. 470).
The above cited studies provide a sampling of school reform efforts
implemented over a broad span of time (1991-2004) in a wide geographic region, in
both urban and rural settings, and guided by either internal agents (state and district
initiatives) or by external agents (foundations and grants). Each of these studies
identified features of successful school reform, but acknowledged difficulties in
scaling up, sustainability, and impacting student outcomes.
In these studies, the focus was on examinations of the implementation and
outcomes of whole-school reform models, with a primary focus on improving
achievement. The developers of these models sought to identify key characteristics
of successful schools and to implement those characteristics across new schools. In
standards-based approaches to school reform, school improvement is based on doing
standards based instruction and assessment, looking at class size or time (block
scheduling), teacher training and pedagogy, literacy and math instruction, classroom
management, instructional methods, and other like procedures and processes.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (NCES, 2005) report on
accountability and school improvement efforts from 2001-2004, the most frequent
school reforms include
1. Increased data usage
2. Better planning
3. New instructional programs
4. Implementation of new curriculum
5. Curriculum alignment
6. Professional development
One must wonder, given all of the funds spent and efforts made over the past
decade or two to address theses issues, why we have not made progress, and instead
overall, have increased the gaps between privileged and marginalized students
(Berlak, 2001)? The NCEE (2007) report, Tough Choices or Tough Times stated
that our education and training systems were built for another era. We can get where
we must go only by changing the system itself (p. xx).
History of Public School
Historically, public schools have served the dual role of controlling and
sorting children deemed problematic or undesirable by societythe first public school
was established in 1647 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the purpose of teaching
students to read the bible, so they would know the rules of their religion (Applied
Research Center, 2006). In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a two-track educational
system with one track for the laborer and one for the learned. This system would
allow a very small number to advance from lower to upper classes, by raking a few
geniuses from the rubbish (Applied Research Center, |2). In 1805, the New York
Public School Society was founded and developed a model of schooling that focused
on obedience and discipline in response to what factory owners needed in workers.
In 1851, the first compulsory education law was passed, with the goal of ensuring
that the children of poor immigrants get civilized and learn obedience and restraint,
so they make good workers and dont contribute to social upheaval (Applied
Research Center, 12).
Additionally, public schools have been used as an instrument of segregation
and forced assimilation, beginning with laws that forbade slaves to learn to read,
removed Native American students from their homes and placed them in boarding
schools, outlawed the use of languages other than English in public school
classrooms, and criminalized children who did not attend school (Gatto, 2005). It is
possible to argue that schools have come a long way since 1647after all, there is
Brown v the Board of Education that eliminated segregation based on race, the school
choice movement that created an array of charter school choices for families who can
access them, and home-schooling has been legalized, and yet we seem to be no closer
to closing the equity gaps in our education system (Berlak, 2001).
Our public education system was developed with a set of purposes, explicitly
stated in law and public policy, to control and sort students according to the needs of
the state. Joel Springs, in American Education (2005) named three purposes of
schoolingthe political goal of educating future citizens to participate in a democratic
republic, the social goal of controlling the behaviors of the masses, and the economic
goal of socializing workers into industry. Our educational system was initiated, and
refined, to meet these needs.
Yet, current law has moved from the notion of control and sorting into an
arena of provision of equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It seems no
surprise then that reform efforts are not workingthe system as it was designed is
working at cross purposes to the outcomes that are now required. In the next
sections, I lay out some of the theoretical frameworks that provide an opportunity for
us to conceptualize education in a way that redefines the purpose of schooling as to
serve a liberating, emancipatory outcome in which all citizens engage in a democratic
struggle for economic, environmental, or social justice. Attempting to separate the
purposes of schooling from the forms by which it is implemented is unrealisticas
Paulo Freire said about education (1997), These things take place in a social and
historical context and not in pure air. These things take place in history, and I am not
the owner of history (p. 308).
Is There Another Way to Think About School and Learning?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and
expecting different results.
- Albert Einstein
Conversations about school reform generally begin with the notion that school
exists as is, and rarely question that basic premise. People may debate the purpose of
school, the form it takes, and how to best change it, but rarely question that school as
a formal, standardized public requirement should exist. In fact, some writers have
long challenged our current structure and process of schooling and offered other ideas
Ivan Illich (1971) named school (the age based, teacher focused, and
compulsory attendance model) as the problem rather than the solution to equity in our
country, as it creates formal mechanisms to discriminate against some members of
society and to privilege others. Illichs critique of public education was that it begins
with the assumption that there are pre-set things that all people need to learn, that
we can determine what those things are, and that we can train other people to deliver
those things. He challenged the field of education to rise above this notion, and to
instead begin with the question What kinds of things and people might learners want
to be in contact with in order to learn [what they want to learn about]? (p. 78).
Passeron and Bourdieu (1990) explicated this idea within a framework of
social reproduction, in which they named cultural and social capital as the means by
which individuals in society contribute to their own ongoing marginalization or elite
status, and situate the educational system as a primary institution that perpetuates the
cycle of social reproduction of class and status difference. Cultural capital
incorporates all of the individual advantages a person may have because of their
education, knowledge or skills that enable them to achieve a higher status in our
society, while social capital refers to those same types of advantages that are based on
group membership. Social institutions are set up by those in power, and thus are
organized to support and value the types of cultural and social capital held by those in
power. Sandra Stein (2004) went a step further and examined the culture of
education policy in the United States as a tool for furthering discrimination and
marginalization in her analysis of the ways that the language of education policy
creates a context in which schools must identify problem students to be fixed in
order to successfully implement the policy. Ogbu (1987) uncovered examples of how
voluntary and non-voluntary minority groups assimilate or resist the dominant
ideology presented in school, while Willis (1982) applied the analysis of resistance
and reproduction to issues of social class. These theorists tended to view schools as
the site of struggle, a place in which students must choose to engage with the
dominant culture or choose to resist becoming a part of that value set.
A potential solution proposed by these and many other theorists is the idea of
social justice education. Adams, Bell, and Griffin (1997) defined social justice as
both a process and a goal.
The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups
in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice
includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically
and psychologically safe and secure, (p. 14)
Social justice education, as a theoretical framework, is emerging, building on
fields of study including democratic schooling, multicultural education, and antiracist
education among others. Promoters of social justice education are influenced by
theories of hegemony, dominance, power and privilege, identity development, and the
politics of recognition, and advocate for creating democratic schooling processes in
which we work together to negotiate an understanding of democracy and justice in
relationship between teachers, students, and the broader society (Henke, Lokon,
Carlson, & Kreuzmann, 1998, p. 633). Social justice advocates want to prepare
students to be productive citizens in a democratic society (Goodlad, 1996). The
frameworks that follow challenge the historical notions of schooling, and create an
opportunity for rethinking how schools might be structured to achieve the goal of
equity for all students.
Philosophies of justice have been debated since 360 BC when Plato identified
justice as being worth having not only for its outcomes, but for its own sake (Bloom,
1991) and have been rooted in issues of law, governance, economics, and religion.
There has been much debate of the notion of justice as an issue of societal fairness
that implies a moral valuethe question has always been whose morals form the basis
of the principles of society by which the social contract is entered (Hobbes, 1651;
Locke, 1690; Rousseau, 1762)? Some question whether or not institutions can be
just, or if justice is in individual moral principle, not applicable to institutions in our
society. Others note that the determinants of a fair and just society include basic tests
of the greatest good for the greatest number, and the well being of the least privileged
minority groups (Rawls, 1971). Rawls (1993) proposed two principles of justice:
1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal
basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme
for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties,
are to be guaranteed their fair value.
2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: (a)
They are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of
fair equality of opportunity; and (b), they are to be to the greatest benefit of
the least advantaged members of society, (pp. 5-6)
While these conceptions of justice create interesting space for conversation, a tension
remains because all of these are based on assumptions that some ruling class or
majority decides what is just, what are the basic rights and liberties, who represents
the interests of the least advantaged, and that all individuals will live up to some
moral principle defined by the larger group. The changing natures of our diverse
populations and questions about principles of democracy have led to a different
conversation about social justice, rather than justice as defined by traditional and
What is Social Justice?
The trouble with social justice begins with the very meaning of the term.
Hayek points out that whole books and treatises have been written about
social justice without ever offering a definition of it. It is allowed to float in
the air as if everyone will recognize an instance of it when it appears. This
vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social
justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most
often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, We need a law against
that. In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation,
for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion. (Novak, 2000, (|[2.)
If we are to make progress in addressing the inequities that continue to be
present in our educational systems by stepping outside of the historical purposes of
school into new notions of public schools as an instrument for ensuring equity, we
must define and make explicit our understanding of what social justice is, and
develop concrete ideas about what it means to think and act in ways that are socially
just so that practitioners and policy makers have a guide to their decision making and
The addition of the word social to the philosophical notion of justice allows
us to discern between legal elements of justice, in which a society has set down a
code of conduct that labels some behaviors as undesirable and allows the governing
structures of the society to punish offenders, and broader notions of social justice as
an effort to create communities which recognize and support the unique value of each
individual within them. Adams et al. (1997) defined social justice as both a process
and a goal.
The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups
in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice
includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically
and psychologically safe and secure, (p. 14)
Kelso and Adler (1958) in the Capitalist Manifesto, focused on issues of economic
justice, which fall under the broader umbrella of social justice, and identified three
necessary components without which efforts at creating a just society would fail.
They discussed the principle of participation, the principle of distribution, and the
principle of harmony in terms of contributions to the economic system but argued that
the principles are generalizable to efforts to create institutions that meet the needs of
all participants. The principle of participation requires that there is true equality in
opportunity to participate in the system; the principle of distribution requires that each
person benefit from his/her input into the system, and the principle of harmony
requires that there be a mechanism in place to ensure that inequity is not occurring in
either the participation or distribution principles. In addition to understanding
principles of social justice, we must look at ways of conceptualizing social justice.
Howe (1997) identified three ways of conceptualizing social justiceformal,
compensatory, and participatory. Formal interpretations focus on removing legal
barriers to opportunity, by making discrimination based on gender, race, or ability
illegal while compensatory interpretations add the requirement of leveling the
playing field by acknowledging that particular groups have been historically
discriminated against and as such must be provided with additional assistance to have
equal access to opportunity. Compensatory approaches include ideas such as
affirmative action, or preferential admissions processes. Neither of these two
approaches addresses the question of equal opportunity to what? but instead assume
that access to the current system is what is desirable. A participatory interpretation of
social justice does, in that it requires that not only do all persons have the right to
equal educational opportunities, but that they also have a right to be part of the
process of deciding what counts as an opportunity.
Historically, notions of social justice in the United States have been primarily
formal or compensatory, as laws are passed barring specific forms of discrimination
based on race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality, or other groupings. Much of the
work of the civil rights movements in various arenas focused on issues of
compensatory social justice, including affirmative action, bussing, and equal
opportunity employment policies. As a result, social justice has been defined as
Encompassing a variety of concerns about the lived experience of
discrimination, oppression and injustice and seeks to understand the complex
intersections of a number of often overlapping categories of social identity
and conflict, including cultural, ethnic and racialized identities, gender, sexual
orientation, class, and physical ability. (Lund, 2003, p 4)
These approaches have been pursued as an avenue for righting historic wrongs rather
than opening up a new way of organizing our systems.
Social justice education, as a theoretical framework, is an emerging field,
building on fields of study including democratic schooling, multicultural education,
and antiracist education among others, and influenced by theories of hegemony,
dominance, power and privilege, identity development, and the politics of
recognition. In the next section, I provide a brief overview of the research from these
areas that has influenced the development of social justice education.
Democratic Schooling, Multicultural, and Antiracist Education
Theories and models of democratic schooling have set a framework for social
justice, as they advocate for creating democratic schooling processes in which we
work together to negotiate an understanding of democracy and justice in relationships
between teachers, students, and the broader society (Henke et al., 1998, p. 633), and
prepare students to be productive citizens in a democratic society (Goodlad, 1996). If
we are to see schools as the place in which students are prepared to be active
participants in our democratic society, we must define notions of democracy and
citizenship. Parker (1997) identified three key concepts necessary for an advanced
democratic system, including the participation of people in real issues and solutions,
the creativity that allows democracy to become a path to a dynamic ideal, and in
which diversity is seen as a democratic ideal, leading to a multicultural society. Lara
(2002) discussed the idea of democratic citizenship as
an open-ended space, a space where social integration is linked to recognition,
and the interrelation can be captured in terms of how rights are reflected in the
law.... Democratic integration is a wider process where gender, race, and
ethnic groups become the possible subjects for social integration into
democratic societies, (p. 210)
Rather than viewing our society as a place in which all groups must conform
to the current dominant ideology, a social justice approach looks at the ways in which
we can become a true multicultural society, by including the values and beliefs and
voices of all participants. Social justice requires that democratic practice lead to the
inclusion of all through multicultural practice.
Theories and models of multicultural education began as an effort to foster
appreciation of the cultural heritage of diverse students, to retain cultural heritage, to
increase harmony between groups, and to focus on attitude change and inclusive
curricula but did not always look closely at hidden forms of oppression. Critical
multiculturalism goes farther, specifically addressing existing systemic inequities in
curriculum, pedagogy, resource allocation, and policy (Banks, 1995; Kincheloe &
Steinberg, 1997; McCarthy, 1993; McLaren, 1997). Sonia Nieto (2002/2003)
supported this notion, advocating that it is not enough to help students celebrate their
own and others cultural traditions but urging us to ask profoundly multicultural
questions about who is being taught by the best teachers. Who is taking advanced
placement courses? Where and for what purposes are resources allocated?
Proponents of antiracist education have developed the notion of critical
multiculturalism further, advocating for direct exploration of imbedded biases and
inequities of power in all aspects of the school system (Lund, 2003). There has been
some tension in the fields of multicultural and democratic education, pertaining to the
areas each tends to focus on, and some have advocated for ways in which the two
ideas can be merged into a more complete whole. Walter Parker (1997) explained the
conflict between the two theories as such:
Multicultural educators too often work for inclusion without attending
sufficiently to the character of the public space in which inclusion is sought;
democratic citizen educators have too often skirted the issues of social and
cultural diversity, thereby presuming a public space that does not actually
exist, (p. 12)
He then suggested that it is possible to combine the two ideas into a curriculum for
education for democratic living in a diverse society that allows children to learn about
the unity necessary in the larger system while exploring the plurality of the diverse
cultures that make up our modem society. Geneva Gay (1997) also advocated for a
combined approach to multicultural and democratic education, by explaining that
society and schools cannot meet the social contract made with citizens if they do not
incorporate issues of cultural diversity into everyday life. She stated that our
government is mandated to be of the people, by the people, and for the people and
that it is not meeting that mandate if diverse and marginalized peoples are not
included in the process. Application of the principles of social and political
democracy to the educational system so that marginalized groups are enfranchised to
the same level as white, male, middle-class citizens is the key to eliminating
inequities in our social system, and to teaching students the skills needed to
participate in and transform society.
Dominance, Power, and Privilege
Gramsci (1971) developed the notion of hegemony to explain the ways in
which the norms and values of the dominant culture are imposed upon subordinate
groups in a way that creates a socially constructed reality that all groups, in some
way, subscribe to. The education system is key to the imposition of a hegemonic
culture, as the values of the dominant class come to be seen as common-sense or
natural, and participation in the norms of dominant society are seen as the way out of
It is important to examine the impact of oppression and hegemony in
education (Tate, 1995) and to understand the role of power and privilege in
perpetuating a system of racial borders and hierarchies (Marvin & Adams, 2002;
Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). Uncovering hegemony is complex, because it is
based in ideas of common sense and as such is invisible to members of society, and
requires that the oppressed unknowingly participate in their own oppression
(McLaren, 1989, p. 173).
Grant and Breese (1997) stated that the person who is subjected to the
conditions of marginality develops a reaction to these conditions, engendered by the
various components of the conditions that can affect his /her performance in a given
area (p. 193). A social structure that supports dominate group values at the expense
of minority group members creates an arena of marginality that causes inequalities of
access to social resources and opportunities. Inequality of access constricts full
participation in society and creates a psychological reaction to the marginalized status
that then influences behavior. The development of positive self-identity is then
interrupted, as individuals in the minority group must struggle to create a sense of self
in relation to the dominant group values. Often, this struggle to create a self-identity
that balances the individuals need for cultural connection creates a form of conscious
or unconscious resistance to the values of the dominant culture.
Solomon (1992) identified the formation of oppositional group identity for
minorities in that they create an opposing and dual cultural frame of reference: one
proper way to behave for dominant group members, and one that is only appropriate
for minorities. This creates a situation in which those values held by the dominate
group (such as valuing education), must be disdained by minority group members in
order to retain group status.
Brantlinger (1993) called this phenomena a contradictory consciousness,
which she characterized as sharing the dreams and values of affluent classes while
resisting domination by such classes (p. 7). Heath and McLaughlin (1993)
suggested that this has a direct impact on the identity of minority group members, and
in fact, causes them to retreat to the confines of their cultural group and distrust the
possibility or desirability of becoming a part of the dominant society (Heath &
Mclauglin; Freire, 1985; Ogbu, 1987).
Identity and the Politics of Recognition, Whiteness Studies
The integration of excluded groups tends to follow a process of three steps:
first via assimilation, in which ethnic identities must be hidden from the public, then
via hyphenation, in which groups reclaim some sense of pride in their origins, and
differences are seen as important qualities that can add something to our collective
whole, and finally, multiculturalism, in which institutions must change to reflect the
incorporation of diversity (Lara, 2002). This is the arena in which conversations
about social justice become complex. Groups who have been marginalized have to,
at some point, develop an awareness of the injustices that have been perpetrated
against them, and develop an identity that allows not only for a renewal of pride in
heritage, but a demand for equity. It is in this space that group identity becomes
paramount, and claims for formal and compensatory social justice arise. This is an
easy place to get stuck, as it creates a tension between the demands of the
oppressed group and the status quo supported by the dominant group.
In order for participatory social justice to happen, all participants must
become aware of the hegemonic nature of society, and the ways that oppression is
institutionalized, and create a third space where changes in participation, new
conceptions of society, and true equity in access can occur. One of the biggest
challenges in this arena is raising awareness of dominance in the majority culture.
One area of study, Whiteness Studies, works to create ways to have conversations and
create allies among the dominant group, by exploring concepts of privilege and power
that exist simply by being a member of the dominant group. As Applebaum (2005)
noted, the word dominance is difficult for members of the majority group to grapple
with, as it conjures up ideas of overt, intentional efforts to control others. The
majority of people have a difficult time seeing themselves in that way, and thus have
a difficulty owning this as an issue they need to address. Additionally, ideas of color
blindness, meritocracy, and individuality are ingrained in our society, and must be
uncovered. This requires a shift from individualistic perspectives to socially
constructed perspectives, from perpetrator to victim perspectives, and to thinking
about power as power to rather than power over (Applebaum).
Social Justice Education
The frameworks addressed in the previous section: justice to social justice,
democratic schooling, multicultural and antiracist educations, hegemony, dominance,
power, and privilege, and identity politics and whiteness studies all contribute to our
overall understanding of the elements that must be addressed if we are to move
towards developing a system of education that creates the opportunity for social
justice to be realized. School reform, approached with these perspectives in mind,
would include broad participation of all stakeholders, require honest assessments of
the systems of power and privilege at play, and focus on both the process and purpose
of schooling that
... includes both an interdisciplinary subject matter that analyzes multiple
forms of oppression (such as racism and sexism), and a set of interactive,
experiential pedagogical principles that help students understand the meaning
of social difference and oppression in their personal lives and the social
system ... social justice education has the potential to prepare citizens who
are sophisticated in their understanding of diversity and group interaction,
able to critically evaluate social institutions, and committed to working
democratically with diverse others. (Bell, 1997a, p. xv)
Our educational systems are not living up to the mandate to provide equitable
educational opportunities for all students, and so we must find ways to reform the
system to create equity. Systems change is a complex process, and must happen
across all areas of a system to be sustainable, so efforts to implement social justice in
education that only focus on a particular area of the system, such as personal beliefs,
classroom strategies, or leadership are unlikely to create the level of sustainable
change required to truly reform our educational system. The key to systemic reform
is the coherence and alignment of activities across and within levels. As Miramontes,
Nadeau, and Commins noted (1997, p. 15), Schools can make a positive and
significant difference for students when educators account for the complex interaction
of language, culture, and context, and decisions are made within a coherent
theoretical framework. To engage in critical pedagogy requires a commitment to the
construction of knowledge by sharing power and authority between students and
teachers, challenging the hegemonic notions of what school is and should be, and
giving up control of the curriculum and pedagogy of the classroom. Sharing power
with students, and facilitating questioning of the political and social structures of
school create a space in which students and adults broaden their understandings of
themselves, the assumptions that society operates by, and the ways that the world
works (Giroux, 1997; McLaren, 1989). Power is always an underlying issue in any
relationship; it may not be something that we will ever eliminate, but we can try to
understand it in ways that will prevent the silencing of voices and the elevation of a
single point of view (Tierney, 1998). These theories provide a framework for
understanding the social and institutional pressures at play that contribute to the
continued marginalization of some students and offer avenues for our consideration
as we move to thinking about ways to design educational systems that might break
the cycle of inequity that plays out in our public school systems. Additionally, they
offer guidance as to what school could be, if we were to think about the roles of
students as critical consumers of education and active participants in democratic
society. As Bela Banathy (1996) said,
... even if people fully develop their potential, they cannot give direction to
their lives, they cannot forge their destiny, they cannot take charge of their
futureunless they also develop the competence to take part directly and
authentically in the design of the systems in which they live and work, and
reclaim their right to do so. This is what true empowerment is about, (p. vii).
This sets the stage for the next level of this researchhow might we change the
So, If We Want to Change the System, Where Do We Start?
A key idea behind theories of systemic change is that change needs to happen
across the entire system in order to be sustainable (Bateson, 1972; Ferguson,
Kozleski, & Smith, 2003). Change that occurs only in one area of a system is likely
to change back to the original way of doing things rather quickly. Charles Reigeluth
(1994) identified process as a key aspect of systems change theory, focusing on how
change happens, and in what steps it will be implemented. He identified an effective
change process as one that
1. is driven by the needs of the people served by the system,
2. is based on the peoples beliefs and values,
3. incorporates a shared vision, and
4. requires an evolution of mindsets about the system.
Some reformers concerned with educational reform applied his principles to
their work and have built models of educational reform that incorporate those
principles and highlight the need for effecting sustainable change by including all
parts of the school system in the change process, and by understanding the inter-
relationships between components within school systems (Ferguson et al., 2001;
Fullan, 2000; Goodlad, 1996; Klingner et al., 2005; Squire & Reigeluth, 2000).
These models tend to focus on outcomes of school reform for the benefit of students,
but do not include students as participants in the change process.
While many reformers and educators espouse the term systemic change, ideas
about who is part of the system differ, and this is the critical question. Who are the
stakeholders? When one looks at the system of education, several levels of people
served by that system emergestudents, families, community members, practitioners,
policy makers, society at large. Therefore, at varying levels, system reform efforts
must incorporate or build on the beliefs, values, vision, and needs of each of these
It is in understanding these relationships that reformers can be strategic in
what they change and the degree of impact those changes may have in recreating new
and effective systems. Most reform efforts include only some stakeholders: school
level administrators, practitioners, and policy makers, limiting the effectiveness of the
change processes, as changes are implemented after considering only some of the
needs of some of the people, based on some of the peoples beliefs and values,
creating a shared vision among only the school professionals, and ignoring the need
for changed mindsets about the reform effort.
As central stakeholders and beneficiaries of the educational system, students
should be considered essential participants to any effort to reform educational
systems. In fact, this is rarely the case. Studies do exist that show the benefits of
including students in change processesBechtel and Reed (1998) conducted research
on school restructuring efforts that involved students as researchers and documenters;
Metzger (2004) involved students as active participants in classroom management
decisions; Finn and Checkoway (1998) piloted a study of community-based youth
initiatives in which students were active participants in planning, implementing and
problem solving in community programs; and Lee and Zimmerman (n.d.) reported on
a school improvement program in Canada that actively sought and used the
perspectives of students. These studies support the notion that when students are
included in planning and decision making processes, change happens. In fact,
because reform efforts not only are designed with outcomes in mind that intend to
benefit students, and because changes in participation, achievement, and performance
ultimately rely on students engagement and behavior, Levin (1999) argued that
education reform cannot succeed and should not proceed without much more direct
involvement of students in all its aspects (p. 2).
You see things and you say Why? But I dream things that never were and I
say Why not?
This research is grounded in the work of Bela Banathy (1996), who developed
a conceptual framework for learning and human development systems, meant to
enable designers to transcend the existing system, establish boundaries of design
inquiry, and create some major design options of a desired future system (p. 63). He
named as problematic that our existing organizations were designed and developed in
the 19th century and thus must undergo radical and fundamental changes to meet our
needs in this 21st century. Banathy proposed that the fundamental purpose of
systems design is to create new systems and that the most challenging aspect of
designing social systems is in transcending the existing system, as people and systems
are inherently resistant to change, particularly on massive scales. He provided a
framework for transcending existing social systems, by focusing on four dimensions
the focus of inquiry, the scope of inquiry, the interactions with other systems, and the
type of system to be created, and expanding from a narrow focus on the existing
system to a broad focus on the function and purpose of that system. By mapping the
boundaries in this way, designers locate the areas in which they might focus and
j SCOPE OF INTERACTION WITH
1 INQUIRY OTHERSYSTEMS
! leans tic
Purpose Staking Learning Experience Level
TYPE OF FOCUS OF
Figure 2.1. System design framework.
This graphic represents the option field, with four possible options available
in each dimension of the framework.
The focus of inquiry option shows the range of possible places to begin
inquirymost school reform efforts focus on the governance level, in terms of
devising new policies, or at the administrative or instructional levels in terms of
developing new practices to meet the constraints of the current system. Moving to
the learning experience level allows the focus to switch to the purpose of the system
rather than assuming that the existing system should remain, allows for the possibility
that a new system be designed that is centered on the learner as the primary focus and
purpose of the system, and to rethink the purpose of the system in response to learner
The scope options indicate the context of the design inquirystaying within
the first two options (existing system and specific issue) limits the inquiry to changes
within the system rather than opening the possibility for a redesign. Expanding the
scope to either the community, or more broadly, all of society, extends the inquiry to
include current context and socio-cultural histories and allows for the possibility of a
redefining of the purpose (social function) of education, development of new learning
agendas, and new organization of the system.
The interactions options include the level of interaction between schools and
other organizations such as social service, health, human development, and
community agencies, and indicate a range of options from the minimal exchange of
information to a complete integration of services. Again, the first two options might
involve small adjustments in boundaries between organizations, but the last two allow
for a redesign of the entire system, as we move from narrow definitions of systems
and expand the possibilities for interactions with other social systems.
The system type option identifies the type of system in operation.
Deterministic systems are closed, unitary, have clearly assigned goals, limit the
freedom of individuals to select methods of work, and are mechanistic. Purposive
systems are unitary, with the goals set by those in charge. They may be somewhat
open and react to changes in their environment. People in these systems have some
choice about methods and goals. Banathy (1996) placed our public education system
in this level. Heuristic systems are those that are innovative, formulate goals guided
by broad policies, are open to change, and are pluralistic and dynamic. Purpose
seeking systems are those that are guided by their vision for the future, and as such
are open and constantly evolving.
In this study, I concentrated on the focus of inquiry, in which the learner
becomes the key entity of the system, and the primary task is to provide resources,
arrangements and opportunities for learning and human development (Banathy,
1996, p. 64). This focus moves away from attempting to analyze what is wrong with
the current system to instead, focus on seeking solutions grounded in the purpose of
learning. To accomplish this task, I proposed to engage students in a conversation
about the purpose of education, outside of the notion of schoolness, to transcend the
traditional boundaries of the way things are, and capture the essence of the way things
By seeking to uncover the disconnect between educational practice and values
evidenced in the current structure of schooling and the public perception of need
related to education and learning, this work will contribute to the current
conversations about education for equity in the United States and to the conversation
about school reform by uncovering the perceptions of the students and families that
the education system is designed to serve. By moving away from the assumption that
the system as is should be tweaked, into a design process that begins with the purpose
of learning and then moves in to the development of principles by which to design
that system, we open the door for a new understanding of the role and structure of
public education. Banathys (1996) framework created a context for looking at
systems design as a way to empower individuals to take charge of their futures by
directly and authentically taking part in the design of the systems that impact them
but does not directly address issues of equity, power, or social reproduction. He did
name this process of collective design as one that empowers citizens to exercise truly
participatory democracy, which leaves open the possibility for including those issues
in the initial design and names it as ideal seeking and guided by an ethical stance
(p. 4). Banathy offered seven fundamental questions that guide systems design:
1. What is design?
2. Why do we need it?
3. How does it work?
4. How should we design?
5. When should we design?
6. Who should be the designers?
7. What value does design add to our society? (p. 6)
Because he did not explicitly address those critical issues of power, it would
be as easy to use his model to continue to reinforce existing hegemony. To address
this issue, I have incorporated ideas of critical theory as addressed earlier in this
chapter to my conceptual framework for analysis and to the methodology addressed
in chapter 3. Additionally, I have chosen to use student voice as the vehicle for
uncovering these issues, as is addressed in the next section to answer the question of
who should be the designers.
For education to occur there must be communication, and dialogue is the
cornerstone of communication. Education must involve all parties. It is not
our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world, nor attempt
to impose that view on them but rather to dialogue with the people about their
view and ours. We must realize that their view of the world, manifested
variously in their actions, reflects their situation in the world. (Freire, 2005, p.
National policy, empirical research, and the discourse of practice about
education fail to include the subjective experience of students and their perceptions
about schools and learning in any central way (Bechtel & Reed, 1998; Erickson &
Schultz, 1992). Even as some school systems develop an interest in including the
voices of students in school reform, they often do so in tokenistic waysonly
including those students who are engaged, succeeding, articulate, or agree with the
general ways that school works (Robinson & Taylor, 2007).
Many educational reform programs are grounded in the framework that
schools exist to prepare students for participation as citizens in a democratic society,
rather than to contribute to the capitalistic economy of the United States (Davies,
2002; Gay, 1997; Novak B., 2002; Smith & Fenstermacher, 1999). In this
framework, the idea of equal opportunity for all students to achieve and to improve
their array of life choices are paramount. Thus, these educational reforms focus on
ensuring that all students receive educational opportunities that are of high quality,
and that students from all socio economic, cultural, or linguistic backgrounds are
afforded the highest quality education. As such, one would expect that schools
embrace democratic ideals such as those recommended by the Center for Educational
and Community Renewal: inquiry, discourse, equity, authentic achievement,
leadership, and service (author, date). Yet, research shows that, in spite of talk about
democracy in education, students are often excluded from real participation in
decision making processes or from authentic leadership experiences during the time
they spend in the K-12 educational system (Fletcher, 2003; Glendon, 1991; Lincoln,
1995; OHair et al., 2000). Levin (2000) named five arguments for including students
in education reform, the first three which relate directly to the literature in systems
change, and the latter two which are specific to educational reform efforts:
1. Effective implementation of change requires participation by and
buy-in from all those involved, students no less than teachers;
2. Students have unique knowledge and perspectives that can make
reform efforts more successful and improve their implementation;
3. Students views can help mobilize staff and parent opinion in favor
of meaningful reform;
4. Constructivist learning, which is increasingly important to high
standards reforms, requires a more active student role in schooling;
5. Students are the producers of school outcomes, so their
involvement is fundamental to all improvement, (pp. 156-157)
Some researchers have begun to focus on including the voices of students in
various aspects of research and conversations about education. Britt (1995) spoke
with students who had dropped out of school to uncover their perspectives and lived
realities that influenced that choice; Cole and Knowles (2000) advocated and model
talking to students as part of the reflective practice of teachers to improve classroom
instruction; Daniels (2002) used the voices of students to identify their reading
interests and plan literature units to incorporate those interests; Cook-Sather (2002)
advocated for authorizing the voices of students in both the policy and practice of
education; and Sagor (2002) advocated talking with students about their commitment
to other aspects of their lives, such as sports to develop and understanding of what
might motivate them in school.
In contrast, some researchers have begun to focus on including the voices of
students in various aspects of research and conversations about education (Britt,
1995; Cole & Knowles, 2000; Cook-Sather, 2002; Daniels, 2007; Fine, 1987; Lee,
1999; Lincoln, 1995; Nieto, 1994). These studies are typically ethnographic in nature
and focus on the perspectives of a few students in a specific situation. Little research
directly addresses the importance of student involvement in the change process or
directly connects student participation to outcomes of change efforts (Elmore, 2000;
Newman, 1998; National Research Council, 2004).
Robinson and Taylor (2007) argued that the practice of work with student
voice carries with it four core values:
1. a conception of communication as dialogue (in which a climate of
trust and openness exists, and is characterized by all participants working with
2. the requirement for participation and democratic inclusivity (as
such that no voice is excludedparticularly those who have been silenced, are
critical or conflicting, or speak in ways outside of the dominant forms of
3. the recognition that power relations are unequal and problematic
(requires that not only are we aware of who we listen to, but how and what we
listen about and the relative power and privilege accorded to particular
4. the possibility for change and transformation (must act upon the
input of students, and ongoing engagement of students as agents of change.
So, we find ourselves in a situation in which the law and public policy require
that we provide equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for all students.
We have spent much money and effort over the past several decades attempting to
develop equity through whole school and other reform efforts, we are faced with
changing demographic and workforce needs, and we understand that in order for
social justice to happen, or for systems to change that all stakeholders must be
included. We also see that students are key stakeholders in the educational system
and the intended beneficiaries of that system and as such should be included in
conversations about the function, purpose, and nature of schooling. How do we do
this? Can students be expected to identify solutions to a problem as complex as that
of school reform? The purpose of this research was to engage students in
conversations about exactly that, but by stepping outside of the current notions of
school to take a broader view of what might help them become successful adults.
With that in mind, the following sections lay out methodology for uncovering the
perceptions of students related to issues of learning and success.
Purpose of the Study
Students are affected daily by educational decisions made by adults inside and
outside of school, but their voices often go unheard in the raging debates about
schooling and school reform (Glendon, 1991; Lincoln, 1995; OHair et al., 2000). In
fact, there is a great deal that we educators might learn by talking to students about
their life goals, learning needs, and ideas about how to learn what they need to know
to meet their life goals. Students can provide insights that could frame a conversation
about the function and purpose of schooling, and create a framework for thinking
about learning outside of the box of our current educational system.
This was a qualitative study, designed to explore and uncover the perceptions
of high school students related to their experience of high school, their plans for
adulthood, the relevance of high school to the accomplishment of those plans, and in
the event that they do not perceive high school as it is currently designed to be
beneficial, to discuss the other ways in which they might learn and experience what
they need to be successful in their projected futures. In order to get at this
information, I asked groups of students the following questions:
1. What is high school like?
2. What do you want to do as an adult?
3. What do you need to learn and experience in order to do that?
4. Is high school helping you learn and experience those things?
5. In what other ways, besides high school, might you learn and experience
6. What does this mean for the way we do school? (For a list of prompts, see
Framing the questions in this way moved us from efforts to change the
existing system into possibilities for designing a new system, focused on the purpose
of education in our current society. This path is explicated by Jones (1984):
Designing, as I see it now, is, or could be, the process of unlearning what we
know of what exists, of what we call the status quo, to the point where we
are able to lose our preconceptions sufficiently to understand the life, and the
lives, for which we design, and where we are aware of the ways in which new
things, added to the world, can change the way we see it. (p. 172)
For this qualitative study I used focus group methodology (Gibbs, 1997), in
which I met with 12 groups of 5-9 students (total N = 80) who represented diverse
demographics in order to explore their perspectives on their cultural and educational
histories, their understandings, expectations, and desires about their life trajectories,
and the degree to which they view these as linked to a place called school.
Utilizing the focus group methodology allowed me to not only gain insights from
individual participants regarding their experiences, beliefs, and attitudes about
learning, but to also capture the interactions between individuals within the group
(Fraenkel & Wallen, 2003; Krathwohl, 1998). It is within these interactions that
shared terminology, and a reconsideration of individual understandings can happen.
The focus group questions were designed to prompt the exploration of notions of
school, as well as to re-conceptualize the notion of learning environments.
The conceptualization of the questions as the design grew out of a prior study
conducted in the spring of 2002, in which I conducted focus groups with groups of
students from 6 schools, asking for their perspectives on schooling and school
reforms, with a focus on what students identified as factors that impact their learning
in school (Zion & Rhodes, 2002). Data from that first study showed that students had
a wide range of opinions as to the value and impact of these school and school reform
efforts and frequently expressed frustration that they were not allowed to have any
say in what happened in school, and felt they should. Additional themes that emerged
included a general acceptance of the necessity of school as a means to ensure
conformity and to teach societal expectations, and the lack of relevance school had
for their own goals and aspirations. This overall trend towards disappointment with
the experience of high school led me to begin questioning the purpose of school and
to look at a new way to think about school reform. Thus, when designing the
questions for this study, I decided to give students an opportunity to think outside of
the box called school to see if they could conceptualize and articulate approaches to
learning that do not emulate or depend on historical notions of a place called school.
This newer conceptualization of the research allowed me to move outward on
Banathys (1996) framework, both in the scope and focus of the inquiry, to talk with
students and think critically about the purpose and function of school in terms of
power and privilege.
Prior to beginning data collection, I submitted the appropriate human subjects
forms to the university for review; these were approved. Additionally, some of the
sites through which I received access to students required their own form of human
subjects clearanceeach of these was submitted and approved. This process required
a thoughtful analysis of the benefits and risks to participantsthere were neither any
direct risks associated with the design nor direct benefits to participants. Risks
addressed included minimal discomfort from being asked to be critical of school and
breach of confidentiality, while benefits were indirect but did include the possibility
of a sense of satisfaction as a result of having the opportunity to voice ones opinions.
Site Selection, Description of Groups
My initial intent had been to select groups from four comprehensive high
schools in the metropolitan area, but as I began data collection at the end of the
school year, it became impossible to coordinate focus groups at schools before the
year ended. As a result, I chose to use a convenience sample (Brown et al., 1999) and
identified places where students could be found during the summer time.
Convenience samples are not as rigorous as other methods of sampling but are
valuable in exploratory research such as this where the goal is to get an available
sample of a variety of participants to uncover general ideas about the issue at hand.
In the convenience sampling approach, participants are selected both on the basis of
their availability and on the researchers judgment that they are representative in
some way of the larger group. Because not all possible members of a given
population (in this case, high school age students) are included, one cannot be sure of
the representative nature of the population studied, and thus cannot generalize
findings conclusively (Kalton, 1983).
To ensure the widest possible sample, I contacted a variety of people I knew
that work in youth organizations and had them identify groups of students to
participate in the study. I conducted a total of 12 focus groups. Five of the groups
originated in schools, 3 were developed through individual student contacts, and 4
were based in community organizations such as youth centers or summer programs.
This is a convenience sample, meaning that I accepted groups that were available but,
at the same time, attempted to ensure a broad representation of students across a
variety of demographic indicators. Missing from this sample would be those students
who are not in anyway affiliated with a school or group, such as those who are
incarcerated or who have dropped out of school and are not participating in
community activities or recovery programs. Table 3.1 describes each group with
some general demographic information. More detail on the demographic makeup of
participants follows this section.
Group Group Description_____________________________________________________________
One This group originated in a comprehensive high school, and is a group of
students who participate in a club designed to support and educate African
American students about their history and goals. The school is located in a
working/lower middle class community that is primarily African American.
Two This is a summer job program dedicated to providing low income students an
opportunity to work in artistic efforts that improve their communities. It is a
racially and economically diverse group that is drawn together from all over
Three This is a group of students participating in a summer program designed to use
students as researchers on the topic of school reform efforts in their
communities. Students are from the metropolitan school system, and
represent a range of racial/ethnic/and economic backgrounds.
Four This group included girls from a suburban community. All but one of the
students attend the local comprehensive high school, one attends a private
Five This group is in a support program for youth who have dropped out of school
and need support in a variety of ways. Participants were racially and
ethnically diverse, and shared the experience of being disconnected from
school and having difficulties at home.
Six This group is students who dropped out of school but are attempting to
complete a GED. The group is racially and ethnically diverse and committed
to completing their education.
Seven This group consisted of students in a homeless shelter for adolescents who
have not experienced much success in school or life. As residents in the
program, they are required to work towards some form of completion of
Eight This group is middle and high income students who attend a local private
Catholic school that is known for its rigorous college preparation focus.
Nine This group of students is part of a civic leadership organization connected to
a local charter school. Participants are diverse racially/ethnically/
economically, and in their prior school experiences.
Ten This group was connected to a comprehensive high school located in a
suburban area that is predominately white, working class.
Eleven This group was connected to a comprehensive high school in an area that is
primarily Hispanic and working class.
Twelve This group of students attends a comprehensive high school that is racially
mixed. Students in this group were all African American.
Nine of the groups originated in schools or organizations. In those cases, I
contacted a leader at each organization or school and asked them to offer the
opportunity to participate in the focus groups to students who were of the age to be in
high school, or were currently enrolled in high school, with an emphasis on students
who were over the age of 16. In three cases, I contacted a student I knew personally,
and asked them to invite 5 friends to participate in the group. Table 3.2 shows the
demographic makeup of each of the groups. Race/ethnicity and gender are based on
information provided by the students on demographic profile sheets; students also
provided information on their parents level of education and employment. From that
information, I categorized their income as follows:
1. Low Income: not employed (disability or welfare) or employed at
minimum wage type of jobs (cashier at Target, McDonalds).
2. Lower Middle: employed in customer service, trades, industry.
3. Middle: employed in professional occupations such as teachers,
4. Upper Middle: employed in professional occupations such as lawyer,
Group Race/Ethnicity Gender Income
One 5 Black 5 female 6 low income
1 Hispanic 1 male
Two 1 Asian 3 female 3 low income
1 Black 2 male 2 lower middle
1 Hispanic 2 White
Three 6 Black 6 female 3 low income
1 Hispanic 3 male 1 lower middle
2 White 5 middle
Four 5 White 5 female 5 upper middle
Five 1 Asian 3 female 5 low income
2 Black 3 male 1 lower middle
2 Hispanic 1 White
Six 1 Black 2 female 3 low income
3 Hispanic 2 White 4 male 3 low middle
Seven 5 Black 5 female 4 low income
2 Hispanic 5 male 5 low middle
3 White 1 upper middle
Eight 6 White 3 female 4 middle
3 male 2 upper middle
Nine 2 Black 4 female 2 low income
4 Hispanic 4 male 4 low middle
2 White 2 middle
Ten 6 White 6 male 4 low middle 2 middle
Eleven 7 Hispanic 3 female 4 low income
4 male 3 low middle
Twelve 6 Black 3 female 4 middle
3 male 2 upper middle
Totals 2 Asian 42 female 29 low income
12 groups 28 Black 38 male 24 low middle
80 participants 21 Hispanic 17 middle
29 White 10 upper middle
This sample represents a nearly even split of students along gender lines, and
a roughly equivalent number of students in the three racial groups that are most
represented in the metropolitan area. Economically, more students fell in the low and
low middle income categories, due to the demographic makeup of the city public
school system from which most of the groups originated. Additionally, the groups
represent a broad range of school experiencethree of the groups are from programs
that work with students who have dropped out of school and attempt to assist them to
some form of school completion, while the remaining nine groups consisted of
students who are participating in school, but with varying degrees of engagement.
This sample is not intended to be generalizable to other settings, but to be a starting
point for uncovering the experiences and perceptions of students about school.
Data Collection Tools and Process
Data collection began with the scheduling of focus groups, to which each
student was required to bring the consent form, signed by their parent/guardian. In
addition to the audio-taped focus group conversations and my field notes, I collected
data in three others formsobservations from a second adult present at each group,
student demographic worksheets, and a review of my field notes by a student to
confirm accuracy. (See Appendix B for copies of the forms).
Focus Groups and Researcher Field Notes
Questions for the focus groups were developed based on the initial research I
conducted in 2002, with refinements and additions made with input from my
committee members. I then conducted a pilot focus group in the spring of 2007
(results from this group are not included in the data), which allowed me to refine and
add some question prompts resulting in greater clarity and student understanding.
Each focus group was set to occur at a location chosen by the student participantsin
all but 2 groups that site was the regular meeting site for the group (either the
program they were in, or a school meeting room). The remaining 2 groups occurred
at the home of one of the participating students. The focus groups lasted for
approximately 90 minutes, food was provided, and participants received payment in
cash at the end of the session. All sessions were recorded with a digital voice
recorder, transcribed, and entered into NVIVO for analysis. Upon completion of each
group, I dictated my observation into the same voice recorderthat dictation was
transcribed and written up by me as my field notes for each group. The field notes
and transcripts of the focus groups were linked in NVIVO for the purpose of cross
comparisons during the analysis.
At each focus group, I included another adult as an observer. The adult
observer has worked for me in a variety of capacitieshe did all of the transcription
for the previous study and is responsible for the transcription of all focus groups in
this study. Included in the forms (Appendix B) is the observation protocol that the
observer used to take notes and describe students, interactions, and the setting. The
observer was instructed in the type items to look for and were specifically instructed
to use descriptive versus judgmental language and to attend to details, interactions,
and the effectiveness of the questions. Following each group, the observer completed
his individual observation protocol and then discussed his reactions and observations
with me. The observations and reflections of these observers were used by me as a
check of the accuracy and addition to my own perceptions and field notes, and to
capture interactions or dynamics that I may have missed while focused on conducting
the group. The observation protocol was developed after reviewing similar protocols
from other projects, and reflecting on the types of data that would be most beneficial.
Student Demographic Worksheet
I developed a student demographic worksheet (Appendix B), which students
were asked to complete at the end of the focus group. I had students complete the
worksheet at the end so as to not begin the group with a school-like activity.
Students provided their demographic and contact information, information about their
school, employment, and extra curricular involvement, and information about their
family size, parents education, and employment. Information from these worksheets
was used to sort and refine the analysis of the data, particularly when coding student
responses into the emergent categories of have access and do not have access,
which are described below. This data also assisted me to look at various other
possible influences such as race and gender that might have impacted the analysis.
The field notes from myself and the adult observer were incorporated into a
final field note that was sent to a student participant for review. This member check
served as a fourth data source and allowed for triangulation in data analysis between
the transcripts, adult observations, and student perspective (Yin, 2003) to ensure that
the perceptions of the adults aligned with the perceptions of the student. Ten of 12
students agreed with the field notes, with no changes or questions. Two students had
additions or comments to make; in one instance, I incorporated the recommended
changes, in the other, I engaged a conversation with the student to clarify the point of
contention. In that instance, the student disagreed with my summary paragraph about
the students perceptions of their ability to learn from their parents. I then showed her
the transcripts of the conversation that had led me to make the statement in question
and worked with her to develop a statement that she felt accurately reflected the
experience of the group. Students who participated in the review of field notes were
paid an additional $10 for their effort.
Students perceptions elaborated in the focus group interviews provided
insights to be organized into themes through an inductive phenomenological approach
(Fraenkel & Wallen, 2003; Krathwohl, 1998), which is based in a bottom up, subject-
centered approach to uncovering and understanding the lived experience of
participants by moving from the specific experience as described by the participant in
to a broader understanding of those experiences. In this study, students perceptions
of school and learning environments are treated as phenomena that are affected by
students individual life and school histories issues.
Using constant comparative analysis (Hewitt-Taylor, 2001; Strauss & Corbin,
1990), I generated an initial set of codes into which the data was sorted by grouping
answers to the questions and determining what differences in perspective might exist.
As I began coding the first few focus groups, I started by reviewing responses to each
of the questions asked in the focus group to determine themes or categories for
coding. As an example, when asked What is school like?, student responses tended
to focus on either the social interactions in school (you get to hang out with your
friends) or on the actual experience of learning (we aren t learning anything). As
a result, data for that question was coded into two themescontent and teachers or
social relationships and skills. When asked why do you attend high school, student
responses fell into two major categorieseducational opportunities or personal goals.
This category was then coded as education opportunity or family/personal. I went
through the data for each of the first level questions asked, and made similar
decisions around emerging themes for each question. All data was coded into the
initial coding categories as seen in Table 3.3.
What is school like?
Why do you attend high
What do you want to do as
What do you need to learn
and experience in order to
Is high school helping you
to do that?
Are there other ways you
could learn and experience
the things you need?
If high school did not exist,
how would you learn what
First level codes___________________________________
Content and teachers: statements about learning,
course content, and teacher skill
Social relationships and skills: statements about
friends, social activity, relationships
Education opportunity: statements about school as
an opportunity to leam and achieve work related
Family/personal: statements about school as
meeting a family or personal goal
Vocational/technical: work aspirations that require
some vocational or technical skill/training
4 years college +: aspirations that require at least a
4 year degree
Academic content: statements about specific
academic knowledge required such as math or
Non academic skills: statements describing skills in
artistic ability, cooking, construction
Personal skills: statements describing skills needed
in terms of conflict resolution, time management,
social and communication skills
Helping: statements indicating some direct
relationship between things learned in high school
and the achievement of career goals
Not helping: statements indicating no relationship
between high school experience and career goals
People: statements naming people (family,
community, or others) who could help you leam
Resources: statements naming resources for
learning such as library, computer, internships
Not possible: statements indicating that it is not
possible to leam what you need to if there is no
People: statements indicating that there are specific
people from whom you could leam
Resources: statement indicating existing resources
In qualitative studies, the data collection and data analysis often occur
simultaneously (Creswell, 1998); in an inductive approach to data analysis, themes
emerge from the data rather than being imposed upon it (Dye, Schatz, Rosenberg, &
Coleman, 2000). As I continued to work on coding data while simultaneously
conducting additional focus groups, I became aware of a set of emerging themes that
were not being adequately captured in the initial coding categories, because they were
based on the relationships between the demographic make up of the focus groups and
the types of responses the group then made to the questions. This difference first
became apparent when asked what they imagined being as adultsstudent responses
seemed to be very different along racial and economic lines, with students in the
lower income or minority groups identifying specific jobs (cook, mechanic, hair
stylist), while students who appeared to be more privileged identifying broad
potential career paths (working with people, some kind of science). Thinking about
this difference from a critical perspective, it became apparent that the initial coding
structure would be inadequate, and that the analysis needed to happen across and
within groups, rather than as a whole set. Using a critical theory approach to data
analysis requires attention to differences in power and privilege in an effort to
uncover issues of inequity, or to unmask social contradiction (Guess, 1981, p. 18).
In an effort to uncover these differences, I further coded the data into a second
strand- responses from students who I identified as having access, and responses
from students I identified as not having access. Having access students included
those who had parents who had attended college, fell in the middle to upper middle
class economically, and attended schools that, from the students perspectives, were
preparing them for collegethis combination of resources and experiences provide
students with the knowledge, history, and support to navigate the system of
education. Not having access students had parents who had not attended college,
were in the low to lower middle class economically, and were unable to identify ways
in which the school they attended provided assistance in preparing them for college. I
would like to make clear that the category not having access is not meant to imply
that the students in that category had absolutely no access to resources that might
assist them in pursuit of educational opportunity, but that in comparison to the
having access students, they experienced a distinct lack of resources.
As I began to look at this idea of access/no access, I also looked at my data in
terms of differences by gender and race. There were no noticeable differences in
student response by gender. The issue of race/ethnicity is a bit more complex, in that
80% of Black participants and 100% if Hispanic participants fall in to the no access
group as compared to 38% of White students. However, responses to the questions I
asked were not different when comparing Black, Hispanic, and White students within
groups. Students with access had similar views regardless of race; students without
access held similar views regardless of race (see Table 3.4).
Access/No access demographics
Characteristic Access No access
Black 5 23
White 21 8
Hispanic 0 21
Asian 2 0
Male 13 24
Female 15 28
Total 28 (35%) 52 (65%)
Coding the data so that each response fell into a having access or not
having access category allowed the analysis to shed light on issues of equity in
schools, particularly ideas of domination and oppression and social reproduction in
that responses to some questions were consistent across groups (importance of school,
experience of school) but showed significant differences of perspective in terms of
possible career and college options and in terms of access to college. As a result, I
developed a final coding category which I named awareness of issues of equity that
captured the perspective of students as to the fairness of both their and others school
experiences resulting in the final set of coding categories as seen in Table 3.5.
I began this manuscript by naming a significant problem faced by our public
education systemthat in spite of legal decisions and legislative mandates, our
schools are failing to provide equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for all
Revised coding structure
Question First level codes Second level codes
What is school like? Content and teachers Have access Do not have access
Social relationships and Have access
skills Do not have access
Why do you attend Education opportunity Have access
high school? Do not have access
Family/personal Have access Do not have access
What do you want to Vocational/technical Have access
do as an adult? Do not have access
Unknown Have access Do not have access
4 years college + Have access Do not have access
What do you need to Academic content Have access
learn and experience Do not have access
in order to do that? Non academic skills Have access Do not have access
Personal skills Have access Do not have access
Is high school Helping Have access
helping you to do Do not have access
that? Not helping Have access Do not have access
Are there other ways People Have access
you could learn and Do not have access
experience the Resources Have access
things you need? Do not have access
If high school did Not Possible Have access
not exist, how would Do not have access
you learn what you People Have access
need? Do not have access
Resources Have access Do not have access
Awareness of Equity Issues Have access Do not have access
students. Much time and money has been spent to reform our school systems, but
these efforts have shown little result in terms of closing gaps in achievement,
disproportionality in special education, discipline, dropout, and graduation, or
continuation to college. My overarching question then was to explore alternative
ways to design an educational system that might meet the needs of all learners by
engaging students in identifying the purpose of school, the effectiveness of school in
preparing them to meet their adult goals, and in naming ways that they might obtain
the knowledge and skills they need. In the next chapter, I apply a critical lens to the
data in order to discuss similarities and differences in the experience of students who
have and do not have access to opportunities in schools. I relate this to both the
problem of school reform that is intended to lead to equitable educational outcomes
and to the conceptual framework that requires that we focus on the learning
experience level to design social (educational) systems that benefit all students.
PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS
In the analysis that follows, students across all groups identified that
graduating from high school and continuing to college was critically important to
them but showed that they received differential preparation and support to allow them
to successfully navigate the system and meet that goal. In this chapter, I will present
the statements of students, in their own voices, and explore the five themes that
emerged during the focus groups (see Table 4.1 for a visual representation of the
themes, questions, and responses by access and no access groups). The first three
themes came directly from the original questions I asked students; the fourth theme
was a result of a question prompt I added during the first focus group; the fifth theme
emerged from general comments made by students during the discussion of how we
might do schools differently.
Perceptions of School
This theme emerged from two of the question promptsWhat is high school
like? and Is school helping you learn and experience those things (that you named
as necessary to know to achieve your adult aspirations)? I received similar
responses across both access and no access groups related to these questions.
Students named issues related to learning how to get along with others and learning to
Responses by theme
Themes and questions Access group No access group
that contributed to theme responses___________________responses________
1st theme: Perceptions of
Q: What is school like?
Q: Is school helping you learn
and experience those things
(see question below)?
Q: Why are you going to high
2nd theme: Adult aspirations
and necessary learning
Q: What do you want to do as
Q: What do you need to learn
and experience in order to do
In general, a place for social
development, not particularly
helpful in terms of preparation
for adulthood. Named
attending high schools as
necessary to get to college.
Generally undetermined, see
college as a place to determine
future careers- named specific
academic content requirements
such as math and science, but
also named social skills.
In general, a place for social
development, not particularly
helpful in terms of preparation
for adulthood. Named reasons
for attending high school in
See themselves in concrete jobs
that are visible to them and see
college as a method to gain
technical skills- named
necessary skills that were non-
academic such as artistic ability
3rd theme: Other ways to learn
and experience the things
identified as necessary for adult
Q: In what other ways, besides
high school, might you learn
and experience those things?
Q: If school no longer existed,
how would you learn and
experience those things?
4th theme: Inequities in access
to school related resources and
Q: What kinds of things does
your school do to help you
choose, apply to, and finance
5th theme: Awareness of
issues of equity
Generally unable to generate
ideas about how they might
learn and experience what they
need to be successful outside of
Broad lists that included AP
classes, school counselors,
information from teachers,
college fairs, visits to college
campuses, ACT/SAT prep
classes. Clear understanding of
the processes involved in
getting to college.
Some awareness of issues of
equity; see school as the
avenue for correcting those;
named family or student
deficits as the reason for those
Identify multiple resources
including people, library,
Vague responses about the
possibility of making
appointments with school
counselors who were busy.
Firm belief that college is
important, but limited or
erroneous understanding of
how to get there or what you
could do there.
High awareness of issues of
equity, particularly in terms of
economic resources. Did not
see these issues as something
they could change.
do things that they did not want to as preparation for adult life. Students in both
groups described school in terms of emotional and social issues, and stated that it was
not particularly helpful in terms of preparing them for their adult aspirations.
Comments in this section indicated that students want schools to be organized in
ways that support their goals, tie content matter to issues that are relevant to them,
and provide options that will help them prepare for adulthood.
Its all this he said she said stuff. Its drama.
I get some social stuff out of it, like hang out with my friends.
Thats about it though.
I think schools fun at times but then at times you know, theres days you
dont want to come, but other than that its cool.
I just think like, its just something to do.
I dont really like my school. I like learning, but I dont like my school in
general. I think there are a lot of things that need to be fixed in the school
The classroom could be a little more friendly than just like ok this is the way it
is and its all black and white and this what youre supposed to learn, this is
where youre going to learn it. I think that education is supposed to be a fun
thing, like fun learning and everything.
Um, like theres some teachers that I dont think should be actually working
there because they dont seem to know anything useful.
When asked if high school was helping them learn and experience what they
needed to be successful as adults, students named preparation for college and social
skills as things high school helped them leam-comments that focused on academic
subjects tended towards a critique of the relevance of those subjects, and all found a
lack of variety to be limiting in terms of helping them meet established career goals
or discover possible futures. Students also critiqued the skills of specific teachers and
the structure of schools. Positive comments about the usefulness of high school
focused on preparation for college and learning to be responsible and develop social
Um, yes, its helping me prepare for college, but its not helping me prepare
for what I want to be. I dont think that Im going to get help to, you know, be
what I want to be until I get to college.
I have to say here, no, theres not a very, its like the basic selections, your
science, reading, math, you know what Im saying? Because when I was in
Texas we had shop development classes, we had cosmetology classes, we had
classes where you can sew clothes and stuff and it was just a bunch of stuff
like you were in a high school and you could do what you wanted to do or
what you wanted to learn to do, but of course, you know, theres, in high
school you can learn stuff or it prepares you for what you want to do, but not
here. They dont have those kinds of classes.
Our math teacher, Miss W. one, she doesnt know anything about math, like
she reads us out of the book and so she kind of doesnt know what shes
talking about and she does not explain it to us well, like nobody gets it. Like
pretty much everybody flunked that class.
I think in general classes, theyre more focused on you sort of have to be at
the class because you sort of have to take classes to graduate instead of
focusing on something you want to take, you cant take it because you have to
take another class and I think theyre sort of focused on what you have to take
instead of what you want to take and I think that sort of messes you up.
It gives people the idea that education, like, I dont know really anyone who
likes to go to school but if you actually let people pick out stuff that interested
them, like if you could pick out your math classes more like, and they could
show you how to apply it to the real world, like no one in any of my math
classes knew where we would ever use it. If they had maybe showed us some
stuff like how to get along in the real world and not just like some abstract
You learn things, but I think you could learn a lot more.
So far, in a way, like, I learn a lot of stuff that will help me be a better person
when Im an adult, like just being around my friends, but a lot of time its
almost hindering instead of helping because theyre focusing so much on what
were doing bad instead of what were doing good.....like whenever we
dont say hello to them in the hallways when they walk by, things like that
that have nothing to do with anything and then they go and tell the principal
and like stuff starts getting stirred up and then everyones fighting and
teachers take sides like, a lot, and in a way they kind of work against the
school and like at the beginning of the year they promised that we would have
a say in all the decisions that were made and then they kind of started battling
against us like, its almost like an alliance against us.
I would say as far as life experiences, high school is very helpful. ... It seems
like they make you do what you dont need to do and they dont even care that
you dont need to do it.
You have to go to high school to go to college, but I dont know if its really
valuable in like telling you what youre supposed to do in your life, I dont
I think high school is helpful because I think it tries to make you be like more
responsible cuz I know like freshmen can get off campus lunch so I think that
will like try and make me more responsible to not like ditch the next class and
I know its like temptation so I think it likes helps you with the time and stuff.
It helps you learn what people you get along with and what groups and that
kind of stuff.
Like what kind of person you are.
I think sports, like I play basketball, and you get really close with the girls and
I think that really helps.
As a result of the general negative perceptions about the usefulness of high
school, I asked students why they were attending high school. At this point,
differences in the responses of the have access and do not have access groups
began to appear. When asked why they were attending high school, students in the
do not have access group most often cited personal reasons, related to either family
expectations or their goals for work and further education. Often, the final goal was
simply to complete high school. Students in the have access group named reasons
that indicated that high school is just one more required step in the journey to
adulthood, and that they did it because it was expected of them. The idea of not
completing high school had never really occurred to them as an option. Students in
the do not have access group said,
None of the females on either side of my family have graduated from high
school or even went to college. Theres only one person in my family that...
and thats my uncle. At home theres always a lot of pressure on me to finish
high school since no one else did.
I need an education so I can get business, I want to be a business ... I want to
have my own business.
Well, I didnt want to drop out because I know that life would be a lot harder
if I dropped out and I figure Ive been spending a lot of my time in school
already so why when Im almost done, drop out now.
To get a scholarship, like, I heard that... you can get an athletic scholarship.
Im here because I want to be the first one in my family to graduate.
... like its kind of like its always been expected that you go to high school
but when I was little I wanted to go to high school because I though it was a
place where I would learn a lot but then when I got there it turned out to be a
bunch of strict kind of rules, like sometimes it seems like whats the ...
because when I was in elementary and middle school, a lot of the stuff I
learned I learned on my own because I read a lot and so it was a lot of times it
was a waste of time and even going to high school now, I got into a habit of
ditching and I still make good grades because I learned things on my own and
so I dont know, I think the only thing thats good about high school is they do
give you kind of like guidelines where if you get how to find these guidelines,
if your goal is to get to college
Whereas students in the have access groups said,
Because we have to.
Technically we dont though, but our parents make us.
People want us to make a bunch of money and like, thats why because we
want to go to college.
I dont think it was ever an option not to go to high school.
Im going to high school pretty much because I was pretty much taught that
thats what youre supposed to do. Youre supposed to go to high school,
supposed to get a good education, supposed to go to college, that way you can
grow up and blah blah blah
Adult Aspirations and Necessary Learning Experiences
This theme also emerged from two specific questions asked of students
What do you want to do as an adult? and What do you need to learn and
experience in order to do that? When students were asked what they wanted to do as
adults, differences emerged across the groups, with the not having access groups
identifying specific jobs, ranging from concrete, technical positions to what might be
called fantasy careers that have a limited possibility of attainment. Other than the
fantasy jobs, all of these students named an adult they knew in their family or
community who did the same work.
I want to become a vet tech.
I want to be a cook
I want to be a cosmetologist, and I want to own my own shop.
A mechanic, maybe motorcycles
I want to be a tattoo artist in New York City.
I do concept art for comics.
I want to make it to the NFL.
To be an actress, to be a rock star.
Students in the have access group had a different twist to their answers, with
most having only a vague sense of what they might do, but an understanding that they
would discover what they wanted to do during their 4 plus years of college
Something with people, behavior. I want to study psychology so I want to do
something with like behavioral sciences but I dont know what.
Hopefully, something medical, honestly.
I want to be like an interior designer or an architect or something along those
I have a lot of choices, but I think my top ones are being a missionary or I
dont know, owning my own business of some sort.
I dont know, Ill figure it out in 4 years. Ive definitely thought about being a
lawyer, going to law school, but I dont know. You have to spend a ton of
money to go to grad school and you just have to work your butt off in the 4
years and then after that too. Um, I dont know why, I have a passion for
human rights so basically to maybe have a career in activism, I dont know. I
used to want to be a teacher but my moms a teacher, shes kind of turning me
off that path. I really like languages, so, I could see myself as a lot of things.
When students in the do not have access group were asked what things they
need to learn and experience in order to meet their above stated goals, they again
named concrete skills and knowledge.
I need to know about money, how to count money, my account, I need to
know how to approach people. I need to know how to organize, I need all
I will probably want to know how to cook and have some type of business
degree so I can actually start my own business. Definitely need to graduate
from high school because that would help me go to college. I would probably
say I need to take a lot of math classes and some science classes because you
need to work out how to measure volume and all that other stuff because it is
helpful if your measuring ingredients for food.
I have to be physically fit to be a cop, in case you have to chase criminals.
Basically I just need to hook up somebodys hair, you know.
Since I want to be a tattoo artist, you have to get an apprenticeship and I think
you have to be a, I dont know, you have to be open to other peoples ideas.
You have to get experience that everybodys different in tattoo art.
While the students in the have access group spoke more about social and
communication skills and identifying their own interests and strengths.
I think you have to learn how to work with other people really well and
communicate, like what your ideas are to other people no matter where youre
working or what youre doing.
I dont know what besides yeah, the people skills.
Having people skills is just a really big thing for all of us.
Well, and obviously common knowledge that everyone should know for
living, like, how things work and how youre supposed to do it and what
youre not supposed to do in the public eye.
I think you also need to learn what your strengths are and what you as a
person can do and what you cant do.
And what you like to do.
I think the more experiences that you have in high school to learn about high
school and you play sports and youre in clubs and you make a lot of friends
and ... and you know, youre willing to work a little bit harder, like, I dont
know exactly what I want to do with my life, but I feel like I know something
that I dont want to do because Ive experienced it in high school.
Other Ways to Learn and Experience Those Things
When asked to identify resources outside of the traditional high school
curriculum that could help them learn and experience the things they needed to be
successful, students in the do not have access group named both people and
I think you could get like books from a library or watch it on TV or
Youd be learning what you want to be when you grow up from computers
and books and stuff.
I feel like you can probably get help from somebody that you know, live here
or anything or you can probably like on a computer or whatever and look up
some stuff, find help basically.
I would find help from some other people whos more experienced in the field
and try and find some programs to help a little bit and also look at the internet
maybe and see what you could find that would help you with your problem
your working on.
I would probably go to my Aunty, because shes a cosmetologist and she has
her own shop or whatever so I would probably be asking for help from her or
from my mom because thats where I get my skills from.
A lot of the stuff I know how to cook now, I learned from my mom or from
my grandma but I do have one person that actually does do that. His name is
Michael and he has his own catering business and sometimes on the weekends
when Ill go spend the night at his house, hell let me come work with him.
I would try to learn from somewhere else, like I would try and go find some
teachers who used to teach and try and get like some kind of lessons or
I think I would read a lot and then I would talk to people a lot, like I kind of
do that now, like I talk to like police officers and like anybody really that
might have some kind of information and I watch people a lot. You can figure
out a lot more than you would think you could just from watching people go
You have to do apprenticeship. With the tattoo artist they have to have an
apprenticeship but it would be more like that in everything.
Like back in the day when you have to learn from your elders.
I would have to like build homes, Id have to try a lot of things, see which is
better, like make a house and if its not good, do it again.
Id ask my neighbor. He builds houses
Students in the have access groups were less able to identify resources that
could help them learn and experience what they would need to be successful.
I think if there was no high school, you wouldnt find what youre interested
in. Like how youre interested in one class and hate another. Theres no way
to really broaden your horizon and decide what youre truly interested in.
Yeah, I dont think people would be as like, devoted to finding a passion and
like setting out to like achieve something, theyd just kind of do whatever and
not really have goals.
And I expect people would do whatever was placed in front of them. They
wouldnt go out to find what they wanted to actually truly do.
I asked each group of students to consider, if high school did not exist, how
they might learn and experience the things they need to know to be successful as
adults. Students in the do not have access group repeated the options they had
stated before, about learning from family, friends, or technology resources, while
students in the have access groups made the following statements.
Im pretty sure wed be nowhere in this world.
Id be really dumb.
But if it was like your parents, you could learn from them, like whatever they
But where would they learn it?
Well, it would be passed down, like youd have to be doing that thing.
Like a long time ago.
Its like whatever your family is you kind of go into.
But how could the world progress at all if no ones there to study it and no
ones there to, even for like agriculture or something, you have to have, if
someones not there to see which pesticides are like killing people or
whatever, no ones ever going to know because theres no one there to teach
someone how to study it because no ones studying it themselves.
Im pretty sure wed all be really stupid.
Yeah, like wed be nowhere.
We wouldnt be like learning a lot of different things.
Yeah, like wed be doing what our parents do and I dont think anyone would
be happy about it.
Inequities in Access to Resources and Supports
When asked specifically about resources that the school provides, such as
counseling or career centers, that might assist a student in finding options, learning
about and applying to colleges, or getting assistance with the process, students from
the two groups had very different experiences. Students in the not having access
You have to just go see them, you have to just go, basically you should really
go during lunch or on your free time and most of the time youve got to wait,
theres already a bunch of people in there and youve got to find the right time
to, youve got to get it done though. Youve got to just make an appointment
They have stuff for that, but like sometimes you find them and some other
times you cant but like me, I can hardly hear the announcements because you
can hardly hear them like my mentor class, it gets so loud to the point where I
cant hear nothing.
Nobodys ever talked to us about that.
Whereas students in the have access group named multiple resources their
schools offered, including the following.
They have the future center and thats where you can find jobs or you can
look for colleges and stuff.
They post like things outside of the school you can get involved in like jobs
and stuff like that.
Like theyll announce some programs that you can go to, so they just like give
you information on stuff so you can go into it.
My school offers a ton of electives. I think were pretty good in that area.
Uh huh, we have like biotechnology and like a bunch of stuff like that.
We visited colleges ... and I got to sit in on some psychology classes.
Awareness of Issues of Equity
In each group, there was some conversation about how well school was
preparing students for adulthood that led to comments about the fairness of school for
all students. Students in the have access groups identified ways in which school is
not fair to some students, but focused on ideas about parental support, resources, and
money that resided in the student or family rather than in the structure of school or
And I think that a lot of kids dont have the privilege of having parents that
push them through school and I think that high school kind of makes you, like,
you have your friends there so what else are you going to do if you dont go to
school and I think if you have the choice of going somewhere else and you
dont have the opportunity of parents who are supporting you and backing you
up, youre not going to want to do anything so youre going to be stuck
working McDonalds or jobs that you dont have enough education for.
The kids who their parents are just whatever.
The ones that dont have any support in their lives. Well, not any support but
no one pushing them.
Nobody really cares what they do.
Or the kids who dont have enough money to go to college.
Students in the do not have access group had a broader conception of the
ways in which school was not fair, based in ideas about how society is also not fair.
While they often mentioned race, they tended to dismiss it as a primary issue and
instead focused on economic reasons, and to name school as the source of inequitable
treatment based on social class. These students demonstrate knowledge of policy
related to funding issues, and experiences in schools that have different levels of
resources and quality of education.
I feel that thats a little unfair to the youth and I dont want to say to
minorities, I just want to say the lower class, the poorer class people, theyre
not going to have all the different tools that they need all the tutors and
everything they need to become successful in that field. I think that it kind of
throws everything off.
Look at the big demographics and you see that, why they do it, because a lot
of the people that are out there causing crimes, they are minorities, but at the
same time, its classism. To me, I dont find racism anymore too much, I see
that as classism and people that have money are treated different than people
who dont have money.
Theres another way. Funding correctly from preschool, funding kids so that
everybody, being able to provide a tutor for every student that needs a tutor,
not just because their parents can afford a tutor, or not just because their
parents can afford to send them to summer camp where their minds are going
to be learning throughout the whole year, because you do regress a little bit in
the summer when youre not learning the whole time, so I feel that thats the
big issue, the funding, like, if kids are, like 10% of the United States is getting
the better of everything and the minority, not minority of color, minority of
people who are lower class, lower class people, theres a big gap there. Ive
seen it. I went to two different schools within one week, and Ive seen the
difference. In every classroom they had computers for every student and
when I went to Manual they had 1 computer for like 20 kids, they had a
computer, just in one spot in the whole school. I think thats so unfair. Thats
why a lot of DPS kids, they dont know how to type. And everybody that I
know from like Highlands Ranch, all these other schools, they know how to
type because they have computers in front of them all day. And now
computers are used a lot.
But they do it so ok, like, schools around here, they give you like 45 dollars
per students lets say, just because of the value of the property around the
school as opposed to in highlands ranch they get like 1000 dollars per student.
Its a big difference and it has a lot to do with the property value of the
neighborhood around the school. And I think thats so wrong. Every school
should get the same funding. If its not enough for one school then its not
enough, you know what I mean? And they dont do that and I feel thats so,
theyre trying to make the rich richer and make the poor ignorant, you know
what I mean? And thats just how it is. They need to stop that.
Well, like if they keep everything the same, not like, lets say theres like two
different people, theres like this, I dont know its like a person who comes
from a good background and has money and everything and then theres like
this other person whos just got kind of poor and you know, like, the fact that
shes a person with more money. ... It doesnt matter that shes somewhat
failing, and but its because she has money that shes treated better than the
straight A student. Like they should treat every student with respect because
if they do they would, thats what they expect back. The students wouldnt
always be like oh that ones doing this and that and you know, then students
wouldnt really have to fight with each other about stuff like that or whatever.
They did name these issues and recommend changes, but did not seem to see
themselves as able to impact this change, or even to be deserving of it. They seemed
to have bought into the notion of meritocracy, and thus to believe that they have not
yet earned the level of treatment and resources that they defined as good. In fact, they
have developed some sense of pride in the fact that they earn what they get.
Like say you compare us to one of those cherry creek schools or something,
were just like more poor on the outside but on the inside were actually better
than them, like we have more heart than they do.
We dont have like all the stuff that they may have in their schools, but we
have to work for it.
Like here, its like what its going to be like after school, youre going to have
to work for everything you are, nothing is going to be handed to you.
It kind of feels like they start here, and were all the way down here and weve
got to work just to get right here with them.
And it would be kind of hard anyway because like with us, we are kind of
behind what other people are learning and if we go over there theyre going to
be all ahead.
Analysis of Findings
The analysis of themes related to students perceptions of school, adult
aspirations, other ways to experience and learn the skills they need to be successful at
their chosen goals, inequity in access to school resources, and awareness of equity
issues in school indicate that issues of social reproduction and hegemony are at work
and that schools serve to ensure that the norms and values of the dominant culture are
imposed upon subordinate groups in a way that creates a socially constructed reality
that all groups, in some way, subscribe to. The education system is key to the
imposition of a hegemonic culture, as the values of the dominant class come to be
seen as common-sense or natural, and participation in the norms of dominant society
come to be seen as the way out of oppression. This is evidenced in the belief of all
students that school completion and continuation to college is the way to be
successful, even as students in the no access group acknowledge significant
differences in their preparation and understanding of how to navigate those systems.
Uncovering hegemony is complex, because it is based in ideas of common sense and