California Researchers 'Accelerate' Activities To Replace Remediation
Stanford, Calif--With many participants wearing red and white lapel buttons reading "Don't Remediate, accelerate," the theme of the Stanford University conference here on educating "at risk" children was inescapable.
Sponsored by Stanford and supported with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Nov. 17-18 conference was billed as a "prelude to a national movement" to focus attention on revamping traditional approaches to educating disadvantaged students.
The revamping suggested here would be along lines advanced by Henry M. Levin, the conference coordinator, and his colleagues at Stanford's school of education.
Mr. Levin, a professor of education and economics, maintains that federal and state initiatives in this area have failed for more than 20 years, primarily because they have isolated and labeled students while restricting the range of their instruction and slowing its pace. (See Education Week, June 10, 1987.)
"The premises of the remediation approach are demonstrably false," he said in his keynote address here, and its negative consequences for the child are "debilitating."
The alternative, he and other speakers suggested, must be schools rich in curricular content relevant to students' lives and instructional approaches that draw on students' strengths--rather than highlighting their weaknesses.
Those who are disadvantaged by poverty and other adverse life circumstances should not receive less than their peers through narrowly focused and unrelentingly boring "drill and skill" lessons, Mr. Levin argued.
They must be exposed to literature and problem solving and a range of cultural experiences, he said, by schools that empower teachers and parents and provide a program using a variety of cooperative-learning, peer-tutoring and community-outreach techniques.
Such schools would have as their explicit goal accelerating disadvantaged students' rate of learning, so that they could be expected to catch up to grade level by the end of the 6th grade.
Judged by this standard, Mr. Levin said, "there is almost nothing going on nationally."
Speakers at the three-day conference decried, in stark demographic terms, the nation's failure to come to grips with the problem of at-risk learners.
The number of students disadvantaged by poverty, family structure, limited English proficiency, and other socioeconomic factors, they said, now stands at nearly 18.5 million--or more than one-third of the school-age population. And the numbers are growing rapidly.
James Catterall, a professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles, estimated that the population of disadvantaged students will grow by 7 million, or almost 40 percent, by the year 2000. And if those new students fare as poorly in school as their current 4counterparts, others said, the costs in terms of lost wages and tax revenues, increased crime, and additional welfare needs will be staggering.
"There is no way in which educationally disadvantaged and neglected children can become competent adults," warned Stanford's president, Donald Kennedy. "There is no way in which incompetent adults can provide adequately for the education of a successor generation. What we are facing, make no mistake about it, is a kind of death spiral."
Effective intervention, speakers said, will involve action on a number of fronts, including new federal activities.
"Even if we value children not as the vulnerable human beings they are, but as tools for achieving other, economic, goals," said Michael W. Kirst, professor of education at Stanford, and Bernard Gifford, dean of education at the University of California at Berkeley, in a joint conference paper, "the 1990's might be favorable for new government initiatives."
But the climate of deficits and divided priorities, they said, will operate against the construction of effective government solutions. They argued that the U.S. Education Department should become a "'broker' for children's services, including alliances with private groups."
"We do not yet have national standards, or much data, on many childhood concerns," they said. "Curiously, we know a great deal more about the administrative system that serves children than we know about the conditions of the children in those systems."
But researchers from the University of Illinois and the Johns Hopkins University said that what is known about the impact of schools on the at-risk population argues powerfully for changes in the traditional organization of school programs and stronger connections to parents and the community.
"No single group--schools, families, businesses, social-service groups, or even the students themselves--can work alone to solve the problems of at-risk students" said Joyce L. Epstein, director of the Johns Hopkins-based Effective Middle Schools Program, and Diane Scott-Jones, a professor of education at Illinois. "The solutions will require the energies, resources, and support of all groups who have a stake in student success."
The program Mr. Levin and his Stanford colleagues are advocating addresses, they argue, this need for comprehensiveness and restructuring.
Parents will be involved in such an "accelerated school" in two ways, Mr. Levin said: by signing a written agreement that clarifies the obligations of parents, school staff members, and students; and by having opportunities to interact with school programs and receive training in how to assist their children.
His plan also envisions an extended-day program and would be coordinated by a steering committee of teachers and other staff members.
Teachers would also serve on task forces that determine the content of specific instructional areas. The principal would be the "instructional leader."
In 1987, the Stanford team began helping teachers and administrators build such a program at two San Francisco Bay-area elementary schools--Hoover Elementary School in Redwood City and Daniel Webster School in San Francisco.
Now, they are also working with six districts in Missouri, including St. Louis and Kansas City, and with several other pilot schools in Illinois and in the Salt Lake City area.
There are plans under way to establish a national information clearinghouse to disseminate research results.
The coordinators of Stanford's "Accelerated Schools Project"--Robert Polkinghorn Jr., Brenda LeTendre, and John S. Rogers--worked with the Bay-area schools' staff members in "cadres," containing five to seven teachers plus a Stanford facilitator, to address such specific issues as improving instruction in mathematics and reading.
Their results have given Hoover School, for example, a varied extended-day program, offering everything from courses in Mexican dancing to photography instruction. Parent involvement has grown, according to participants, and efforts have been made to improve students' self-esteem.
In addition, teachers in the program have been trained and supported in a variety of research-based instructional approaches, several of them developed at Stanford.
Robert Calfee, a Stanford professor who developed one of the approaches, called Project read, said the program's goal was what he termed "critical literacy."
"The future," he said, "calls for people who can analyze and synthesize information on their own, initiate their own learning, and understand the complex relationships among subjects. Schools must pursue these goals, not minimal competency for all children."
Breaking up knowledge into "little bits and pieces doesn't make a whole, it makes hash," Mr. Calfee said. If students who are considered "slow" do nothing but practice isolated skills, he argued, "what they are learning is that they are a failure."
According to Eileen Denue, a teacher in a bilingual 2nd-grade class at Hoover, the accelerated approach is working there. She said her students were "much more involved and interested in what they are doing" than students seem to be at other schools.
"They are challenged and I see them learning," she said.
She said that the school is trying to de-emphasize standardized-test scores as a measurement of progress--another of the accelerated-ols goals. Teachers, she said, are trying to develop "a somewhat more subjective, more realistic evaluation of where the kids really are at."
Another instructional program now used at Hoover is "Finding Out--Descubrimiento," a bilingual science program. It is a hands-on, experimental approach in which the teacher pairs a student who is behind with one who is ahead and they "use each other as resources," according to Ms. Denue.
But the Stanford professors Elizabeth Cohen and M. Beatriz Arias warned that teachers who use such means to avoid the stigma of tracking must still address the "status differences" that arise.
"In classrooms where many language-minority students are encouraged to work together," they said, "research has found that those children who were more popular and who were seen as better in math and science talked more about their work and, as a result, learned more."
Catherine Armlin, a 4th-grade teacher at Hoover, downplayed the apparent differences between "accelerated schools" and others. "All we're doing," she said, "is meeting the needs of our students, as we see them, with methods that work, which is what every school should be doing."
Mr. Levin, however, said he saw in Ms. Armlin's comment a measure of that difference.
Typically, he said, school personnel are more worried about complying with central-office demands than with doing what is best for their students. "It means everyone in the school looks up to see if those people up there think they're successful, and they don't look at their clients to see what's happening with them."
The resource issues involved in restructuring schools along these lines were not emphasized during the conference. According to Mr. Levin, a small amount of additional money would be needed for a coordinator and to buy time for teachers to collaborate.
"The schools need a lot more resources," he admitted, "but if we do things the way we presently do them" then resources alone "will have minimal effects."
Mr. Polkinghorn and his colleagues said in their paper that, in addition to more time for planning and consultation, teachers and administrators needed insulation from a constantly changing set of state and federal regulations.
Another problem, they said, was finding a way to institutionalize effective practice while continuing to question and test new instructional approaches.
Other participants, however, noted that schools alone cannot take care of all of the deficits affecting disadvantaged students' ability to learn. Schools must become the point at which social-service agencies concerned with health, nutrition, child abuse, poverty, and housing interact, they said.
The Yale University psychology professor Edmund Gordon, in fact, seemed to question a key assumption underlying the accelerated-schools movement--that such schools make good public policy because they can counteract the effects of an impoverished community life or a destructive family situation.
Mr. Gordon, who was involved in the federal Head Start program for many years and has researched the effects of preschool, made the most startling suggestion of the conference when he said that some families might be so pathological that the state should remove the children, "conscripting" them for their own welfare.
"Even the worst of foster-care institutions," he said, "probably will not be as deleterious to their welfare as these families."
"I come to this conclusion with great reluctance and difficulty," Mr. Gordon said. "I'm not comfortable with it as a recommendation, but I come to it."