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Follow The Leader

As parents and coaches of Little League and soccer teams, Peter and Patti Adler were often amazed at the sway social cliques and their leaders held over the children in their small, middle-class Colorado community. As sociologists, the husband and wife team had the tools to find out just what gave young peer leaders their influence. Thus began a seven-year study involving 200 children in grades 4 through 6 from a dozen public and private schools in the Boulder area. The results of their study appear in the Winter 1995 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly. "We were curious,'' says Patti Adler, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "How do these clique leaders get kids to do all these things? How can they get them to be so cruel?'' What the Adlers discovered was that leaders retain control over their followers by randomly building up and then tearing down the status of their followers. A leader might anoint a child one day and ostracize him or her the next. "You bring the wrong kind of lunch or wear the wrong clothes, and they all hate you,'' she says. "Nobody wants to come to this person's aid because they're all afraid it will happen to them.'' The couple found that cliques were equally strong among the boys and girls they studied. Patti Adler says the message for educators is to be mindful of the sophisticated dynamics of the cliques that operate in their classrooms. "A lack of sensitivity and awareness to these things,'' she says, "creates an environment in which cliques can flourish more strongly.''

The Downside Of Success

When children do a good job in school, they get a gold star or an A on their paper. Outstanding educators, on the other hand, get larger classes, more duties, and more responsibilities. Their reward for a job well-done: more work, generally without more pay. That is the conclusion that two researchers from Western Illinois University in Macomb drew from a recent survey. The researchers, E. Gale Castrale and Theodore Cunio, polled 257 teachers and 156 principals seeking advanced degrees at their university. Of that group, 78 percent of the teachers and 85 percent of the administrators said they had experienced negative rewards in their careers. "At first it makes them feel good, but then, after a while, it's 'Darn, I wish I weren't so good,' '' says Castrale, who chairs the university's department of educational administration. She and Cunio say the practice of negatively rewarding teachers by giving them more work is self-defeating. They believe administrators should stop the practice altogether. They suggest that district officials ask outstanding teachers to share their techniques with others and find concrete, low-cost rewards, such as more free time or prime parking spaces. Castrale and Cunio describe their findings in the December 1995 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.

How Free Are Charter Schools?

A major selling point for charter schools is the idea that freeing schools from restrictive rules and regulations allows them to make radical reforms. But a new analysis suggests that, in practice, charter schools have varying and limited degrees of autonomy. Priscilla Wohlstetter and Keri Briggs of the University of Southern California's Center on Educational Governance, working with Richard Wenning of the General Accounting Office, reviewed legislation establishing charter schools in 11 states. They evaluated the laws with an eye toward the degree of freedom granted to schools in three areas: autonomy from higher levels of government; ability to make operational decisions within the school or at the local level; and the degree to which parents and students were able to make choices. No state, they found, scored high on all three barometers of autonomy. Requests for charter schools in Wisconsin, for example, must come from local school boards, accounting for that state's middle-range ranking in terms of autonomy from higher levels of government. The state did rank relatively high, though, in the degree of choice granted to parents and students. When it comes to the three types of autonomy, the researchers conclude that state policymakers are most reluctant to give charter schools large degrees of freedom from district and state controls. Writing in the December 1995 issue of Educational Policy, the authors say their results "suggest that the potential for educational improvement might be less than expected by some reformers because charter schools in some states may not have been given sufficient autonomy to make a real difference in performance.''

--Debra Viadero

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