Ideas & Findings

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In recent years, a growing number of policymakers have concluded that the nation's school-desegregation efforts have largely failed. But a study published in the winter issue of the journal Review of Educational Research suggests that just the opposite may be true. Attending integrated schools, the report says, provides important--and often overlooked--benefits for African-American students.

Amy Stuart Wells of the University of California at Los Angeles and Robert L. Crain of Teachers College, Columbia University analyzed 21 recent school-desegregation studies. However, rather than focus on the short-term effects of integration as most studies did in the 1960's and early 1970's, the researchers looked at long-term outcomes. They wanted to know, for example, how attending predominantly white schools affected the college-attendance rates of black students and whether those students went on to work or study in integrated or predominantly black environments.

Several studies showed that black students attending desegregated schools had higher occupational aspirations than their counterparts in segregated settings. What's more, those goals were more realistically grounded in their educational plans. Desegregated black students were also more likely to attend desegregated colleges, to work in integrated settings, and to hold private-sector white-collar and professional jobs. And, of the studies that focused on educational attainment, all but one found that students from integrated schools had gone on to complete more years of schooling.

"In our study," the researchers write, "we are inspired by the old adage that who you know is as important (or even more important) in social ability as what you know."

However, the authors also point out that the studies they examined, which were completed after debate had already begun on whether to dismantle school-desegregation plans, had been largely ignored. Their review, they write, should give a new focus to that debate.

You'll find fewer and fewer librarians behind the reference desks at school libraries and media centers across the nation. So says a recent U.S. Education Department survey.

Throughout the 90's, school librarians have claimed that state and local budget cuts have left them understaffed and resource-poor. But, until now, little hard evidence has backed up their claims.

The November 1994 report, published by the department's National Center on Education Statistics, shows that the number of librarians and media specialists in public and private schools across the country tripled between 1960 and 1980. However, that growth rate slowed in the 1980's, and by the 1990-91 school year, staffing was no longer keeping pace with student-enrollment increases.

In that year, the most recent documented in the study, more than a quarter of public school libraries had no professional librarian, and 8 percent had no staff at all. Small private and non-Catholic religious schools were even worse off, with more than half of them employing neither a librarian nor a library aide.

Many high school teachers take into account good attendance, hard work, and other factors when they grade low-achieving students. That's what researchers from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Effective Schooling of Disadvantaged Students found in interviews last year with teachers.

In a report published by the center, researchers Gary Natriello, Carolyn J. Riehl, and Aaron M. Pallas say teachers give them a number of explanations for using grading strategies that open them up to criticism for lowering standards. The teachers told them traditional tests often don't accurately measure what disadvantaged students can do in class. Many of their students, for example, are often absent or distracted by problems at home. One teacher remarked: "I have a student who has been out a lot this term, and now it turns out she just didn't have bus fare."

Moreover, their students often perform inconsistently. A student who, for example, gives good answers in class discussions might draw blanks on quizzes. Teachers said they compensate for their students' special difficulties by basing grades on a combination of class participation, journal writing, lab work, homework, and effort.

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 14, Issue 18

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