Ideas & Findings

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As parents and coaches of Little League and soccer teams, Peter and Patti Adler were often amazed at the power of the social cliques that held sway 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 those 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 retained 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 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 Adlers also found that cliques were as strong among the boys they studied as they were among girls.

Patti Adler says the message for educators is to be mindful of the sophisticated dynamics of the cliques that operate in their own classrooms.

"A lack of sensitivity and awareness to these things creates an environment in which cliques can flourish more strongly," she adds.

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 limited--and varying--degrees of autonomy.

Priscilla Wohlstetter and Keri L. Briggs of the University of Southern California's Center on Educational Governance and 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; freedom 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, on the other hand, in the degree of choice granted to parents and students.

Among the three types of autonomy, the researchers conclude, state policymakers were apparently most reluctant to give charter schools large degrees of freedom from district and state controls.

Writing in the December 1995 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."

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 speaking, without more pay.

That is the conclusion that two researchers from Western Illinois University in Macomb drew from a recent survey. E. Gale Castrale and Theodore F. 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 awhile, 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 is self-defeating. Instead, they recommend that administrators stop negative rewards altogether; ask outstanding teachers to share their techniques with others; or find concrete, no-cost awards for good teachers, such as more free time or prime parking spaces.

Castrale and Cunio describe their findings in the December 1995 Phi Delta Kappan.

--Debra Viadero

Vol. 15, Issue 20

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