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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary 4 Social Dimensions of Learning SOCIAL CONTEXT OF EDUCATIONAL CHANGE Despite the persistence of gaps in educational achievement associated with race/ethnicity and class, a strong message from the conference is that demography is not destiny. With sufficient will and expertise, there is no reason why achievement gaps cannot be reduced and eventually eliminated. Some presenters emphasized the potential of research-based instructional reforms for accomplishing this (Chapter 3). Others emphasized how social, cultural, and economic factors affect learning, and that success in enabling all students to achieve to high standards must necessarily involve family, community, and societal changes as well. It is to this latter topic that we now turn. From John Dewey (1916) to Brown v. Board of Education, through the Great Society education programs of the 1960s to the standards movement that predominates in the education reform agenda at the dawn of the new millennium, educators and political leaders have emphasized the role of schooling in fulfilling the American ideal of equal opportunity for all. Despite these noble intentions, many (including conference speakers Edmund Gordon, Marta Tienda, and Eugene Garcia) have observed that schools’ best efforts often have not been enough. Understanding with certainty how various social forces, singly and in combination, have influenced and continue to influence what people learn, how they learn, and how much they learn, is perhaps impossible. Yet noting how social, cul-
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary tural, and economic factors are correlated with educational outcomes is both instructive and helpful in ongoing efforts to enable students from all backgrounds achieve to high educational standards. Segregation Gary Orfield’s conference presentation focused on school segregation and its consequences. According to Orfield, U.S. schools are highly segregated not only by race and ethnicity, but also by poverty. Also, since the peak of desegregation efforts in the early 1970s, schools have been resegregated. Among schools that are 90-100 percent black or Hispanic or both, nine-tenths also have a high concentration of students living in poverty. Among overwhelmingly white schools, only 1 out of 20 has a high concentration of poverty. Orfield also reported on the basis of his statistical analysis of data from the early 1990s, that 47 percent of students in the school of the typical Hispanic student were poor, but only 9 percent of students in the school of the typical white student were poor (Orfield and Yun, 1999). As he put it, these are “incredibly different kinds of social burdens on the schools.” Orfield noted that the correlation between enrollment in a high-poverty school and poor learning outcomes is well established (U.S. Department of Education, 1999; Hill et al., 2000; Schellenberg, 2000). For this reason, he expressed concern that in-school reforms will not be enough to help many minority and low-income students who are enrolled in schools that his research shows are becoming increasingly segregated by both race and class (Orfield and Yun, 1999). As he stated during the conference, Almost everything that matters is aligned with the poverty concentration, which is aligned with the racial concentration. The peer group separation is different. The parent educational background is different. The quality of the facilities is usually different. The concentration of language minority and handicapped children who require special services is different. The educational background of the teachers is different. The likelihood that substitute teachers will be there is different. The probability that teachers are teaching in their field is different. The course offerings are different. The college-going rates are different. The graduation rates are different. All of these things are related to segregation in a serious way. Marta Tienda also called attention in her presentation to the concentration of black and Hispanic students in low-performing, high-poverty urban schools (see Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figures 3 and 4).
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary No Excuses Like many other prominent educators, Antoine Garibaldi argued at the conference that schools should avoid using a deficit model in teaching minority and economically disadvantaged students. That is, educators should not invoke students’ demographic characteristics as excuses for failure. Also, educators should be cautious about inadvertently stigmatizing students whose demographic characteristics suggest that they may be at risk for school failure. Instead, minority and economically disadvantaged students, like all other students, deserve nothing less than highly skilled instruction and challenging curricula (Garibaldi, 1997:116): It may not be easy to change the segregated composition of the public schools where so many African Americans are currently enrolled. It may not be easy to change the number of African American students who come from poor backgrounds in those schools. But it is possible to exercise our civic duty and inquire what can be done to reduce class sizes, sustain reading and mathematics performance beyond the fourth grade, offer more college preparatory and advanced placement courses and provide comprehensive career counseling for these students. In emphasizing instructional reforms, Garibaldi was not dismissing the relevance of poverty, segregation, and other societal influences on learning or the desirability of addressing these issues. Rather, he was suggesting that the persistence of intractable problems that are beyond educators’ professional reach must not be used as an excuse to maintain an unacceptable status quo in the schools. To dichotomize in-school instructional reforms and efforts to address broader social forces affecting learning can produce starkly contrasting education reform strategies. However, virtually all of the conference presenters acknowledged the importance of both in-school instructional reforms and efforts to address out-of-school influences on learning. Highlighting this importance, Edmund Gordon summarized the three main arguments of his presentation as follows: First, as educators, we simply are not doing a good-enough job—partly because we don’t know how, and partly because we don’t have the will to [make changes that would make a difference]. . . . We professionals . . . should not put on sackcloth and ashes for it; we ought to simply do better. The second point [is that] even if we were doing a perfect job, it may be that the solution we are searching for is not to be found in schools. It may be that schools cannot overcome the effects of an unjust society. The third point is that there is a problem in the range, quality, and amount of support for academic development that comes out of the communities and families of a lot of the youngsters that we are concerned with.
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary An implication of this frank assessment by Gordon is that responsibility for the kind of profound education reforms that would result in achievement to high educational standards by all is not something that can be delegated exclusively to educators. Rather, it is a cause that must be embraced by families, communities, and society as a whole. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON RACE, ETHNICITY, AND LEARNING While people who are committed to improving education may differ in their emphases or priorities, the research-based insights of social psychologist Claude Steele illustrate the connectedness of school-based and out-of-school influences on learning. The focus of his research is on the topics of disidentification with schooling, stereotype threat, and the situations in which learning and academic performances occur, as perceived by students. Stereotype Threat In experiments conducted primarily with Stanford University students, Steele found that (Steele, 1997:798): Whenever African American students perform an explicitly scholastic or intellectual task, they face the threat of confirming or being judged by a negative societal stereotype—a suspicion about their group’s intellectual ability and competence. This threat is not borne by people not stereotyped in this way. And the self-threat it causes—through a variety of mechanisms—may interfere with the intellectual functioning of these students, particularly during standardized tests. Since admission to Stanford is highly selective, all enrolled students have a record of academic accomplishment and are assumed to identify with the goal of academic achievement. However, many talented black students at Stanford, as well as at other institutions of higher education, tend to underperform academically in relation to outcomes predicted from past academic performance. Gordon also observed this phenomenon among black students at Yale and noted that it was a topic of concern for the College Board Task Force on Minority High Achievement (1999; see also Bowen and Bok, 1998). Steele repeatedly has found through his experiments that stereotype threat affects the test performance not only of black but also of Hispanic college students. He has also observed this phenomenon among women of any race/ethnicity who were pursuing advanced studies in male-dominated fields, such as mathematics. Steele emphasized that stereotype
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary threat is not caused by students doubting their own abilities, nor does it necessarily reflect on the actions or attitudes of others in the immediate environment. Rather, stereotype threat and consequent underperformance of minority students on tests appear to be a function of students’ perceptions of the fairness—or lack thereof—of “the situation.” Steele found that stereotype threat and related underperformance on tests is most pronounced for minority students when they are told that the test they are taking is designed to be diagnostic of their intellectual abilities. Under these circumstances, minority subjects in his experiments not only performed below expectations based on past performance, but also exhibited physiological indicators of stress, such as transient elevations in blood pressure. In contrast, the test performance of nonminority experimental controls was at the expected level (Steele and Aronson, 1995). In addition to his work with college students at Stanford, Steele has conducted similar experiments with Los Angeles high school students and found that academic underperformance due to stereotype threat occurs at the secondary school level as well. He found, however, that the effects of stereotype threat could be produced only among students who “identify with the academic domain”—that is, among students who perceive academic achievement to be important to their self-concept. As with their collegiate counterparts, the performance of these minority high school students declined when they were told that the test they were taking was diagnostic of their abilities. Test performance improved to expected levels when the stereotype threat was removed. In contrast, high school students that Steele characterized as already having disidentified with school showed no responsiveness in their testing performance to experimentally induced stereotype threat. They took the test as instructed but gave up as soon as it became difficult, irrespective of how stereotype threat was experimentally manipulated. Students who identified with school did not give up on the test. Steele reported that the stereotype threat situation appeared to make these students try too hard, as they frequently changed their answers and second-guessed themselves. The result was that the test performance of school-identified students in the stereotype threat situation resembled that of students who already had disidentified with the academic domain. Vanguard and Rear Guard Because of stereotype threat, students whom Steele described as belonging to the academic vanguard may have test scores that resemble those of students he described as the academic rear guard—yet the causes of the performance problems of the two groups of students differ. Vanguard students still identify with the academic domain and by definition
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary are well prepared, but stereotype threat contributes to their underperformance relative to nonminority students with similar baseline skills. Steele argued that if steps are not taken to counteract underperformance related to stereotype threat, vanguard students could become discouraged and end up disidentifying with the academic domain and, as Steele put it, eventually join the ranks of the rear guard (Steele, 1997:797). As the threat persists over time, it may have the further effect of pressuring these students to protectively disidentify with achievement in school and related intellectual domains. That is, it may pressure the person to define or redefine their self-concept such that school achievement is neither a basis of self-evaluation nor of personal identity. This protects the person against self-evaluative threat posed by the stereotypes but may have the byproduct of diminishing interest, motivation and ultimately achievement in the (academic) domain. Stereotype threat can lead highly motivated students into a downward academic spiral, the result of which is the eventual loss of interest in academic pursuits. It is important to reiterate that stereotype threat is but one factor that Steele’s experimental studies have shown can affect the performance of some minority students as early as the high school years. Whether stereotype threat, disidentification with schooling, or other phenomena that have been observed in experimental, survey, and ethnographic research have contributed to the racial/ethnic achievement gap has not been tested or demonstrated. Many other causes of the achievement gap already have been discussed in this volume and still others are reviewed below. However, Steele believes that stereotype threat has one thing in common with other factors: collectively, they tend to discourage students from academic pursuits and lead many to disidentify with the academic domain. One of the practical implications of these findings, Steele argued, is that academic performance can be enhanced if instructional strategies are tailored to address the specific issues affecting student performance. Prerequisite to that is understanding the nature of the issues to be addressed. This is an issue that Gordon also has discussed (Gordon and Shipman, 1979); his perspective on this topic draws on the work of Benjamin Bloom (1976). Bloom argued that if educators could individualize instruction to address the specific needs, cognitive styles, and situations of each student, then there is no reason why the vast majority could not develop mastery or deep understanding of the subject matter. Commenting on Bloom’s argument, Gordon has noted that much more research is needed on the many factors that shape the learning of students from all backgrounds, especially of those from groups that are poorly served by schools. This
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary perspective is congruent with the research findings of John Bransford about the importance of learner-centered instruction, as described in Chapter 3. Gordon argued that one reason why schools still are far from enabling the great majority of students to achieve mastery learning, as Bloom envisioned, is that educators do not yet understand the many factors that shape how students learn and perform in academic settings. It is important to be cognizant not only of the various factors that are associated with learning outcomes, but also of how these psychological, social, cultural, and economic correlates of learning may interact and be interrelated. Steele’s research-based insights into the phenomena of stereotype threat and disidentification with schooling significantly contribute to this effort. Early Outreach Patricia Gándara also emphasized the importance of matching strategies to encourage academic achievement with the needs and circumstances of specific students. Gándara addressed this issue in a study of early intervention programs primarily serving minority and economically disadvantaged high school students. She found that early intervention programs can be effective in increasing the number of students who finish high school and go on to college. Most work by helping students to maintain an academic focus by creating positive peer pressure among program participants, providing role models, and making students feel that they belong in an academic environment. They can help to raise students’ aspirations by providing academic as well as nonacademic counseling, providing access to cultural activities, and helping students to gain a more realistic understanding of the range of postsecondary educational and career possibilities and what it takes to access them (Gándara, 1999). Gordon also called attention to the importance of extrascholastic programs for minority students in this regard. Gándara discussed the limitations of these programs as well as their beneficial effects. First, most are short-term in nature and target high school students. The more effective programs succeed in reinforcing students’ motivation and identification with academic goals and result in more students graduating from high school and entering college. There is little evidence to suggest, however, that they substantially improve students’ academic competencies. As Gándara noted, Most of these programs begin in high school at a point at which the average underrepresented minority student is functioning three to four years behind the average white or Asian student in tested academic
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary abilities. Under the best of circumstances the gap is already too large to close very quickly, but these programs do not normally touch in any significant way the day-to-day schooling experiences of these students. The participants continue for the most part to struggle in the same environments with the same courses and teachers. . . . The additional years— and I mean years—of intensive high-quality instruction with the most capable teachers that would be needed in order to close the large achievement gap is not something that these programs can provide. The term underrepresented minority is used to refer to those racial and ethnic minority groups whose enrollment as a percentage of all students in institutions of higher education is significantly lower than that group’s percentage of the population at large. Gándara noted that girls far outnumber boys in most programs, an important finding given that the gains of underrepresented minority women—especially black women —in higher education far exceed those of their male counterparts (Wilds, 2000; Ready and Nickens, 1991). To illustrate, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to black men increased 33 percent between 1977 and 1997, while the number awarded to black women increased 81 percent. By 1997, men earned only 35 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to blacks (U.S. Department of Education, 2000b:312). DISIDENTIFICATION WITH SCHOOLING According to Steele, a student may disidentify self-concept from performance in the academic domain, to insulate himself or herself from potential failure to achieve mastery over academic lessons (Steele, 1997). He also noted that despite the greater risk of academic difficulties they face, numerous studies have found that minority students’ self-esteem generally is quite high (Crocker and Major, 1989). He cites these findings as evidence that many minority students selectively disidentify with the academic domain, allowing other pursuits and interests to assume larger roles in shaping their personal identities and evaluations of self (Steele, 1997:262-263). Steele, Ferguson, and Gordon referred to several different cultural manifestations by which academic disidentification is expressed, including the development of “oppositional culture.” Anthropologists Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu (1986) used this term to describe the antiacademic behavior, attitudes, and values of some black students that Fordham observed during her ethnographic study of a predominantly black high school in Washington, D.C. Fordham found that many of the students at that school would deride their academically successful classmates by accusing them of trying to “act white.” Fordham and Ogbu hypothesized that this form of academic disidentification is an adaptation
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary based on the perception of these black students that they do not have the same kind of opportunity to access the high-status careers that education is supposed to make available as white people do. Ronald Ferguson suggested during the conference that the rise of certain types of rap music is another cultural form through which academic disidentification has been expressed. He noted the correspondence between the sudden ascendance of rap in 1988 and the end of a 20-year period of gains in minority academic achievement. He hypothesized that rap music is at least partly responsible for the subsequent period of stagnation in minority student academic progress that began at that time (Ferguson, 2001:372-373): For black and Hispanic youth, more than for whites, hip hop probably transcends the realm of entertainment to become an integral aspect of identity and a lens through which to understand the world. Many of the messages in hip hop mix social class perspectives with racial commentary from an explicitly black and Hispanic point of view, especially in “gangsta” rap . . . ; messages were oppositional and challenging to mainstream culture in an “in your face” confrontational style. . . . Although the experiences that [gangsta rap] reflected may have been authentic only for some youth, others embraced the expressions and began to mimic the styles and behaviors of gangsta rap and of hip-hop personalities. Did this affect learning and school engagement more for black and Hispanic youth than for whites? I think the answer is almost certainly yes. The drop in leisure reading after 1988 may well have been the result of a shift toward listening to this popular new music. The processes, social manifestations, and cultural expressions through which disidentification with schooling occurs vary from time to time, place to place, and among different populations. Ferguson has noted that national surveys conducted during the late 1990s have found that black students are unlikely to associate school achievement with “acting white,” as was observed by Fordham in her Washington, DC, study in the 1980s (Ferguson, 2001:375-376; Cook and Ludwig, 1998). Similarly, not all black and Hispanic youth identify with gangsta rap, let alone have it influence their academic performance. The point is that disidentification can manifest itself through a variety of social and cultural forms and can have its origins in racial/ethnic and economic inequality, the general culture, youth subcultures, or some combination thereof. Ferguson is careful to note that no causal link between the achievement gap and the rise of gangsta rap music or other cultural manifestations of disidentification can be proven. However, he suggests that studies of how these and other social and cultural influences may affect students’ engagement in learning can be helpful in the development of more effective educational programs and strategies.
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary Disidentification by Default Marta Tienda, describing her work with Chicago-area Hispanic students, related yet another process through which disidentification can occur. Noting the very high rate of poverty among employed Hispanic adults with school-age children, she observed, “Mothers and fathers are working two jobs at very low wages and long hours. What this means is less parental supervision over their kids’ educational outcomes. It means less involvement. There is no time, there is no energy. It is not due to a lack of will or desire. It is a lack of human capacity to cope with those circumstances.” She went on to describe how disheartened she became when she observed how students who were highly motivated to learn were not receiving the academic guidance they needed either at home or at school. I was interviewing this young man who wanted to go to college so badly you could taste it. He asked me, “What do I need to do to go to college?” His mother wanted to help, but she didn’t know. I said, “Find yourself one teacher, one person who really cares and ask them, because it won’t happen in the counseling system.” The counseling system has to process kid after kid, and they are just shuffling papers. They don’t stop to personalize [to address the needs of] individual students unless the parent is there to broker, like I am for my child—because I know how to work the system. This kid had no idea [what to do]. It is the lack of information, the lack of guidance to make the connection between your aspirations, and what you have to do to achieve them [that is the problem]. On the NELS 88 [National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988]—all the 8th graders want to go to college and then by 10th grade there are fewer of them because they don’t know what they are doing. By 12th grade they are lost because they know there is no hope. These problems really cannot be solved by educators, alone, because it is not [just] an education function. It is a community function. Tienda’s comments suggest that this process of disidentification with the academic domain is not uncommon. This may be especially true for students from low-income families, racial/ethnic minority groups, and others who do not regularly receive personalized academic guidance at home or at school. The process described by Tienda could be considered one of disidentification by default. Highly motivated students can give up hope because they do not have access to the kinds of information and other resources they need. The result is that for too many students, ardently held goals of academic achievement and college degrees are transformed into a distant, seemingly unattainable, mirage.
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary IMMIGRANT AND LANGUAGE-MINORITY CHILDREN Since the mid-1960s, immigration from Latin America and Asia has profoundly influenced the demographic makeup of the United States, particularly in certain parts of the country (like California) where many immigrants are concentrated. As noted by Min Zhou, Latin American and Asian immigration has altered preexisting perceptions that race relations primarily are a black-white issue (Zhou, 2001). By 2000, Hispanics had tied blacks as the largest minority group in the school-age population, each comprising 15 percent of the total. The Asian population has been growing at an even faster rate than Hispanics, although from a much smaller base. By 2000 Asians made up 4 percent of the school-age population (Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 1). The role of immigration in boosting the numbers of Hispanic and Asian school children is demonstrated by the fact that, in 2000, 72 percent of Hispanic and 81 percent of Asian schoolchildren either were immigrants or the children of immigrants (second-generation immigrants). By comparison, only 8 percent of non-Hispanic white and 10 percent of non-Hispanic black schoolchildren were first- or second-generation immigrants (Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 2). Along with these demographic changes has come tremendous growth in the linguistic and cultural diversity of the school-age population. According to Tienda, 74 percent of Hispanic and 46 percent of Asian American schoolchildren report that a language other than English is spoken at home. In addition, 31 percent of Hispanic and 14 percent of Asian schoolchildren reported having difficulty speaking English. By comparison, less than 5 percent of black and white children report that a foreign language is spoken at home, and only about 1 percent from each group have difficulty speaking English (Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 11). Another effect of recent immigration has been a substantial increase in the number of children living in poverty. As discussed in Chapter 2, a high percentage of Asian immigrants were highly educated professionals when they arrived, and the average income of Asian Americans is higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. Nevertheless, there were many more low-income Asian Americans in 2000 than in previous decades. The pattern of immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, is different from Asian immigration in that a much higher percentage of Hispanic immigrants arrived with little education and in search of jobs. This has contributed to the high poverty rate among Hispanic children. Approximately one-third of Hispanic children are from low-income families, approximately the same as the percentage of black children (Figure 2-6; Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 6).
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary As documented in Chapter 2, the educational achievement of Hispanic students, as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (Figure 2-8, and 2-10; Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 12 and 13) and other tests, is substantially lower than that of white and Asian students. Also, only 62 percent of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 have completed high school or earned a General Educational Development (GED) Certificate, compared with 93 and 88 percent of comparably aged non-Hispanic whites and blacks, respectively (Figure 2-4). Tienda noted that because of recent heavy immigration and linguistic differences, the educational significance of these statistics for Hispanics is not immediately clear. Are the poor educational achievement indicators of Hispanics due to the fact that many do not speak English well or have been educated outside the United States? Or is the problem more fundamental and less transitory in nature? The conclusion reached by Tienda and colleagues (Lloyd et al., in this volume) is that immigration and linguistic differences do not fully account for the educational difficulties of Hispanics. The high school dropout rate of first-generation Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants is indeed very high. However, noting that the dropout rates of second- and third-generation Mexicans and other Hispanics are higher than those of even first-generation Asian, white, and black immigrants, she argued that factors other than foreign birth are implicated in the academic under-achievement of Hispanic youth (Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 16). Could that something else be the linguistic differences mentioned above? Tienda acknowledges that linguistic differences complicate learning for children with limited English proficiency, and Snow discussed the adverse effects on English language reading skills of a lack of proficiency in oral English. Tienda also observed that parents’ lack of fluency in English makes it more difficult for parents and teachers alike to coordinate their efforts to help children learn. But Tienda added (Lloyd et al., in this volume: Figure 12): Linguistic diversity cannot be the primary reason for the scholastic underperformance of minority students. Were this so, Asians would score lower than whites and blacks on standardized tests. In fact, white, black, Hispanic, and Asian youth enter the school system at very different starting points . . . [and] unequal educational opportunity begins to take its toll on the educational pipeline at very early ages. This is clearly evident in the large differences in math and reading scores of minority and nonminority children as early as kindergarten. . . . [E]ven before entering first grade, Asians outperform white and (even more so) black and Hispanic children. This is not about linguistic diversity; this is about social class and also about strong values that give priority to educational pursuits under any circumstances.
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary Los Angeles Case Study In her presentation, Min Zhou discussed the educational implications of findings from her sociological case study of three low-income immigrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles: Koreatown, Chinatown, and Pico Union. Her focus was on the adaptation of second-generation immigrant youth. Zhou described the contrasting frames of reference of first- and second-generation immigrants. She noted that the circumstances of newly arrived immigrants, including their educational attainment, “often leave much to be desired” from the perspective of most native-born Americans. But first-generation immigrants typically evaluate their circumstances in the United States in relation to their countries of origin. Second-generation immigrant youth, however, are far more likely to set their aspirations in relation to a U.S. benchmark and not that of the country their parents left behind (Zhou, 2001; Portes and Zhou, 1993; Ready, 1991a, 1991b). (Note: In addition to the U.S.-born children of immigrants, Zhou includes in her definition of second generation foreign-born persons who arrived in the United States at a young age.) Zhou noted that getting a good education is indispensable if second-generation immigrant youth from the neighborhoods she studied are to enter the American middle class. She found, however, that there were many obstacles in their way—many related to the effects of concentrated poverty. More than half of the families living in the three neighborhoods she studied were living in poverty. She claimed that most schools had poor records in educating students, as is not uncommon for schools with high concentrations of students in poverty (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Also associated with the concentrated poverty of the three neighborhoods were high crime rates, lack of security, and, for some young people, the lure of the streets. Zhou argued that the oppositional or adversarial youth culture she observed in the three neighborhoods was an obstacle to school achievement, similar to what Signithia Fordham found in her ethnographic case study of a high school in Washington, D.C. Zhou noted that many of the youth in the three neighborhoods adopted “an attitude that entails the willful refusal of mainstream norms and values,” including the value of academic achievement. She added that many middle-class suburban youth also identify with the trappings of urban adversarial culture, but, for them, adverse educational and other consequences are likely to be less severe. Youths in the three urban neighborhoods she studied were especially vulnerable to its effects because of less extensive social and academic support networks. Despite these obstacles to school success, many immigrant students in the three neighborhoods do well in school. Zhou found that organized
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary after-school activities offered by schools, nonprofit organizations, and private organizations played important roles in facilitating school success. She noted that Asian children tended to fare better than Hispanics who lived in the same neighborhoods and attended the same schools because the Asian children had easier access to these community resources. She illustrated this with an example from Koreatown. Only 20 percent of Koreatown residents are Korean, while 60 percent are Hispanic. Yet Koreans own most of the businesses. A variety of privately sponsored Korean organizations and programs facilitate the involvement of Korean youths in such diverse activities as karate classes, music, dance, Korean language instruction, and after-school tutoring. The many Korean businesses create job opportunities and facilitate the interaction of low-income Korean youths from the neighborhood with their middle-class coethnics. All of this helps to build community and reinforce behavioral norms and attitudes that are consistent with school success. Family Characteristics Edmund Gordon (Chapter 2); Barbara Bowman, Craig Ramey, and Catherine Snow (Chapter 3); and Scott Miller and Marta Tienda (Chapter 4) all commented on the substantial differences in measures of school-relevant learning that occur among young children of different racial/ ethnic groups, even before schooling begins. Citing data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of 1998 (U.S. Department of Education, 2000d:21, 22, 130, 131), Tienda illustrated this by pointing out the large racial/ethnic differences that exist in the mathematics and reading readiness skills of kindergarteners (Lloyd et al., in this volume:Figure 12). As mentioned earlier, Tienda believes that minorities’ low income and parental education levels largely account for these differences. She also noted that living in a single-parent, female-headed household both increases the probability that a child will be living in poverty and is inversely correlated with measures of academic skills. While noting the dramatic increase in female-headed households during the latter half of the 20th century among all racial/ethnic groups, Tienda suggested that the high proportion of black and Hispanic children living in single-parent, female-headed households contributes to racial/ethnic achievement gaps, beginning at an early age (Zill and West, 2000; Lloyd et al., in this volume: Figure 15). Tienda commented further on the correlation of parental educational levels to children’s education outcomes. She expressed concern about the potentially self-perpetuating effects of the low educational attainment
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary levels of residents of segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods and the elevated high school dropout rate of Hispanics in particular: Parents’ education often constructs a floor below which offspring are not likely to fall. However, for some minority populations with historically low levels of education, such as Hispanics and many recent immigrants from Latin America and some Asian nations, parents’ education may also represent a ceiling that young people’s achievements are unlikely to surpass. This circumstance underscores one of the great dilemmas of equal opportunity—namely, that family background remains decisive in shaping individual opportunity beyond what is objectively possible through economic prosperity alone. . . . If educational inequalities cannot be narrowed during prosperous times, they certainly will not improve during leaner years. SOCIODEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES AND CHILDREN’S LEARNING In the landmark study, Equality of Educational Opportunity, James Coleman and his colleagues found that the social and demographic characteristics of students and their families exerted far more influence on education outcomes than what happened in school (Coleman et al., 1966). Tienda’s comments suggest that little has changed that would invalidate Coleman’s 35-year-old findings. Also citing Coleman, Gordon stated, “The challenge to the nation is to uncouple academic achievement from the social divisions by which we classify people.” Various social and demographic characteristics have been associated with styles of childrearing, patterns of social interactions in the family, and differential access to home learning resources, such as books and computers (National Research Council, 2000c, 2001b). While noting how measures of school readiness vary according to parents’ social and demographic backgrounds, Bowman, Ramey, and Snow (Chapter 3), and Slavin (Chapter 6) focused their comments primarily on educational strategies to increase the access of disadvantaged students to the kinds of experiences that research has found to effectively promote learning. They suggested that well-designed preschool and early grade school programs can give young children the kind of solid foundation they need for future learning—the kind of foundation that would put them on equal footing with children from more advantaged backgrounds. They also noted, however, that sustaining gains made by disadvantaged students who were enrolled in exemplary early childhood education programs is very difficult and all too frequently is not achieved. The determinativeness of family social and demographic characteristics and the alterability of specific learning-relevant behaviors and atti-
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Achieving High Educational Standards For All: Conference Summary tudes of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are open questions with tremendous implications for educational and social policy (Phillips et al., 1998a). The clear consensus of conference presenters was that demography need not dictate children’s educational destinies. But, to paraphrase Edmund Gordon, can schooling single-handedly compensate for children’s unequal life chances?
Representative terms from entire chapter: