However, although graduation rates have improved over the years, the dropout rates for young people of color (with the exception of Asian students) are still higher than the dropout rates for white students (Ekstrom et al., 1987). The dropout rates for Latino youngsters, in particular, remain high. And although the performance of young people of color on national achievement tests has improved significantly, their average performance (with the exception of Asians) still lags far behind the average performance of white students (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991).
So where do we go from here? Student achievement has increased, but job requirements also have risen. How do we exceed the educational goals that past reform efforts have found it difficult to attain? Why are so many young people failing to develop necessary skills, and what can be done to improve their performance?
In the following chapters we examine research on the effects of student background and school-related variables. We also look at strategies that may reduce risk factors and improve student performance. As this historical overview suggests, it is also important to recognize the complex, longitudinal effects that broad social forces have had and will continue to have on educational outcomes. Social dynamics influence the demands placed on schools, affect the resources children bring to the classroom, and form the varying perspectives of those involved in instruction, policymaking, research, and hiring issues related to diverse young people. Thus, social dynamics shape the education that diverse children receive and structure the relation between educational attainments and social mobility. Three themes of past school reform efforts -- equity, excellence, and relevance -- continue to frame the discussion of education reforms today. An understanding of social dynamics is essential to forecasting the "shelf-life" of current reforms, since without public support and funds, reforms quickly deteriorate. A review of education history may illuminate the causes of broad educational disparities, illustrate ways of building public support, provide insights into community perspectives, and aid the refinement of current "innovations" that share similarities with past reforms.