A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Education Reforms and Students at Risk: A Review of the Current State of the Art - January 1994

Where Do We Go From Here?

Past efforts to establish equity and excellence have led to major changes in U.S. education. If we compare educational attainments today to those of previous decades, we find substantial improvements in many areas. The performance of black youngsters, in particular, has improved dramatically over the years. Black dropout rates have declined sharply, and -- according to some statistics -- converge with white dropout rates when family income is held constant (New York Times, 1992). Citing data from the College Board and from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Lewis (1992) states that the great "untold story" of the past 20 years is that black youngsters have been "steadily narrowing the gap between themselves and whites in math and science proficiency....[and the] reading proficiency of blacks...is much higher than it was twenty years ago." Over the same time period, the mean scores of black students on the Scholastic Aptitude Test have increased by much larger margins than the mean scores of white students.

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.

["A Nation at Risk"] [Table of Contents] [ Chapter 2: Student Background ]