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

Targeting or Restructuring

A final general issue in designing more effective programs is whether to emphasize (1) a case-management approach that targets specialized services to students who have the most severe problems or (2) a comprehensive schoolwide reform plan that revamps the general learning environment experienced by the typical student. Our four-dimensional framework recognizes that both approaches are needed but that schoolwide reform should be paramount, especially in settings that enroll large numbers of students at risk. The first three of our four dimensions (opportunities for success, relevance of school, and a climate of caring and support) apply to schoolwide reform, while the final dimension (assistance with personal problems) targets individual needs of the most seriously troubled students.

While restructuring of the school's social organization and key roles is needed to revitalize student motivation in most of the nation's schools, it is most essential in locations where dropout rates are now very high. For school systems in which high schools have more than half of their students failing to graduate, small changes will not be sufficient, and the problems are too numerous to address by a case-management approach alone. In these instances, schools are not working for most students and need to be fundamentally reformed to create entirely different environments. The programs and strategies outlined above suggest specific steps that can be taken in three basic dimensions to begin moving toward desirable schoolwide restructuring.

Although each of our first three dimensions focuses on comprehensive schoolwide changes, many of the recommended changes address individual student needs for extra academic help, personalized contacts with a single school adult, and links with specific career or educational goals. For example, schoolwide reforms -- such as establishing small, consistent teams of teachers and students, adding evaluation systems that are responsive to individual progress, scheduling time for special classes, or keeping records of students' strengths, are ways of personalizing the climate and individualizing the learning experiences within a large system of mass education. Many of the recommended school restructuring steps will actually provide individual experiences that are more motivating and supportive for students.

The intensive case-management approach will also be needed for some fraction of students who have major personal problems that require individual treatment. Students who have the most severe problems can be helped through personalized services within a regular school setting, by referrals to outside special services while students remain enrolled in regular school, or by assignment to small alternative schools that are designed to support and motivate individual student adjustment and learning. Assistance with individual problems can sometimes alleviate serious distractions from adequate school work and free students to successfully complete their education. For example, schools can assist with child-care responsibilities of teenage mothers while they are in class, or programs can help students conquer substance abuse sufficiently to attend to their classroom learning activities. But for students who have serious academic, attendance, and discipline problems, reforms of the school environment must be combined with programs to equip them with better personal coping behaviors to produce success in school performance and enable higher completion rates.

[Dimension Priorities] [Table of Contents] [SECTION III: Barriers and Pathways to Meaningful Reforms: The Need for High Reliability Organizational Structures]