Can France Give Education Action Zones New Life?

Article excerpt

Schools are essentially expected to provide all students with the same educational opportunity despite where they live, or their ability levels. Education Action Zones (EAZs) and Zones d'Education Prioritaire (ZEPs) have been implemented to help eradicate the issue of student equity, promising innovation and a solution to inequalities evidenced in society and the school system. This policy looks to reduce inequalities and improve educational achievement in areas of disadvantage by nurturing partnerships, not only with parents, but also with the community, broader society, and other educators. The French government is rejuvenating ZEPs as a solution to recent urban unrest in Paris, packaging old wine in new skin. Yet to be determined is whether the zone concept will help to deliver improvements in recent social issues in France.

Key words: Education Action Zone (EAZ), Zones d'Education Prioritaire (ZEP), Social Inequity, Student achievement, Partnership, and Innovation.

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Policy makers are constantly faced with turbulence, as exemplified by current political disillusionment in England and political power balance changes in the U.S. However, the eyes of the world have more recently been focused on France, due to the 2006 summer riots in Paris. While this problem crosses ethnic boundaries, it also appears to be generational and urban specific. Alarming incidences of violence and crime, particularly in urban areas, lead observers to speculate on the growing anarchy among urban youth. Despite the fact that the Paris region is one of the most heavily policed metropolitan cities in the world, crime and delinquency continue to rise. New York City, with its 7.5 million residents, has 37,000 police officers. While Paris, with it's approximately 2 million residents, has 75,000 (CRS, 2007).

Individuals and schools do not function in social and economic vacuums, and though society has high expectations for its youth, this is not always sufficient. In both England and France, socioeconomic and family background factors have been shown to be important influences upon student's educational achievement at all stages of education (OECD, 1996). Educational leaders have a moral responsibility to create schools that prepare all students to be intelligent and thoughtful citizens who are able to make wise, ethical decisions (Storey and Beeman, 2006).

Whereas in the US and England disparate occurrences of youth unrest tends to occur nationwide, in France it is specifically an urban problem with occurrences predominantly in Paris. To understand why, it is important to have an understanding of French post-war urbanization policies. In the 1950s, lower socio-economic groups were concentrated in the suburban rings around major cities. While the tourist may see only the wide stone boulevards and gracious buildings, any deviation from the beaten track would soon lead to large, post-war urban public housing developments inhabited by concentrations of people who have suffered decades of high unemployment. Consequently, there exists a generation of youth in France whose immigrant parents have not worked or who have had little contact with the world of work. These young adults tend to be concentrated in the housing projects with little hope of future employment; they are restricted to a life style of limited mobility, having few contacts outside their immediate environment due to their limited financial and human capital resources.

In addressing the issue of educational opportunity, social disadvantage, and inequality the educational systems of England and France have evolved different approaches (Osborn, Broadfoot, Planel, and Pollard, 1997). Government and society in France profess the ideals of equal opportunity and equal rights under the law. It has been morally unacceptable to treat students differentially (OECD, 1996). Schools were expected to provide the same curriculum and pedagogy to all students regardless of who they were, where they lived or their ability levels (Sharpe, 1992). …