Staying after School: At-Risk Students in a Compensatory Education Program

Staying after School: At-Risk Students in a Compensatory Education Program

Staying after School: At-Risk Students in a Compensatory Education Program

Staying after School: At-Risk Students in a Compensatory Education Program

Synopsis

Compensatory education for alienated students at risk of dropping out is a recognized part of the educational landscape. This is the first ethnographic study of such a program. It focuses on students and staff at two state-supported sites--one composed of white students, the other being predominantly African American. Participants are paid to attend, and are given academic remediation, counseling, and job assignments in the community. The author found that, unknown to the staff or the state, the program is unsuccessful in its main goal of reintegrating adolescents into their schools. He associates this failure with the program's perception of its students, the trivial curriculum, and the lack of student involvement in planning. Coming from the perspective of critical theory, the author challenges the mainstream view that this program compensates for deficiencies that individual students bring with them to the classroom. His findings support the idea that the program legitimates stratification by giving potentially disruptive students mixed messages. Operating from an "ideology of hope," the program tells students that they should challenge themselves to aspire to become middle class profesionals. At the same time, however, it ignores institutional barriers and fails to give its students the tools they need to succeed in school. This study has implications for all educators attempting to reach at-risk youth.

Excerpt

This chapter has three parts. First, I will investigate the goals of OSRP from the perspectives of the state funding agency, OSRP staff, and its students. Second, I will briefly sketch the various components of the formal curriculum, that is, the aspects of the program that are explicitly stated in documents. Finally, I will consider the success or failure of the program in relation to its own goals. This will be done in part by comparing the formal and the informal curricula, with the latter being the actual practices and experiences of the students and staff.

PROGRAM GOALS

State curriculum documents provide a formal statement of OSRP goals. They refer to the central importance of schooling to the program. OSRP students are seen as being at risk of dropping out of school, and the program is intended to be a preventative measure: "Through participation in the OSRP project, youngsters should increase their understanding of the relationship between education and a career, identify the skills needed to succeed in an occupation, increase their knowledge of a variety of potential occupations, and begin to define their personal career goals." The program only admits young people who are disadvantaged and at-risk. Students spend a year attending OSRP after school. The curriculum includes work skills, educational remediation (e.g., in literacy and numeracy), and personal and career counseling. The expected outcome of this process is improved life chances, that is, an increased likelihood of obtaining a high school diploma and going on to further education. The program aims to address the two criteria that qualify young people for entrance: their at-risk status in school and their state of poverty The belief is that OSRP represents an opportunity that will make a difference in these children's lives.

The list of program staff in Table 2.1. may help the reader to identify the various individuals mentioned in this and subsequent discussions. The names of the persons and places have been disguised to assure the confidentiality of all subjects.

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