Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Young African American and Latino Children in High-Poverty Urban Schools: How They Perceive School Climate

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Young African American and Latino Children in High-Poverty Urban Schools: How They Perceive School Climate

Article excerpt

This article reports findings of a study of third-graders' perceptions of school climate, a key variable of the Comer School Development Program. A self-report survey was individually administered to 1,000 African American and 260 Latino children participating in an evaluation of the Comer process; data were factor-analyzed. African American children viewed teacher-child relations as the most important dimension of school climate. For them, besides acknowledging best efforts, caring teachers listened to children and were available to comfort and help with school and personal problems. Latino children stressed teacher fairness, caring, and praise for effort as well as the importance of moral order. Both groups emphasized following school rules and performing well, values consistent with the Comer process.

INTRODUCTION

Several studies published during the Reagan-Bush years (1980-92) indicate that African American students in K-12 public schools are disproportionately represented in grade retentions, school suspensions, and dropout rates (Bennett & Harris,1981; Campbell,1982; Hess & Greer, 1987; Hess & Lauber, 1985; Kaufman, 1991). Similar findings have been reported for Latino children (Chapa & Valencia, 1993; Reyes & Valencia, 1993). These studies conclude that prior to leaving school during the adolescent years, these students are frequently poor academic achievers in the elementary grades and experience academic suspensions for related disciplinary problems.

An important trend in the current research focusing on what and how children learn is an increasing appreciation for the overriding importance of developmental factors and continuity. However, this trend was not apparent when Kenneth Clark published Dark Ghetto in 1965. At that time, Clark perceived compensatory programs such as Project Head Start as having mistakenly blamed poor parents and families for their children's educational difficulties. The blame, he believed, fell squarely on school teachers and administrators for not assuming proper responsibility and accountability for the education of low-income and minority children. By 1991, Head Start had endorsed its Transition Project, which focuses on maintaining continuity between the Head Start preschool program and public elementary schools. As a result of this initiative, Head Start staff are trained to work proactively with primary grade teachers to facilitate children's successful entry to and adjustment in the primary grades (Kennedy, 1993).

Increasingly, both elementary and secondary educators acknowledge the important role of family and community in the educative process as active, positive contributors inside and outside the classroom (Lightfoot, 1978; Slaughter-Defoe, 1991; Strickland & Ascher, 1992). It is far more common today for emphasis to be placed on the need for collaborative partnerships between schools and families at all grade levels in an effort to ameliorate the academic and learning challenges occasioned by deepening, chronic, and persistent poverty (Comer, 1988a, 1988b; McLoyd, 1990; Slaughter, 1988; Wilson, 1989). This dual focus on developmentally appropriate practices in the primary grades and collaborative relationships between children's teachers and families is entirely consistent with the approach to school reform advanced by the School Development Program (SDP) model developed by Dr. James P. Comer (1980, 1998a) at the Yale University Child Development Center. Comer originally piloted his model in public elementary schools serving primarily low-income minority children in New Haven, Connecticut, during the late 1970s. Reflecting on these early efforts, Comer (1980) notes: The New Haven School System itself developed a number of compensatory education programs. Head Start and Follow Through programs, designed to overcome learning lags, received considerable support.... We were fully aware that an education program could not correct what was wrong with Dixwell Avenue or low-income communities through the nation. …

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