Living the Vision: A Disadvantaged and Marginalized Alternative School's Perspective on School Culture and Educational Change

By Watson, Sunnie Lee; Reigeluth, Charles M. | International Journal of Education, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Living the Vision: A Disadvantaged and Marginalized Alternative School's Perspective on School Culture and Educational Change


Watson, Sunnie Lee, Reigeluth, Charles M., International Journal of Education


Abstract The United States' educational system have responded to school reform needs over the last several decades, but had little success in producing meaningful change. In this paper, we argue that there is a need to engage in a more inclusive social discourse to address the problems in the educational system in the United States. This two year critical ethnographic study examines a disadvantaged alternative school and it's members' perspectives on school culture and school change. Through a discussion about the district-wide, systemic change effort that has been implemented in their school district, participants share perspectives on what schools can do in order to meet disadvantaged and marginalized students' needs. Through a process of listening to the voices of these marginalized and disadvantaged students, we hope to enrich the discussion of educational change.

Keywords: at-risk students; disadvantaged students; school culture; systemic change; school reform

1. Introduction

Disadvantaged students in schools bring very different sets of family and community cultures into the learning communities (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Lareau & Horvat, 1999; Willis, 1981). Research shows that classroom learning is reflexive and interactive and that language in the classroom draws heavily from the sociolinguistic experiences of students at home (Bernstein 1975; Mehan & Griffin, 1980). Also studies of the curriculum, the hidden curriculum, and the relationships between teachers and students have revealed how schooling can contribute to social reproduction (Anyon, 1981; Apple, 1979; Wilcox, 1982). So the cultures of learning established by these student bodies and their teachers are very different from the mainstream learning communities within a school district. Policies and practices in schools tend to group and isolate these student bodies to gain convenience in administration and instruction, and little consideration is given to whether, for the students, the experience of being grouped and isolated from the larger learning community is positive or negative.

School change for higher standards in the absence of fundamental changes that are needed to address the critical needs of diverse students only increases drop-out rates for those students who can scarcely meet current standards. It is clear that there is an urgent need for school change for the educational system as a whole, which are attuned to the needs of the disadvantaged and address those issues with special consideration.

This study examines to what degree a disadvantaged student population is included in a systemic change effort by examining a marginalized learning communities' culture of learning and its role within a systemic educational change process. This study provides tentative improvement recommendations for educational change efforts in school districts that 1) seek to effectively teach and support disadvantaged and marginalized learning communities and student bodies, and 2) are replicating existing conditions by not actively involving disadvantaged and marginalized learning communities in educational change processes.

2. Background Literature

2.1 Systemic Educational Change

Among recent educational change movements in the US, systemic school change or systemic educational change is a movement that strives to change school culture so that schools meet all learners' needs, rather than only the majority of learners' needs. Scholars of systemic school change movements argue that the current factory-model, industrial-age, school system is not designed to meet individual learner needs. Systemic educational change seeks to shiftfrom a paradigm in which time is held constant, thereby forcing achievement to vary, which is a sorting-based paradigm, to a paradigm designed specifically to meet the needs of learners by allowing students as much time as each needs to reach proficiency and to move on as soon as each is ready (McCombs & Whisler, 1997; Reigeluth, 1999; Senge et al. …

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