Introduction: At-Risk Students, Schools and Compensatory Education Programs
In the years since the early 1960s, there has been an explosion in the number and types of programs that try to assist students who are having difficulty in schools, or who are labeled as being at risk of having difficulty in the future. These compensatory education programs seek to remedy a problem or deficit that identified students are thought to have. It appears that the public supports these measures, as they are allocated relatively significant government resources. Yet, how much is really known about the operation of these programs?
This book explores a career-oriented compensatory education program that is designed to identify and then help to reintegrate poor, alienated high school students into their schools. I call it OSRP (Ordered School Reinforcement Program). As the staff see it, the program attempts to introduce order into the sometimes chaotic lives of the participating students. OSRP reinforces the schools in the sense that its main purpose is to convince its students to successfully reintegrate into their schools. Using ethnographic methods, I immersed myself in the activities of OSRP between January and July 1992.1 I found that most OSRP staff, students, and parents were not aware of the fact that the program failed to accomplish its main goal, successful school reintegration. I ask here why it failed, how it is that participants could be unaware of its failure, and what other avenues exist to address the equity issues raised by the perceived need for the program.
Problems commonly related to poor school performance include poverty, hunger, having a "deficient" family life, having a first language other than English, having a learning disability, being alienated from school, and exhibiting behavior problems in school. Compensatory education programs include, among others: school breakfast and lunch programs, Head Start, Follow Through, Title I remedial reading and math programs, peer tutoring, bilingual education programs, after-school job-related programs, desegregation programs, learning centers, special education programs, and grants for school districts having high concentrations of poor children.
There are several ways of looking at compensatory education. The most widely accepted view is that remedial programs help to "level the playing field" ( Ramey and Johnson, 1991; Ramey, 1992; U.S. Department of Education, 1993). This