Pass or Fail: Advocating for At-Risk Students through Communication
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
As educators, we know that minority children and those from lower socio-economic brackets are at a greater risk of falling behind academically, and eventually dropping out of school altogether. Things like alternative schools have been around for decades as a way to remediate any student who is behind his or her peers. But what if we could eliminate the need for these separate schools altogether?
Because of problems in identifying the optimal allocation of limited resources under high-stress educational scenarios, many districts have turned to costly intervention programs designed to keep “at-risk” students in school. Improved communication about the needs of struggling students might help generate support for the higher-cost intervention programs designed to keep “at-risk” students in school.
These intervention programs tend to be among the first to go when there are budget constraints, leaving educators with a very short list of effective low-cost options. More open and effective communication about standards and academic expectations could allow for the better application of intervention programs.
There is ample evidence that the programs are focused on at-risk students work.
Indeed, compared with the costs of retaining students, these programs are highly cost-effective. Let’s take a look at one of these programs.
Umoja (the Swahili word for “unity”) is a program for at-risk students developed in Chicago. Corey (his name has been changed), a teenager who came through the program, is the son of a single mother and has a sister whose severe disabilities required much of his mother’s time. Growing up, he did not enjoy the close supervision and parenting of other kids his age.
Corey first entered the Umoja offices as a freshman. He expected to be handed some pamphlets and told to come back as a senior. However, Executive Director Lila Leff personally took him under her wing. She accompanied him to several college campuses and arranged for him to talk to college students who came from a similarly disadvantaged background.
As a result of Leff’s interest, Corey became more engaged in his studies. He chose to participate in electives that honed his debating skills and learned to research and to examine all sides of a given issue. His presentations on pertinent issues such as race relations, police brutality, and problems associated with public transportation, have been well received in some venues. He has spoken at local community groups and boards.
With the assistance of Umoja, Corey submitted a successful application to Ohio State University and graduated four years later. Out of a desire to give back, he entered AmeriCorps, and recently completed his first year of teaching. Next year, he’ll teach in a Chicago high school. But he has bigger plans. He’s wavering between becoming a chef and becoming President of the United States.
For students such as Corey, a program like Umoja represents the difference between success and failure. Though the programs are expensive, they are nevertheless crucial and are arguably much cheaper than letting the talents of America’s youth go to waste.
Intervention programs like Umoja work. However, they should be used in tandem with clear communications about standards and expectations. All students should be aware of the intervention programs that are available to them.