John Dewey said, "The purpose of education is to allow each individual
to come into full possession of his or her personal power."
A rapidly growing number of youth in Iowa and across the nation have
little hope of capturing their personal power for a variety of reasons.
They are students at risk. At risk of ridicule by peers; at risk of
failure in school; at risk of being unable to bond with society; at
risk of social deprivation; and at risk of never realizing their sense
of personal value, worth, and dignity.
For whatever reasons, Americans have not responded effectively to the
needs of these children. In fact, the way we treat our young generally
raises many questions about why our nation tolerates risks to children.
Despite our new national goal that all children should start school
ready to learn, the United States is the 17th best country in which to
be born and the 14th best country in which to be educated," according
to a study completed by the American Association of School
Administrators' Director of Legislation (Penning, 1991, p. 28). A
child is at greater risk of losing his or her life at birth in the
United States than in Singapore, Hong Kong, France, Canada, Germany,
or Japan. Additionally, the United States allows such economic
competitors as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium,
and Japan to devote a greater share of their national wealth--public
and private--to elementary and secondary education than we do as a
nation. Over the past 10 years, our national priorities have been
clear: interest on the public debt has increased 224% beyond inflation,
Social Security spending increased 196%, defense spending increased
126%, Medicare spending increased 108%, and spending on agricultural
programs went up 80%, while spending for all children's programs--
education, social, nutrition, and health services--climbed a paltry
15% over inflation. Social Security and Medicare have brought
stability and security to one end of the vulnerability spectrum. If we
are to add stability to the other end we must act dramatically on our
children's behalf to improve their lives before we lose more of them
to personal despair and before the nation suffers even greater loss of
productivity (Penning, 1991).
While educators and others wring their hands, thousands of apathetic
students leave school each year to begin lives of unemployment,
poverty, crime, and psychological distress. Although more than one in
five school children in the United States come from families in
poverty, "dropping out" is not unique to poor or homeless children,
to a small percentage of minority students, to low ability children,
or to mentally lazy kids. As Margaret Clifford noted (1990):
It is a systematic failure affecting the most gifted and
knowledgeable as well as the disadvantaged, and it is threatening the
social, economic, intellectual, industrial, cultural, moral, and
psychological well being of our country. Equally disturbing are
students who sever themselves from the flow of knowledge while they
occupy desks, like mummies (p. 22).
Interestingly, society knows it is wrong to allow students to leave
school ill equipped for adult life. The Phi Delta Kappan publishes the
results of an annual September Gallup Poll, sampling public attitudes
toward public schools. In the 1989 poll, while most respondents (70%)
knew children can drop out of school when they reach a minimum age,
only 13% regarded this as a viable criteria. Forty five percent
thought students should be compelled to remain in school until high
school graduation and 38% favored requiring school attendance until
certain standards are met. The same poll found that the public wanted
special services for low income children and indicated they were
willing to fund services with increased taxes.
Over the past quarter century, programs designed to provide quality
education for children who are economically disadvantaged and
educationally deficient have received substantial funding. In recent
years, individual states have begun to fund their own programs for
students who fail to meet state achievement standards. Iowa has
allocated $11.2 million beginning July 1, 1991, for this purpose. Iowa,
like all states across the nation, is experiencing increasing numbers
of children at risk to be served by public and private schools and
agencies. Leaders recognize that success for all students is now more
than a romantic ideal; it is imperative for development of our society
both economically and morally (Brandt, 1990). With rapidly changing
demographics and demands on our lives, we must find ways to coordinate
academics, health, family and social services for students who have
often failed in schools and society.
Unfortunately, responsibilities and authority of agencies have been
segmented and communication between agencies restricted by existing
laws or institutional procedures. Additionally, schools have had
extreme compliance pressures placed on them by state standards and,
consequently, in many cases have not, had the time nor the expertise
to adequately address the needs of at risk students. To compound the
problem, not all families know how to become involved in their
children's education and some schools have not actively encouraged
With these factors in mind, the Institute for Educational Leadership
at the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa Principals' Academy, and
the Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education sponsored a
working conference to identify and define critical issues surrounding
services for at-risk students, to develop options for resolution of
issues, and to build consensus on recommendations and strategies that
better enable schools, agencies, and families to meet the needs of
Forty-five school and service agency leaders, university faculty, and
recognized experts were invited to the University of Northern Iowa
campus. Individuals were selected based on their keen interest in
students at risk, their skills as communicators, and their enthusiasm
about exploring issues in an in depth and interactive environment.
The purpose of the conference was to establish an agenda for
collaborative action among state and local, public and private
agencies, and to influence public policy related to the support of
Each conference participant selected one of six focus areas:
coordinating services; increasing family involvement; providing for
the health needs of children in the school setting; providing
continuity of services for highly mobile children and families;
improving the school performance of all children; and creating
partnerships with the private sector. Participants prioritized
interest areas and were then invited to write on the area to which
they were assigned. Papers were submitted prior to the conference,
copied, and sent to participants of specified focus areas.
During the two day conference, the practical knowledge in school and
non-school settings was brought into relationship with the theoretical
knowledge of the university. The result was stimulating dialogue which
addressed the complex issues surrounding education and services for
at-risk students. Participants worked extensively in their focus area
groups but did come together to share ideas and offer input between
groups. The insights and ideas which evolved offer a foundation for
future decision making which and may be of interest to policy makers,
educators, and parents.
The position papers in each focus area are preceded by a consensus
report written by the group's facilitator. Because time constraints
prevented development of a conference report, these reports represent
the views of the participants within each focus area and are not
necessarily shared by all conference participants. While the reader is
encouraged to read the entire monograph to gain detail and
understanding, the following recommendations are presented to
highlight the outcomes of the conference:
To increase the effectiveness of services currently
provided by schools and agencies, a common prevention philosophy
should be developed as a part of all intervention services for
students and families.
Priority should be given to the identification of services
available to students and families and to increasing the awareness of
schools, parents, and other agencies of these services.
Access to services by students and families needs to be
simplified by reducing red tape and the streamlining of transition
procedures when moving from one service agency to another.
To provide increased training for school/agency personnel
and parents, collaborative efforts between and among service agencies
should be encouraged and supported.
Attention should be given to the development of
collaborative, community based networks which can eliminate and/or
deal with confidentiality issues (through interagency agreement) and
agree on how to share the costs of collaboration and services. In such
efforts, schools might be identified as key players.
Both the school district and the local building should
develop a master plan for improved student achievement. The master
plan must assess where students presently are and what the appropriate
strategies might be for improvement. Specific strategies for achieving
the plan's objectives should be established and carefully monitored.
Accommodations must be made in curriculum to assure its
relevance to the student and the future. Selective abandonment of
present curriculum must be activated so that there is increased
clarity on the desired outcomes we want learners to achieve. Plans
need to be made for developing flexibility in teaching styles,
teaching materials, and teaching methods. In addition, there must be
flexibility in the time utilized for learning. The nine month calendar
and the 8:30-3:30 day must be abandoned in favor of time frames that
meet the demands of today's students and provide full utilization of
facilities and equipment allowed through flexible scheduling. Meeting
the needs of the learner's schedule must be a priority.
Learning must be viewed on a continuum rather than a group
of nine month building blocks. Clear pictures must be developed of
what we want students to know and do as a result of progressing along
the learning continuum.
Schools must be characterized as having a climate of
pervasive caring for the students. This caring must support the
students' self esteem needs and help all feel they belong within the
community of learners.
Alternative learning environments must be established for
students with unique circumstances or needs. These environments may be
other native schools, work/learning sites in the community,
supplemental instructional programs, summer programs, and other
To establish successful partnerships, it is vital to look
beyond the "volunteers in the classroom" stereotype of community
involvement and look toward working collaboratively with a plethora of
community persons in both the private and public sector to communicate
perspectives on leadership, vision, goals, quality, and resources.
There is a need for commitments for the partnership
movement from the Iowa Legislature, the Iowa Department of Education,
local school districts, the individual schools, and private/public
Since many partnerships with public and private sector
groups are hampered by the fear of legal entanglement when acting in
partnership with a school, it is recommended that this stumbling
block be removed by placing partnership activities under the liability
umbrella insurance programs of the schools.
The goals of the prospective partners from the public and
private sector and the goals of the school should be identified before
partners and their resources are matched with a school. Though these
goals may change and expand, a focus needs to be set before the groups
may successfully collaborate with mutual and reciprocal benefits.
Educators, parents, and families; public and nonpublic
health and human services providers; and school boards and advisory
groups offering health services need to address providing health
services for children by raising the concept of health (to a higher
level of priority).
Most kids who experience failure in school or society perceive
themselves as helpless. In this helpless state children begin to look
at life as a hopeless situation. Hopeless people tend to give less
effort and consequently experience additional failure. What we must do
is give kids hope. The monograph on Strengthening the Partnership
between Schools, Service Agencies and Families in Meeting the Needs of
Students at Risk offers new pathways to building hope in all children.
- Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. (1988). America's Shame. America's
hope: Twelve million youth at risk.
- Ohio Department of Education. Reducing dropouts in Ohio schools:
Guidelines and promising practices (No. 2). Columbus, OH: Author.
- Aldridge, M. N. (1989). On review: The 21st annual Gallup Poll of the
public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Iowa Educational
Leadership, 6(1), 63-65.
- Berlin, G., & Sum, A. (1988). Toward a more perfect union: Basic
skills, poor families, and our economic future. New York, NY: Ford
- Brandt, Ron (1990). Overview: Secrets of Success. Educational
Leadership 48(1), 3.
- Catterall, J. S. (1987). An intensive group counseling dropout
prevention intervention. Some cautions on isolating at risk
adolescents within high schools. American Educational Research Journal,
- Clifford, M. M. (1990). Students need challenge, not easy success. Educational Leadership, 48(1), 22-25.
- Doss, H. W. (1986). Students at risk: A review of conditions,
circumstances, indicators, and educational implications. Elmhurst,
IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.
- Frist, P. F., & Cooper, G. R. (1990). Homeless doesn't have to mean
hopeless. The School Administrator, 17-22.
- Hahn, A., & Danzberger, J. with Lefpowitz, B. (1987). Dropouts in
America: Enough is known for action. Washington, D.C.: The Institute
for Educational Leadership.
- Hodgkinson, H. L. (1985). An one system: Demographics of education.
Kindergarten through graduate school. Washington, D.C.: The Institute
for Educational Leadership.
- Iowa Association of School Boards Committee on Strategies of
Excellence. (1987). Strategies for excellence: Recommendations for a
productive School model with strategies for achieving the model. Des
Moines, IA: Author.
- Penning, N. (1991, February). Why our nation tolerates risks to
children. The School Administrator,28-31.
- Stacey, N., Alsalam, N., Gilmore, J., & To, D. (1988). Education and
training of 16 to l9 year olds after compulsory schooling in the
United States. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S.
Department of Education.
- Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (1986). Children at risk:
A resource and planning guide. Madison, WI: Author.
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