Conditions Associated with Risk: School Factors
Schools contribute to vulnerability in students by failing to create conditions that are supportive of children’s needs. Researchers have outlined multiple ways that schools, and teachers in particular, contribute to behavioral and academic vulnerability in children (Espinosa & Laffey, 2003; Gunter & Coutinho, 1997; Johnson & Pugach, 1990; Kauffman, 2005; Kokkinos, Panayiotou, & Davazoglou, 2005; Lehr & Christenson, 2002; Maag, 2001; Van Acker et al., 1996; Walker et al., 2004; Zentall & Stormont-Spurgin, 1995). Teacher practices that impact vulnerability in children include using poor instructional practices, having inappropriate or low expectations for children, using inappropriate behavior management practices, and having a classroom environment that is not culturally responsive.
Poor Instructional Practices
Educators need to be prepared for a multitude of different needs in their classrooms. Many children need differentiated or individualized instruction (Kauffman, 2005; Meese, 2001; Mercer & Mercer, 2005; Tomlinson, 2001). This does not imply that teachers need to teach children individually; rather, it means that teachers need to be prepared to alter the curriculum, instruction, assignments, and classroom management practices to be more supportive of different children’s needs. If teachers adopt a “one-size-fits-all” approach to curriculum and instruction, then many children who are vulnerable for failure will fail (Kauffman, 2005). Teachers also contribute to risk if they use practices that are not supported by research or that have been documented to be ineffective (Meese, 2001).
Schools in urban areas often face many challenges that directly impact the provision of consistent effective learning conditions and instructional practices for children. Specifically, children in urban settings are at greater risk for having transient administrators (Resnick & Glennan, 2002). Almost half of superintendents in urban areas have been in their districts for less than 5 years. Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is another challenge in urban areas. As a result, children in urban areas often do not receive effective instructional practices, which creates or exacerbates their risk for failure. “The issue today is not whether it is possible for urban students to learn well, but rather how good teaching and, therefore, learning can become the norm rather than the exception in urban educational settings” (Resnick & Glennan, 2002, p. 2).
More than 10 years ago, Kozol (1991) illustrated his experiences in an urban classroom in Chicago, which still ring true today:
The room is sparse: a large and clean but rather cheerless place. There are few of those manipulable objects and bright colored shelves and boxes that adorn suburban kindergarten classrooms. The only decorations on the walls are posters supplied by companies that market school materials. . . . Nothing the children or the teacher made themselves. . . . In a somewhat mechanical way, the teacher lifts a picture book of Mother Goose and flips the pages as the children sit before her on the rug. “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow. . . . Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to fetch her poor dog a bone . . . Jack and Jill went up the hill. . . . This little piggy went to market. . . . ” The children recite the verses with her as she turns the pages of the book. She is not very warm or animated as she does it, but the children are obedient and seem to like the fun of showing that they know the words. The book looks worn and old, as if the teacher’s used it many, many years, and it shows no signs of adaptation to the race of the black children in the school. (p. 45)
Research has documented school conditions that lead to higher achievement and social competence in children in all types of school settings, including urban settings (Resnick & Glennan, 2002). These characteristics will be presented throughout this text.
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