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Tomorrow's Leaders

A comparative analysis of social reproduction in American Charter and Public Elementary Schools
by

Robyn Trem

on 29 April 2011

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Transcript of Tomorrow's Leaders

What is a Charter School? Independent School District
Receives public funding
Cannot levy district or community taxes
Does not adhere to district curricula or policy
Does meet state testing standards put in place by No Child Left Behind (1994) Many times very different from a traditional public school.
language immersion
arts-focused
culture-focused

...Many times very similar. Why are there charter schools? There are problems with American public schools! Schools are meant to be equalizing institutions... But generation after generation, minorities in America are overwhelmingly members of the lower class. Pierre Bourdieu's "Reproduction Theory" (1990):
The school system relies on standardized tests to create an upper class that is the same as the one before it. My hypothesis: Because charter schools do not have to adhere to the same rules as do public schools, they are places in which racial stratification can be overcome. The research: Another Primary Mechanism of Social Reproduction: Labeling:

Placing labels, such as "deviant," on students in schools creates in them and others the understanding that they do not belong in the school system.
tracking
public discipline, praise

(Becker 1963, Cooley 1902, Mead 1934) Ways to overcome social reproduction in schools:
Remove labels
Stop relying on upper class definitions of success - allow for success in all fields 4 Elementary School Case Studies in St. Paul, Minnesota.
3 Charter
1 Public Interviews, classroom observation. What I was looking for:
Tracking
Public discipline
Emphasis on test scores
Emphasis in not-tested subjects
Social/cultural opportunities
Student enthusiasm
Racial mixing
Equal test success of ethnic groups What I found: As a group, the charter schools did not engage less in socially reproductive activities (some did more, some did less). However, they had some things in common that can allow them to be less socially reproductive--even if they don't always go that route. These things included the following: Charter schools were much more heavily minority and ESL students, who typically struggle more in the public education system. Teachers at the charter schools worked harder than those at public schools for less money. Every charter school I studied expressed that the best part about being a charter school was the freedom to make decisions.
small school board
no tenure What do these findings mean? Charter schools are more capable of experimenting within the system.
Successful methods explored in charter schools could eventually be carried over into the public schools. Student Population Teacher Dedication Bureaucracy But there's one problem.

Enabling greater success for people of the lower class in primary and secondary school will only reduce stratification if these people can also be successful after high school. That is, if they can get into college. Are students who go to less socially reproductive schools more likely to get into college than they would be if they went to a traditional school? No. I interviewed the Director of Admissions at a small, midwestern liberal arts college and consulted a book on college admission in America as the final stage of this project. Because focus on the standardized test is a mechanism of social reproduction, I was looking to see whether colleges placed emphasis on students with good standardized test scores. I found that, indeed, in the application process, test scores are the most important sorting factor.
2/3 of college's understanding of a student's academic ability is based on test scores (Espenshade and Radford 2009).
The Director of Admissions stated that high test scores imply readiness for college. This means that American colleges are formatted to the standardized test...the upper class system. Which means that college is further stratifying, and that even where there are affirmative action mechanisms in place, if students cannot perform well on standardized tests, they are unlikely to reach success in higher institutions. So what does it all mean? Charter schools are places in which the education system can be flexed, expanded upon, and experimented with...more so than in public schools. Which could mean that they are places that could take steps to overcoming racial stratification in America. However, colleges need to change as well.
accept students who show success in other ways so that they may enter the upper class. The bottom line: this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overcoming racial stratification in America.
There needs to be more research done, and more conversation about fixing the problems with the American school system. Unil this happens, America will continue to be something other than it aspires to be: a nation in which inequality prevails.
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