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Master's Professional Reports Abstract

Unequal educational opportunities in public schools: a problem of institutional structure and culture.
Lee, Karen Frances
Report 2001 L5132 Public Affairs Library

In an era where public education is the focus of much political and policy related debate, countless reform measures have been cited as the panacea for the nation's troubled public schools. Each initiative has promised significant improvements in student achievement through improving teacher understanding, teacher and administrator collaboration, or bringing teachers into the decision-making process. However, these aspects of public schooling which aggregately look to changing the institutional structure and culture of schools have not been examined in concert.

On a seemingly separate note, there has been increased awareness of growing disparities in differentiated curriculums and tracks in public schools, especially in mathematics. Schools have bifurcated their educating systems into two tiers one for the college bound and the other for all the rest. Advanced and "honors" courses have been traditionally been designated as those rigorous curriculums as compared with so-called "regular" and remedial classes. While the separation of students according to ability level in theory is not problematic, the fact that the student demographics of these advanced and honors classes are not reflective of the school's overall student demographics is. The implementation of tracking in such a way that appears to categorically, consciously or otherwise, deny or dissuade students to enroll in advanced or "honors" courses is not consistent with the notion of providing equal educational opportunities for all.

Vertical teaming has been one method through which traditional professional development practices have been combined with issues of equity and access of all students to higher level and more rigorous coursework. In this study, the vertical teams were comprised of mathematics teachers of all grade levels, who gathered to discuss issues of curriculum alignment, pedagogy, and school processes/procedures. In its first year of implementation, the effects of vertical teaming in four Texas school districts have been positive. Changes in teacher/administrator collaboration, pedagogy, and institutional practices were reported.

In attempting to improve public schools, as with all institutions that provide a service, the vertical teaming model seeks to alter the delivery side of the service that is, how students are being educated. What is missing from the equation, however, is the focus on those who consume the services, who, in this case, are the students. How to encourage students to demand a rigorous curriculum, in conjunction with the provision and access to these courses, is a necessary part of a reform effort that seeks to sustain an environment of equitable educational opportunities.