The transition to life beyond high school begins in a student’s middle school years, if not before. We found that generally the middle schools with the highest scores on state standardized tests had developed more extensive course offerings, which were differentiated by level of ability, than schools with lower overall levels of academic achievement. Early enrollment in the highest level courses led to increased opportunities for advanced-level courses in high school. In addition, most teachers, parents, and students said they believed that enrollment in honors and advanced-placement courses gave students better preparation for college entrance exams than did regular courses. However, college was never excludedRead More →

Children who attended the schools we visited lived in neighborhoods that differed significantly on several dimensions, such as condition of housing, level of income, frequency of mobility, construction of ‘‘family unit,’’ level of education of primary caretakers, and safety. In addition, differences in the level of involvement of parents and their expectations of the schools emerged from some of the interviews. This section describes the similarities and the differences among the parents we interviewed and the schools we visited. Home Environment and Parental Involvement in Schooling The mothers and fathers we interviewed represented some of the most involved and concerned parents in each of theRead More →

Middle schools and high schools usually offered courses with varying levels of difficulty for core academic subjects, such as math and science. Curriculum content in these courses reflected different achievement expectations and, as a result, also reflected the diversity of a school’s academic standards. Schools with the most highly stratified course offerings typically provided a very rigorous curriculum in their advanced-level courses. Most of the middle schools we visited offered at least two levels of math/algebra, and some offered more than one level of science and language arts classes. Other schools offered three or more levels. Central Middle School in Metro City offered four levelsRead More →

Initiatives which will help schools reach the national goals have also been developed at the local level. These programs are often generated by local school boards and administrators, specifically for their school or district. Innovative programs may serve as models for other schools and districts, but there is often no system for sharing information about these programs with other schools or districts, or both. Yet, local initiatives are a very common means of adopting standards and goals in U.S. schools because of the deeply rooted value of local autonomy within the education system. Attitudes Towards District- and School-Based Initiatives District- and school-based initiatives were citedRead More →

States have developed various different initiatives to help their schools meet the National Education Goals. Most states have formulated curriculum frameworks or guidelines that assist schools and school districts in providing students with common academic standards. Although the format and content of these guidelines vary, most states have developed separate guidelines by grade level for what are considered the four core academic subjects: English, math, science, and social studies (American Federation of Teachers [AFT] 1996). Other state-level reform initiatives have focused on teachers. Some state governments have passed legislation to change requirements for teacher education, believing that the improvement and advancement of teachers will beRead More →

Generally, parents were supportive of national standards for education, although some also voiced some wariness. One parent, in particular, said that national standards may ‘‘reduce it all to the lowest common denominator.’’ However, other parents suggested that standards could be used as a mechanism for accountability. Several parents spoke of the potential equalizing effect of national standards. One said, ‘‘they would bring the lower schools up and make sure that everyone is at the same place.’’ She mentioned the child of a friend who had moved. Her fourthgrade son was bored at his new school because he had already covered the curriculum at his previousRead More →

Teachers’ attitudes towards voluntary standards such as the NCTM standards were generally positive. Many teachers who were interviewed for this study said that they worked to incorporate NCTM standards into their curriculum or knew that the textbooks they were using incorporated NCTM standards. This was true of teachers at all levels—elementary, middle school, and high school. However, there were noticeable differences in teacher responses between schools of different achievement levels. In schools where the majority of the student population struggled to meet state-assessed achievement standards, the role of NCTM standards was often a subject for debate. In the case of Parks Elementary School, parents whoRead More →

When you get on an airplane, you want a pilot who has been held to the highest standards of flight training. When you need an operation, you want a surgeon who has been held to the highest standards of medical education. And when you root for American athletes in the Olympics, you know they won’t win the gold unless they have trained to meet the highest standards of international comparison. In many areas of our life, we expect—and demand—high standards. We know their great value. They help bring out the best in us. When we do not hold all students to high academic standards, theRead More →

National Standards This chapter explores the issue of standards for students’ academic performance in the United States. Recent national-level initiatives are reviewed, and perceptions and attitudes of teacher and parents are described. Similarly, state and local initiatives are profiled. The chapter also describes curriculum development and implementation, assessment issues, and the factors that influence academic achievement, including the learning environment and parental expectations and involvement. Implications of academic standards for the transition after high school are also discussed. Individual Differences The second chapter focuses on individual differences in academic achievement, how they are perceived within the United States, and how the schools address them. PracticesRead More →

East Elementary School is an old two-story brick building, surrounded by large oak trees, and nestled into a suburban community of East City. One of the magnet schools in the district, East Elementary School provided a full-day program that included after-school care for students. According to the results of statewide tests, students at East Elementary scored at about the state average in math and science. The student population was ethnically mixed: 53 percent were white, and 42 percent were African-American. The percentage of students eligible for a free lunch was 25 percent. East Middle School is an immense, modern school built within the last 5Read More →

West Elementary School is at the center of a low-income neighborhood, a community of small bungalows with gardens. The school is made up of long single-story, pink buildings with classrooms opening up to breezeways. The school playground is paved and the central play yard is brightly painted. Classrooms appear well stocked and personalized with colorful educational material and artwork. Students score below average on achievement tests administered statewide. The student population was about 75 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 3 percent AfricanAmerican, and 1 percent white. Students with limited English proficiency made up 62 percent of the student body, and nearly 90 percent were fromRead More →

Hamilton Township High School is located in a community adjacent to Metro City. The campus covers 60 acres, the size of a small college. Built for a population twice the current size, the school includes huge athletic fields, six gymnasiums, extensive computer rooms with the newest equipment, a vast library, an auto body shop, a printing room for the school newspaper, woodworking shops, fully equipped chemistry laboratories, and a day care center. Students at Hamilton scored above average on math and science tests. The student body reflected the composite racial distribution of the neighborhoods it served, with almost identical proportions of whites and African-Americans, aboutRead More →

Vanderbilt Middle School is located in the affluent community of Rolling Hills near Metro City. Expansive lawns and large homes dominate the area around the school. The school is exceptionally well maintained and has recently been professionally landscaped. The average home in the area costs approximately half a million dollars, providing property values that create a rich tax base for the school. Per-pupil expenditures in the district are nearly double the state average and teacher salaries are also relatively high. Students at Vanderbilt Middle School scored well above average in math and science. More than 95 percent of the students at Vanderbilt were white. TheRead More →

Rockefeller Elementary School is located in Lakeside, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Metro City. Surrounding the school are large homes with spacious, well-manicured lawns. Per capita income in Lakeside is more than double the national average. The school was well maintained and well equipped with an impressive library, creative and imaginative play spaces, and computers with educational software and video games for student use. Spending per student was much higher than the state average, as are teacher salaries. On statewide tests, students at Rockefeller scored well above average in math and science. The school population was 93 percent white, 6 percent Asian, andRead More →

The United States public schools are divided into elementary and secondary education, with a number of variations in how this division is configured, typically decided at the local level. One of three common patterns prevails in most communities: Elementary school (K–5), middle school (6–8), high school (9–12); Elementary school (K–6), junior high school (7–9), high school (9–12); and Elementary school (K–8), high school (9–12). There are many other subtle variations on these patterns throughout the country, and decisions about the structure may have a strong pedagogical rationale or may be the consequence of differences in funding, demographics, and physical resources. The current trend is towardRead More →