Whole Schooling: Implementing Progressive School Reform
Rich Gibson and Michael Peterson
Framing a Progressive School Reform Effort
In 1997, colleagues from Michigan and Wisconsin collaboratively developed a framework for improving schools that draws from and builds on the experiences of progressive school reform organizations nationally, particularly Accelerated Schools, Comer's School Development Program, Howard Gardner's Project Zero, and Sizer's Coalition for Essential Schools. Like the developers of these programs we were concerned with several continuing facts of schooling: (1) Lack of connections with families and communities; (2) Ongoing instructional strategies based on disjointed, purposeless, boring instruction that is disconnected from the real lives and family and community experience of students; (3) The need for democratic processes of decision-making in schools that empower students, families, teachers, and other school staff. However, we have also been concerned about the lack of explicit attention to two major additional dimensions of schooling: (4) The ongoing segregation of students with different learning styles and abilities into special programs for students with disabilities, at risk, gifted, limited English speaking; (5) The lack of attention to the social and political context of schooling--the increasing inequality in schools and communities, pressures for standardized testing that separate students, families, and whole communitiesñand educational workers--by race, socio-economic status, and ability.
On the whole, we agreed that these factors comprise what we called an honest education:
· A teacher/student/community search for what is true, gaining and testing ideas in a reasonably free atmosphere where passion and joy are privileged;
· Exploratory curricula linked to the world and a specific community (let's map a Detroit playground, now let's map a playground in Grosse Pointe-and then a playground in Grenada);
· Critical and anti-racist curricula--as in analyzing the history and practice of racism;
· Pedagogy and content rooted in democracy (how come Detroiters votes count so little when it comes to casinos or their school board-or at work or school?);
· Meaningful and creative pedagogy fashions a meeting of the teachers and the students where they are at (let's design our plan for the year together; understanding that we all start at different places, but that we want to head in the same direction),
· Inclusive and hence rational schools (crossing boundaries of race, sex, and abilityñnot only in the studies but in who is present in the classroom).
Colleagues in Michigan agreed that standardized testing is designed to crush the main message of any honest or worthy education: we can comprehend and transform our world. However, the role of standardization in the curriculum was the focus of many strained discussions between Michigan colleagues and project leaders from other states who see standardization as a potential method to encourage good teaching practices. .
Towards the end of dealing with these critical, but lacking, factors in effective schooling, we developed in 1997 the Whole Schooling model for school reform that is based on Five Principles. These are summarized below.
Empower citizens in a democracy: The goal of education is to help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy.
Include all: All children learn together across culture, ethnicity, language, ability, gender and age.
Authentic teaching and adapting for diverse learners: Teachers design instruction for diverse learners that engages them in active learning in meaningful, real-world activities; develop accommodations and adaptations for learners with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.
Build community and support learning: The school uses specialized school and community resources (special education, title I, gifted education) to build support for students, parents, and teachers. All work together to build community and mutual support within the classroom and school; provide proactive supports for students with behavioral challenges.
Partner with families and the community: Educators build genuine collaboration within the school and with families and the community; engage the school in strengthening the community; and provide guidance to engage students, parents, teachers, and others in decision-making and direction of learning and school activities.
Taken separately, nothing distinguishes these principles from the infinite number of reform projects that have blown through the schools in the last century. Taken as a whole, however, especially considering the political and social implications of teaching for democracy, equality, and inclusion, there has been nothing of the sort in school reform that we are aware of.
Within a few months of our development of this approach to school reform, a cluster of schools in both Detroit, Michigan and rural Wisconsin adopted these principles as their guidelines for their school improvement and reform efforts. This occurred through similar dynamics in each state. In Wisconsin, Al Arnold, then principal of Gilman Elementary School, a participant in the Wisconsin Inclusion Project, embraced these principles as reflective of the type of school he and staff had been building for several years. He presented the framework to staff who agreed to become founding members of the Whole Schooling Consortium. Arnold then proceeded to contact progressive principals in schools throughout Wisconsin. Within a few months, a cluster of six schools was meeting to network and support one another in working towards whole schooling. The cluster applied for state funding and one school received funding based on the Whole Schooling model.
In Michigan, Yvonne Mayfield, principal of Bellevue Elementary School, similarly welcomed the Whole Schooling approach building on her commitment to develop the first model of elementary inclusive education in Detroit. She shared the Whole Schooling framework with her staff who overwhelmingly adopted the approach. As Detroit Public Schools began a system-wide school reform effort funded through the Annenberg Foundation and other funding sources, Mayfield began approaching other principals in Detroit to become part of the Whole Schooling Consortium within the city. Two other schools, Hutchinson and Howe Elementary Schools, joined the effort. After two years worth of planning, this cluster of schools was funded to implement Whole Schooling in concert with participation in the Accelerated Schools national network.
In this same period, Rich Gibson in Michigan and E. Wayne Ross in New York state founded the Rouge Forum, primarily in response to their experiences with the exclusionary policies of their professional organization, the College and University Faculty Association of the National Council of the Social Studies. The Rouge Forum came to become known as the political arm of the Whole Schooling Consortium (WSC), describing itself on its web site like this:
The Rouge Forum is a group of educators, students, and parents seeking a democratic society. We are concerned about questions like these: How can we teach against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic society? How can we gain enough real power to keep our ideals and still teach--or learn? Whose interests shall school serve in a society that is ever more unequal? We are both research and action oriented. We want to learn about equality, democracy and social justice as we simultaneously struggle to bring into practice our present understanding of what these are. We seek to build a caring inclusive community that understands that an injury to one is an injury to all. At the same time, our caring community is going to need to deal decisively with an opposition that issometimes ruthless.
We hope to demonstrate that the power necessary to win greater democracy will likely rise out of an organization that unites people in new ways--across union boundaries, across community lines, across the fences of race and sex/gender. We believe that good humor and friendships are a vital part of building this kind of organization, as important as theoretical clarity. Friendships allow us to understand that action always reveals errors--the key way we learn.
The Rouge Forum, loosely organized, quickly moved to lead boycotts of high-stakes standardized tests throughout the country, using informal discussion groups and the internet to build a person-to-person organizing strategy. In Michigan less than one-third of the high school juniors eligible to take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (the MEAP) exam were present to take the test in 1997-1999. While the Rouge Forum influenced the WSC in many ways, opposition to standardized curricula and testing was never a litmus test to work with WSC, nor was any form of political agreement, other than general consensus with the five principles noted above.
Concurrent with these efforts has been a research program that explores the hypotheses underlying the Whole Schooling framework for school reform. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, funded the Whole Schooling Research Project, a qualitative study of 14 schools in Michigan and Wisconsin designed to explore the implementation of inclusive education in concert with practices associated with the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. This study is a collaborative effort between special and general education faculty from Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit, Michigan, Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP). In this paper, we describe this research and analysis of initial results of our data collection.
"Washing the Air On Both Sides of the Screen Door"
Our working hypothesis is that the factors which we are exploring--inclusive education, authentic and constructivist teaching, support for teachers and students, teaching for equality and democracy, and school restructuring are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. To the degree that one set of practices is in place is the degree to which quality in other practices occurs. Authentic (interactive, exploratory, meaning-centered) learning promotes and supports effective inclusive education. We expect to find more implementation of inclusive education in such schools, higher satisfaction rates on the part of teachers, parents, and students, and higher levels of achievement on the part of all students. Conversely, quality implementation of inclusive education supports effective authentic learning practices. Where the highest quality of inclusive education is being implemented we expect to find high quality and diverse uses of authentic instructional practices. When inclusive education for students with disabilities, authentic curriculum, and other diverse teaching practices are implemented together, outcomes for students in the areas listed above and those more narrow skills being assessed by typical state examinations will be higher. Where authentic learning promotes and supports effective inclusive education, e.g., living histories with kids, project-based instruction in science and social studies, whole language using meaningful curriculum, inclusion is more effective. When the five principles are implemented as an integrated whole, with democracy and equality as a purpose or target, we believe reform can sweep into the community as well, washing both sides of the screen door that Jean Anyon (1997) mentions in her brilliant comment, 'school reform without economic and social reform in the surrounding community is like washing the air one side of a screen door. It simply does not work.î
We expect to build on our initial research to find that support for teachers and such effective instructional practices play an interactive role. However, support for teachers cannot overcompensate for poor teaching practices. We further anticipate to find that when schools commit to school reform where inclusive education is a center component but where the focus is on improving education for all children that teachers and the community embrace the effort and that ultimately the measured and perceived achievement of children and satisfaction with the school increases substantially. We do expect to find areas of substantial conflict regarding these principles and struggle regarding how they become part of the practice of the school. We expect to find that the capacity of schools to struggle through these issues and to obtain support and assistance themselves will determine their effectiveness in improving education for all children and their continued commitment to inclusive education. Where authentic learning promotes and supports effective inclusive education, e.g., living histories with kids, project-based instruction in science and social studies, whole language using meaningful curriculum, inclusion is more effective.
The Whole Schooling Research Project
To explore these hypotheses, we identified seven schools in both Michigan and Wisconsin that are engaging in inclusive education in the context of exemplary practices associated with the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. The project has fallen into two major stages: (1) selection of schools for intensive study through a statewide mailing, interviews, and site visits; and (2) intensive qualitative study of seven schools in each state through observations in classrooms, interviews with teachers, students, and parents, focus groups, and related data gathering methods. We will describe our approaches in each of these steps below.
Our goal has been to examine our 14 schools in terms of their implementation of inclusive education in the context of the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. We have begun to gather data using the following methods:
1. archival data such as school test results and census information;
2. interviews with teachers, children, parents, and other school staff;
3. in-depth observations in classrooms in each school;
4. video and/or audio taping of classroom observations, interviews, and focus groups; and
5. focus groups of parents and school staff.
Our two teams are taking somewhat different philosophical approaches to our involvement in the schools. The Wisconsin team sees itself as observing and recording exemplary practices and using these to document effective practices to share with other schools. The Michigan team has tended to see their involvement in schools in terms of participatory action research in which they are engaged in gathering information and interacting with school staff to facilitate school change. The goal in this approach is to better understand the dynamic of the school by gently probing beneath the surface and engaging staff and parents in their own efforts to promote school improvement.
Identifying Study Schools
We sent a letter with attachments to all building principals, superintendents, and special education directors of public schools in Michigan and to all building principals and superintendents in Wisconsin. In these letters, we invited nominations of schools for participation in the Whole Schooling Research Project based on their exemplary implementation of the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. Attachments included: a nomination form which they were requested to return, a description of the Five Principles of Whole Schooling, and an Information Sheet regarding the project. In both Wisconsin and Michigan we received 35 nominations from schools.
We developed two tools to assist us in identifying exemplary schools. A nomination form is a simple form by which schools might nominate themselves as being exemplary schools based on the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. Additionally, we developed a Self-assessment Tool by which schools might assess their degree of implementation of specific Whole Schooling practices. Upon receipt of a school's nomination, participants were sent another letter requesting them to complete the Self-assessment Tool. They were given options regarding how this might be done--by an individual principal, by a team working together, or by multiple staff. Wisconsin staff divided their schools up and individual staff members made calls and then site visits. In Michigan, we have conducted telephone interviews as a research team.
The Michigan team conducted site visits by two researchers on most site visits; in about 10 schools we had three researchers involved. Wisconsin staff completed site visits by the first week of March. Individual staff conducted site visits in most cases. In site visits we spent approximately one half day and engaged in the following activities: interview with the principal; observations in classrooms in which inclusion was occurring; informal discussions with teachers; interviews and discussions with special education staff. In each team, we documented our observations in site visit reports that described what we saw and heard. The Michigan staff met with the Advisory Committee to review site information and to obtain specific input regarding selection of schools. Wisconsin staff selected the schools for study.
Our procedures were similar in each state. The Michigan team carefully considered schools based on the following criteria: degree of implementation of inclusion and the other principles and practices of whole schooling; the racial, socio-economic, and other demographic characteristics of the schools and communities in which they reside; the dynamics of the school district related to movement towards inclusion; and the degree of comfort , connection, and acceptance we felt from staff. In Wisconsin, staff each rated each school based on their implementation of the five principles of Whole Schooling from which they developed a ranking of schools. Staff then compared their relative rankings and made decisions.
In both states, we decided to increase the number of schools studies intensively from six to seven. In both situations, we felt that we have much to gain from these additional schools. In Michigan, the team also selected some schools for site visits twice per year to "follow-along" changes in their inclusion and schooling practices. The Wisconsin staff began observations and data collection in April, which allowed more than a month of data collection prior to the summer break. In Michigan, we met with the principals and staff to discuss logistics and conducted some informal observations. Data collection in these schools was begin in earnest in August of 1999.
A Profile Analysis of the Study Schools:
Proactive and Positive Practices
The schools selected in our study range across elementary and secondary schools, urban, rural, and suburban, and high to low SES. In Michigan, we selected schools who are implementing inclusive education at different levels but who are committed to move in this direction and have good support for whole schooling practices.
We see practices that deepen the clarity of the hypothesized interdependence of practices associated with the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. To the degree that they are implemented well, an environment for effective inclusive education is created. To the degree that they are not, the greater the likelihood that inclusive education will not be implemented or not implemented well. We've seen efforts to implement practices associated with each of the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. Below is a brief description of some of these practices.
Empower Citizens In A Democracy
In each of our study schools, we have seen significant and important efforts to develop democratic decision-making among staff and engagement of students and parents as well. In one school, the principal gathered the staff to meet with us at the end of the day. Twelve teachers came and we engaged in a substantial dialogue with one another. The teachers talked about the feeling of ìfamilyî and support they have with one another in the building. The principal clearly worked hard at promoting a spirit of innovation and democracy. In another school, the principal has worked hard to build a support team in the school, has engaged staff in evaluating and discussing numerous issues in the school, and has provided an environment in which teachers have latitude to experiment with different teaching strategies. Several schools in which administrators were working hard to both provide leadership in a progressive direction and yet honor the ideas, dialogue, and decision-making of teachers and other staff. We saw students making choices about curriculum in the classroom including first graders deciding the schedule and order of activities for the day.
Authentic Teaching And Adapting For Diverse Learners
We've seen numerous examples of exemplary authentic instruction that has provided space, room, and encourage inclusive education of students with differing abilities. These include:
· A classroom in which all students are in an "advanced group" that were self-assigned and developed and ranged from the math group to the friends group to the "acting up" advanced group;
· Cooperative learning;
· Integration of academics, arts, drama;
· Multi-level teaching in multi-age classes and other classes;
· Thematic learning;
· Whole language and phonics based approaches in a real tension;
· Interdisciplinary teaching;
· Arts in academics--lessons are presented in art as well as in the classroom;
· Lots of tricks to respond to diverse learning styles; different colored chalk for each assignment to Friday enrichment groups: based on Howard Gardner's ìmultiple intelligencesî framework; efforts to match students" interests and learning styles.
Three examples taken from our notes include:
1. The teacher called all the children to the front of the room to discuss a field trip they had just taken to a recycling center. The teacher pointed to the county, in which they lived, on a Wisconsin map to show the area the recycling center served. The teacher discussed the importance of recycling to the environment. The students talked about some of the products that are made from recycled materials like building supplies and clothing. Lastly, one of the students described how the environment is like the water cycle where everything that is dumped in the environment stays in the environment.
2. While the students were taking a states and capitols quiz, a student from another class was interviewing the teacher about his role as an athletic coach. The student was writing her own magazine for English class and her topic was fitness. The student explained to me that the magazine had to include an editorial, a news article, an interview and advertisements. Once the student's work was proofread by the teacher and revised based on the teacher's feedback, the finished product will look very much like a real magazine.
3. When I came into the class, students were working on "city projects." All of the students had written to the Chamber of Commerce of a city in Wisconsin and had received printed materials. The students used a computer program called "Map Quest" to get door to door directions from their school to their city. The students also used computers to word process descriptions for their cities and to access the Internet to get additional information about their cities. The teacher said the students would design booklets from the information they gathered to try to convince their classmates to visit their city.
We've also seen reasonable efforts to implement practices that support inclusion of students with differing abilities in the general education classroom. These include:
· Student-led conferences with students with and without disabilities.
· Connections of the school with local conservation efforts as part of the school study.
· A classroom in which all students are in an "advanced group" that were self-assigned and developed and ranged from the math group to the friends group to the "acting up" advanced group.
· Most of the schools that we visited we doing good work on including students with mild disabilities in general education classes with various models of collaboration and support between general and special education. The greatest difference among schools we saw was their approach to students with moderate to severe disabilities.
· Two schools were implementing well-developed multi-age instruction. In both cases, these efforts were reported to make inclusion of students with disabilities easier and more effective.
· In three schools, board level policies were developed that support inclusive education in concert with other schooling practices. In many other schools, administrators in both general and special education provided leadership towards inclusive education.
Some examples from our observation notes include the following:
One of the teachers in the classroom read the book ìJack's Garden,î which was a repeating pattern book about gardening. After the story was over, both teachers passed out paper and markers and told students they should make their own gardens. Susan, a student with autism, stood up and one of the teachers said, "Are you ready, Susan?" Susan walked over to get a piece of paper and then sat down at a table. The other teacher said, 'Susan has been using a lot of different colors." All of the children began working on their garden pictures. Susan hummed while she worked and used a wide variety of colors on her paper. At one point, Susan moved over to a carpeted area, where other children were working and continued to work on her picture. Susan worked on her picture for the full time allotted until class was dismissed for lunch.
When I came into the room, students were working in groups on an environmental dilemma. A road had been built through a deer grazing area and students had to figure out how they could get deer from one area to the other. The students were to write their solution to the dilemma in paragraph form. There was one student in the class with physical disabilities who was in a wheelchair. During this lesson, the student with disabilities was sharing his ideas for the dilemma while the aide was writing the student's answers on paper.
During the elementary reading block, all special education staff join in to teach reading groups. There is a 1 to 12 teacher-student ratio during this time. Reading groups are fluid and flexible and dependent upon the instructional needs and strengths of the primary-age students. There is a high degree of engagement and time on task.
The Student Tutoring Extension Program (STEP) allows for the students to stay as close to the general education classroom curriculum as possible. Any child can receive help from STEP (with or without identified disabilities) and the children who receive help change from week to week depending upon the curriculum and the needs of the child. Children receive help from STEP during the time that the class is studying the subject with which the child needs additional help. (I.e., students receive additional help and support in reading the class' reading time, help in math during math time, help in science during science time, etc.) The STEP staff consists of the reading specialist, a multi-categorical special educator, a teaching assistant and the speech therapist. The STEP staff commented, ìWe were concerned that kids were learning to become good remedial students, but were not learning how to be good students. The STEP structure gives all of the students the opportunity and support to become good students across the content areas.î
Build Community And Support Learning
Schools we have observed have worked hard to develop a sense of community and use special education and other staff in interaction with general education teachers to provide support for student learning.
· In one school in a low income area, staff talked about the school as, ìmy Family,î not wanting to leave for better opportunities and pay.
· Building a sense of care in classrooms ñ multi-age classrooms.
· Building supports for teachers and students for teaching, inclusion, learning. Various models and approaches.
· Co-teaching: In some schools selected classes with full-time co-teachers and students clustered by need in rooms In other schools, co-teachers in rooms part-time and students with special needs distributed throughout all the classes.
· Some co-teachers focus on students with special needs in ìhelpingî roles; others collaborate more fully for teaching and partner with the general education classroom teacher as part of providing support. These teachers will trade roles. In one class the 'support teacher" designed the science lessons, which the general education teacher was less comfortable in teaching
· Building support team ñ Title I, special education, bilingual.
· Aides: Title I and special education. Some work with all students. Some assigned only to special education students.
· One school in Michigan, the poorest in the state based on per-capita student income, has an adult- student ratio of about one- to- six, relying on adult volunteers, many of them profoundly disabled.
Some examples from our observation notes include:
Due to creative scheduling, each grade level team has one hour of team planning everyday.
The secretary takes half of the class at a time and teaches them keyboarding. It is surprising to think that the secretary would be teaching keyboarding to these elementary students, but it makes sense. Who else is best qualified to teach and model keyboarding skills?
Third grade students were working the computer lab on their autobiographies. Students were working either with one other student or two other students sharing a computer. Some students were using computer graphics to add pictures to their stories. One pair of students was working together in which one student was dictating a sentence that the other student had written on a piece of paper and the other student inputted the information on the computer.
There are various team teaching arrangements -- teachers teaming during math/science, world history/English. Classrooms have dividers that can either be open and/or closed. Class periods can be combined or left as an individual class periods depending upon what the teachers decide to do for that lesson.
Partner With Parents And The Community
All schools we are studying have made significant efforts to connect with families and the community. However, most schools are concerned about this area and are striving to enhance their efforts. Some examples from our notes of proactive work include:
· School that was designed by the community, with the community engaged in obtaining materials and some construction to save much money that could be used for other purposes.
· Creation of a school ñ community liaison position to strengthen connections.
· Parents and community members in the schools ñ thematic lesson tracing community histories, parents running centers.
· A sense of belonging, ownership, and comfort in schools. Parents know it is theirs, they are welcome and supported. Not a sense of professionals separating themselves from parents.
· Access of community resources ñthe schools are remaining open and accessible to parents well beyond traditional school hours, and are offering services ranging from use of the gym to preliminary information about medical care services.
Some examples from our observation notes include:
The teacher told us about today's Earth day activities. ìThis afternoon, we will be picking up garbage at Memorial Park. There was an old house in the community that was a real eye sore. So the children went to the community and asked if they could buy the house. They asked us how much we wanted to pay for it, so we said, "How about $1?" The community sold it to us and the children called the fire department to have them burn down the house down for us. Once the house was burned down and land cleaned up, we made some flower beds on the lot. We call it Memorial Park. During the summer, families volunteer to each take a week to weed the flower beds and keep them watered.î
One Health Care Network collaborated with the school staff to open a clinic in the school that not only serves the students, but also the neighborhood citizens.
The reading teacher is implementing a program where elderly people in the community (who have a computer) read the same book as some of the students and then the kids engage in e-mail book discussions with their intergenerational partner.
The school has an active and formal partnership with the neighborhood group. Block captains in the neighborhood had deliver the school newsletter each month. The mission of the neighborhood group is to view the school children as an asset and the future of the neighborhood. Therefore, the neighborhood group wanted the school to open the gymnasium up after school each night so that the children would have something constructive to do. Neighborhood volunteers supervise the gymnasium. The purpose was for the neighborhood folks to develop a relationship with the teenagers so they would see the kids as their future. The teens were to develop a relationship with the adults in the neighborhood, so they would see the adults as people who volunteer their time to help the kids. Then it would be less likely that the teens would rob these neighbors.
The engagement with schools through the lens of the five principles of Whole Schooling has repeatedly demonstrated to each of the project staff the humility and openness that is necessary to learn from the day-to-day practice of school and educational reform. We find ourselves persistently reevaluating our knowledge, moving past appearances to a more profound grasp of what is going on in front of us. Our collective discussions and evaluation of our reports have shown each of us the value of collective wisdom. Even so, we have frequently been surprised, moved, and made anxious by events as they unfold. One clear finding, which each of us understood intellectually, but none of us had embodied, is the dramatic difference between poverty in Detroit and rural poverty, the former we see as being far more severe. Still, there are differences of vision within the project leadership, and hence differences of evaluation, which must be considered.
Ponderings, Tensions, And Anomalies
It seems that the Wisconsin schools have higher degrees of implementation of inclusive education with students having mild to severe disabilities than the schools selected in Michigan. We are not at this point able to interpret why this is the case. Several possibilities exist: (1) A culture in Wisconsin exists which encourages greater inclusive schooling practices along with other Whole Schooling practices. (2) The impact of and connection with Wisconsin schools and the Wisconsin Inclusion Project has resulted in selection of schools with more substantive inclusion and whole schooling practices. (3) The teams are looking at school differently.
The Michigan team has seen substantial tensions between the Five Principles and their impact on inclusive education of students with disabilities. What we have seen has led us to the following formative conclusion that no schools are implementing the Five Principles of Whole Schooling fully. Deficits in one principle can lead to a negative spiraling increasing deficits in others. The emphasis on standardized testing is strengthening a focus towards standardized curriculum and more rote teaching methods. The result of this in several schools is what appears to us to be a threat to inclusive education.
The Michigan team, however, is seeing interesting mixes of effective practices with others that we question. These include:
· Exemplary inclusion of a student with a mild disability concurrent with difficulties handling a student functioning at two grade levels below his grade assignment and tracking in math instruction and early elementary literacy instruction.
· Exemplary inclusion, co-teaching, and authentic instruction in parallel with pull-out direct instruction for reading.
· A commitment to inclusion and support of students with mild disabilities coupled with traditional lecture / worksheet teaching techniques.
· Secondary interdisciplinary teams and co-teaching support for students with mild disabilities parallel with a separate curriculum and class in the school and community for students with educable mental retardation.
· Students with moderate to severe disabilities often are not included. Many reasons: Separate programs in the district would require the school to challenge that system--literally proactively recruit students who would be in their schools to come to them.
· Sometimes practice was inclusive but language was different--we tried ìinclusion,î people said, but it did not work, filled with concerns regarding being pushed into a practice where they not feel supported or prepared. Many teachers believe that inclusion taken school-wide would require a near doubling of staff, rejecting the notion that community-building in the school and in the classroom can offer a partial answer to this problem.
As we noted above, there are multiple strains on the Whole Schooling Research Project and in the consortium as a whole. There are differences in outlook between the project leaders in Michigan and Wisconsin, perhaps best summed up as action research contrasted with more traditional reporting approaches. Nevertheless, the differences in research and reporting may well rise out of real differences in practices in the selected schools, and the Michigan and Wisconsin social environments.
Each member of the project brings a particular emphasis to one or another of the five principals noted in our opening paragraphs. For example, Michael Peterson's history is profoundly linked with the inclusion side of special education. Rich Gibson's adult life has focused on questions of social justice, the critique of capital and grassroots action, mostly in the teacher unions. Holly Feen, a key leader in Michigan, is an art-educator whose research interest is in art therapy. In visiting the schools for the evaluations which eventually led to the selection of the seven participating sites in Michigan, the three Wayne State University faculty members repeatedly noted how differently each of them saw the same school, and how the additional perspective filled out a remarkable gap in the other's knowledge.
Each of the university leaders of the Whole Schooling project is white, abled, multi-degreed. While all of the Michigan staff spent considerable parts of their adult lives residing in super-exploited urban areas, Detroit and the Bronx, it remains that we are outsiders, trying to interpenetrate a clearly stated and principled outlook with a concrete understanding of circumstances as they develop among unique schools and very singular people. None of us now lives in Detroit, although we do live in communities connected to other schools selected for the research project. This places us in remarkably similar circumstances to U.S. educators as a group, holding relatively privileged positions in de-industrialized America.
Moreover, school reform is infinitely complex, as we are ever discovering. There were many motives for schools volunteering to participate in the research project, some altruistic or educational, some not. In addition, many school leaders misconstrued the meaning of many of the principles. For example, in the interview process we encountered an honest principal who had applied to join the project on the basis of his commitment to democracy. In his school, as he described it, democracy was demonstrated by initiating a student police force and a banking system which distributed rewards to students who performed well on state standardized tests. In another school, and applicant principal told us his vision of democracy; a line he had drawn down the floor on each hallway, which kept the teeming majorities headed in the same direction.
More importantly, perhaps, was the enticing role of the potential of grant money, and the prestige of being part of a university-based research project. We quickly recognized that we were encountering very little inclusive work being done in schools in Michigan (which contrasts with our colleagues" reports from Wisconsin), and that school leaders often presented their inclusive practices in the best conceivable light, sometimes disingenuously. We walked through more than one Potemkin Village of inclusion, more than one false front of whole language practice or constructivist pedagogy. School leaders like this understood the principles quite well and sought to create the appearance that they had achieved themñwhen they had not. Many school leaders have had to become adept at struggling for resources, even learning that to adopt and repeat the language of potential funders agencies can be a good maneuver.
At the end of the day, participation in the project did pay off for some schools. Specifically, one of the project schools highlighted their connection with Whole Schooling and their research project in seeking votes on a hotly contested local bond issue. The small town press carried several articles about the Whole Schooling partnership, seeking to show the citizenry that their rural school system had won recognition from a Carnegie I university. Their effort prevailed, by nine votes, in their very small community. This meant that a principal could move his office out of a converted closet, that books could be purchased and the little library now part of a partitioned teachers" work-area in the elementary school could be expanded into a more cloistered area.
On the other hand, the payoff was sometimes dubious. The Detroit Whole Schooling Cluster, involving three elementary schools in a deep-poverty area on the eastside of the city, parlayed the recognition and training they received from the Whole Schooling leadership to reach into even deeper pockets. With pivotal help from the Whole Schooling staff, the cluster joined a competition among Detroit schools for an Annenberg grant. Their application prevailed over dozens of others. This means the schools" personnel will receive priceless training, new resources, and substantial funds over the period 2000- 2003.
The three elementary schools were selected for their potential and promise to meet the goals of whole schooling, not because of their present practice. Students who walk to these schools, and walk some must as the district cancelled most of the free bus passes, pass through corridors of poverty as harsh as many parts of the third world: charred skeletons of vacant and burned out homes, neglected playgrounds pocked with broken concrete and decayed macadam, eighty-year old coal burning furnaces spewing poisoned warmth through the overcrowded classrooms, failed wiring, flooded basements, and few books anywhere--in school and out. Remarkably, in the last few years these schools, and many other Detroit schools, have become focal points for university researchers and business collaborations. Nevertheless, social and economic conditions remain largely the same.
There is nothing in the Annenberg grants, which will address the utter economic collapse in the neighborhoods surrounding the research sites. To the contrary, the process for the Annenberg grant involved removing teachers, and especially principals, from their schools and neighborhoods, taking them to some of the most prestigious hotels near the city, and subjecting them to lengthy motivational speeches and tedious sessions on grant-getting. The principals and teachers welcomed the chance to get away. But the research project leaders notes reflect the unfortunate fact that there was never a discussion of authentic teaching practice, or any kind of teaching practice, in any one of these sessions. The impact of the Annenberg competition, to date, has been to create a sizeable cadre of grant competitors, focused on getting the next grantñnot school reform of any noticeable kind.
In addition, the Annenberg process required that participants who wanted to remain competitive (a key issue as Annenberg awarded only seven grants to Detroit clusters, out of a promised ten) would be required to adopt traditional school reform models codified in a book that Annenberg maintains. Hence, to remain in the competition, the Whole Schooling model had to be modified, in fact remarkably reshuffled, in order to come under the umbrella of an approved reform model. That the Whole Schooling participants had already reached consensus on the five principles, that they had spent considerable time and effort making plans in accord with the principles, meant little as the Annenberg money required a rethinking and reconfigurationñone which was quite thin among the staff.
The complexity of reform struck the project in individual and personal ways. Any change effort seeks indigenous leaders, people on-the-spot who are committed to the principles and who can influence others. Most organizers understand that these leaders are often winnowed over time, replaced by others who grow or whose commitment is even more profound. But at the beginning, any kind of reform needs people inside who support it and who will struggle for it.
The Whole Schooling staff, in one school outside Detroit, were especially impressed with a special education teacher they met during the initial visits to her school. While the principal and other staff reported varying levels of support for the project, as a veteran teacher she seemed to have a particular affinity for the principles and a good understanding of the culture of the schoolñand the respect of the school workers. The project leaders supported the selection of her school in part because of their hopes she could guide the way.
Her son was killed, shot during a game of Russian roulette by his closest friend, during the interim summer, while the grant application was still under consideration. While this courageous teacher remained at work, and gave fully to her students, she was unable to carry the additional burden of school change.
In Detroit, the project has worked in the context of the seizure of the Detroit Public Schools by a group that can only be described as representatives of wealth. The elected school board was abolished in 1999, by joint action of the Republican governor and the city's Democratic mayor. The old board was replaced by a seven person board, all but one of them non-city residents, people who have virtually nothing to do with education. For the most part, they are highly placed in the corporate world. Leading this board is a CEO whose powers are extensive, matching his hubris. The board, in the fall of 1999, provoked a nine-day illegal wildcat teacher's strike that was propelled by the demand, ìBooks, supplies, lower class size,î and united many parents, students, and education workers.
The massive strike, which included picket lines of up to 6,000 teachers, more than one-half of the work force, wiped out a repressive new state law which employers had used to frighten educators throughout the stateñnothing happened to the Detroit teachers. But the resulting teacher contract, negotiated by the Detroit Federation of Teachers without the knowledge of most of the teachers, contains draconian provisions that deepened already-remarkable levels of fear in the district. For example, the new contract allows the new CEO to disband schools and dismiss teachers and principals if school test scores are low. At the same time, the CEO worked through a bill in the state capital that abolished the principal's union (only in Detroit).
The turmoil in the district exacerbated research problems. Gibson (2000) interviewed more than seventy Detroit teachers, many of them for more than four hours. Only one of them was willing to speak on the record. In other instances involving three untenured school workers, Gibson chose to change their names in reporting their activities.
This fear then spilled into terror about test scores. Principals quickly saw that their schools faced arbitrary reconstitution, and they faced dismissal, based on the Michigan MEAP exam, which numerous researchers have shown only measures parental income and race. Rather that join in critiques of the exam, however, the principals recognized that separating children for the purpose of raising scores was a necessity, and they moved to do so. Fervor for inclusion faded after the Annenberg grant was approved and the school reconstitution threats were reiterated throughout the system. Test scores, a devotion to the appearances of schooling that overwhelms the essence of gaining and testing knowledge in a reasonably free atmosphere, became the focal issue in several project schools. Even so, many teachers continued to be good educators rather than good employees, quietly joined the ìpushbackî movement growing against standardized schooling, and taught their very singular children in their own unique ways.
The Whole Schooling Research Project now nears the close of its first formal year. For some project workers, it has been a time of close ethnographic research, slow progress in the schools, and growing personal relationships with the education workers in the partner schools. For others, it has been the beginning "reconnoiterî as they call it. The educators in the schools have come to know one another through conferences and workshops, have drawn on common experiences and shared innovations. The levels of mutual respect among the researchers and teachers, between teachers and many community people, have become profound. After three years of collective action, study, and sharing personal crises, the friendships that have grown may become the basis of school and personal change that we cannot predict--in the distant future.
While the project has begun to assist teachers in answering one of the key project questions, ìHow do I keep my ideals and still teach?î it remains largely unable to wash the other side of the screen door, to reach into the communities to establish movements for social democracy and economic justice.1
1 The leadership of the Whole Schooling Consortium and the Rouge Forum is engaged in a number of dissemination activities as part of the project. The Michigan Whole Schooling Forum and Whole Schooling Summer Institutes (see Schmidt, 1999) have involved hundreds of teachers, parents, community activists, students and researchers in deliberations on the concept of Whole Schooling. The Whole Schooling website includes information on both the research project and institutes: <http://www.coe.wayne.edu/CommunityBuilding/WSC.html>
The Rouge Forum has held a number of meetings and interactive conferences in Detroit, Michigan as well as in Albany, Binghamton, and Rochester, New York; Orlando, Florida and Calgary, Alberta. Rouge Forum conferences often link the problems of schooling with the structural problems inherent in the processes of capitalism. The Rouge Forum on-line newspaper includes the writing of educational workers, students, parents and community/union activists (http://pipeline.com/~rgibson/rouge_forum).
Members of both the WSC and Rouge Forum have made presentations at a variety of professional organizations including the American Educational Research Association, National Council for the Social Studies, The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH), the International Social Studies Conference, Michigan Council for the Social Studies, and the Socialist Scholars Conference. The united groups have also sponsored exhibitor booths at many of these conferences. Articles about the Whole Schooling Consortium and Rouge Forum have appeared in Theory and Research in Social Education,Wisconsin School Board Journal, Substance, and Z Magazine.
Anyon, J. (1997) Ghetto schooling: A political economy of urban educational reform. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gibson, R. (2000) The theory and practice of constructing hope: The Detroit teachers' strike of 1999. Cultural Logic, 2(2) [On-line serial available: http://eserver.org/clogic/2-2/gibson.html].
Schmidt, S. (1999, July).
Detroit educators organize for democratic schools. Substance,
24(11), pps. 1, 27-28.