This book addresses the topic of educational reform in the United States, concentrating on the intersection of reform initiatives and issues of social difference and discrimination. It involves four interrelated phases. The first involves a historical survey of educational reform. The second is a textual analysis of two contemporary reform measures (namely magnet schools and professional development schools). The third is a discussion of critical multiculturalism as a viable tool for critiquing both magnet school and professional development school initiatives. The fourth phase is ethnography of a local school that operates simultaneously as a magnet school and a professional development school. Social difference and discrimination in general and more specifically social class and class discrimination and race and racism in particular form the common thread that runs through all phases of the study.
A survey of historical educational reform initiatives designed to improve the quality of education and address social problems is presented. Some of the events leading to the creation of the common school and their goals are described in order to earmark the educational reform efforts that led to the formation of the present public schools in the United States of America. Race and social class issues have been perennial concerns of reformists and the historical survey highlights reform initiatives as efforts at social engineering designed to alleviate problems related to difference and discrimination. Busing, the 1960s initiative involving transporting children from predominantly white neighborhoods to predominantly black neighborhoods and vice versa was the earliest attempt at racial integration of schools and the provision of quality education to all American children. However, white resistance to busing and resulting racial tensions led to the eventual abandonment of this initiative and the emergence of more readily accepted contemporary measures such as “magnet” school programs.
Magnet programs are a strategy for both school improvement and desegregation and they have a distinctive program of study that is intended to attract a voluntary cross section of students from various racial groups. The second phase of the study provides a textual analysis of contemporary educational reforms such as magnet school programs as well as professional development school programs (PDSs) that focus on educational improvement through teacher training, research and collaboration between local public schools and universities. A textual analysis of the literature on the evolution, purposes and pros and cons of magnet and PDS programs is presented as well as a discussion of how they might be improved.
This leads to the third phase of the study—the use of critical multiculturalism to re-examine the pros and cons of magnet and PDS programs. Critical multiculturalism with its unique approach to issues of social difference (gender, class, social class and predominantly, race issues) makes it an ideal analytical tool for re-examining the pros and cons of magnet and PDS programs. Clearly these two contemporary initiatives engender educational improvements. However, by utilizing the lens of critical multiculturalism, problems related to social difference and discrimination that remain understated or invisible in these programs’ literature, also become apparent. To explore the operation of these two programs in a real life situation, I undertook an ethnographic research of Downtown Elementary School (DES- a pseudonym) that simultaneously operates a PDS and a magnet school program. I spent approximately two years at DES collecting data through participant observation, interviewing and documentary information. The findings indicate that there are some advantages and disadvantages of these programs individually and the simultaneous operation of both at the same school. DES and its unique situation, highlights the pros and cons of educational reforms such as magnet schools and PDSs programs. That they are capable of leading to innovative and improved attempts at dealing with school, community and teacher, research, and teacher-training issues is further underscored. For example, the DES experience illustrates that among others, these two reform initiatives (especially in the case of the PDSs) do contribute to the collaborative efforts of different groups of people that lead to the formation of pedagogical communities, the professional development of teachers and pre-service education as well as the advancement of research on school improvement. Additionally, when people from diverse backgrounds have to interact in educational reform initiatives such as the magnet program, there may be a conflict of interest that requires adjustments that may thwart the ideal aims of the program.
The conclusion is a contextual analysis of PDS and magnet programs as contemporary educational reform initiatives in a long history of educational reform. A critical multicultural analysis reveals that PDS and magnet school initiatives do, ironically, contribute to problems of discrimination. However, the pros outweigh the cons: they contribute to racial integration of education and do ameliorate inequity in education as a whole and they are a highly effective means of faculty development and the general improvement of educational standards. In this sense, they represent considerable advancements toward the general and historical goals of educational reform in the United States.