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«Sponsoring Committee: Professor Colleen L. Larson, Chairperson Professor Joseph P. Rafter “WHO CARES ABOUT THESE KIDS?”: A CASE STUDY OF THE ...»

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Sponsoring Committee: Professor Colleen L. Larson, Chairperson

Professor Joseph P. Rafter




Elizabeth Dellamora

Program in Educational Leadership

Department of Administration, Leadership and Technology

Submitted in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development New York University Copyright © 2009 Elizabeth Dellamora


My thanks begin with the person who has been a part of this journey throughout the process- Joseph Rafter. Thank you, Joe, for being a constant reminder to me of the passion that one should carry into their work. Your efforts on behalf of those who cannot afford to or do not have the words or skills to speak for themselves is impressive and inspiring.

My thanks continue on with appreciation for my mother and father who have not seen me for far too many holidays in order that I could complete this project. Thank you for understanding and offering endless support.

Exceptional thanks for the wisdom of Scott Willett and Ross Galitsky who coached me through two Ironman races. Their advice to commit myself to “relentless forward progress” has reverberated in my head throughout the duration of this project. To the men and women of the triathlon community in NYC who supported me and, when appropriate, distracted me from my work- Adam Lake, Becks Atwell, Charlee Garden, Dennis Ball, Eric Paeper, Iwan Axt, Jen Cenedella, Jenny Hinshaw, Stacey Spain, Sarah Riley, and Peta Takai. Thank you.

My thanks end with my advisor- Colleen Larson. Thank you for supporting me through this process and helping me to see the world through others’ eyes instead of just my own. Nothing will ever be the same again.





Introduction 1 Purpose and Rationale 4 Responses to the Act 9


Politics of Universalism and a Politics of Difference 13 Exploring the Freedom to Ach

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Although there has been ongoing debate as to the cause and importance of the achievement gap between children of color and poverty and their more financially stable, white peers, the existence of this gap has long been recognized (U.S. Department of Education, 2005; U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Recent legislation, specifically the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), was introduced by the federal government with two major goals: to raise the achievement for all students and to eliminate the existing achievement gap (Center on Education Policy, 2003). According to the Act, these goals were to be accomplished through the establishment of “high academic standards”; the monitoring of student progress through “rigorous,” high stakes testing procedures; the use of “scientifically based research” to improve teaching and learning; the guarantee of a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom; and the provision of supplemental tutoring or school choice for students enrolled in schools designated as being “in need of improvement” (Center on Education Policy, 2004; Meir & Woods, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2002a; U.S. Department of Education, 2002b).

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schools have worked hard to comply with its mandates (Center on Education Policy, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006). To date, numerous studies have been conducted evaluating schools’ progress toward making adequate yearly progress (AYP) through the collection and disaggregation of standardized testing data by race, gender, income, and other criteria in order to determine the performance of subgroups within the greater student population. Studies measuring the effectiveness of the Act have also been conducted through large scale surveys and case studies conducted by organizations such as the Center on Education Policy (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), seeking to understand the impact of the new federal policy. In reviewing the current literature, though, it becomes clear that few studies have been completed that are qualitative in nature, focusing on how the assumptions underpinning this effort to increase educational opportunity and achievement are touching the lives of those most impacted by the legislation- the teachers and students. NCLB was constructed by individuals far removed from the classrooms where it is being implemented and it was important that this study be conducted in order to better understand how the policy is impacting those it was intended to serve in ways that cannot be measured through standardized test scores.

In this chapter, I provide a brief overview of current education policy providing a context for the case study that follows. Next, I provide a purpose and rationale for why this case study is an important addition to the current body of

–  –  –

opportunity for students in urban classrooms. The chapter ends with an overview of the range of responses that states, schools and districts have had to the act.

The largely quantitative focus of research on the impact of NCLB fails to capture administrators’ and teachers’ day-to-day experiences in making sense of and responding to this policy. This study’s qualitative, constructivist approach to understanding the impact of NCLB on the teaching and learning of poor students of color will be inclusive of subjective methods including observation, interviews, and the analysis of texts and documents. According to Silverman, “ ‘Authenticity’ rather than reliability is often the issue in qualitative research. The aim is usually to gather an authentic understanding of people’s lived experiences and openended questions are the most effective route towards this end” (2001, p. 13). The more common and widely circulated quantitative studies exploring the impact of NCLB are grounded in postpositivist claims for developing knowledge and rely on objective data. A qualitative approach to this study will honor the complexity of views held by teachers and students that simply cannot be captured via quantitative methods. How is the federal involvement in education policy impacting local efforts? How is this policy playing out in the actual day-to-day experiences of poor students of color and the educators who are working to enhance students’ educational opportunities and achievement?

–  –  –

The purpose of this study is to understand how federal policies designed to support low achieving students are influencing educational opportunity and achievement in an urban school serving poor students of color.

The black-white achievement gap is well documented in the history of public schools in the United States (Barton, 2003; Meier & Wood, 2004; U.S.

Department of Education, 2005; U. S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Collective NAEP data on national trends in reading, mathematics, and science between 1971 and 1999, representing American students as an aggregate, generally demonstrate a slight decline in the 1970s, a small recovery in the 1980s, and relatively stable performance since that time. Overall, with the exception of the science category for seventeen year olds, student performance on NAEP assessments for nine, thirteen, and seventeen year olds has improved in mathematics, reading, and science (Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000). These trends are somewhat promising, but one must consider the fact that these scores represent the entire student population and do not reflect performance of different minority subgroups within the aggregate. NCLB aims to increase the achievement of all students and to simultaneously close the achievement gap (Center on Education Policy, 2003).

Current test data reveal an enduring achievement gap between White students and students of color. A gap also exists between the achievement of poor children, defined as those who are eligible for free/reduced-price lunch, and their

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the mathematics achievement of Black students compared to White Students.

Even in this case, however, a significant difference in average scale scores continues to exist as evidenced by 2003 test results where the average scale score of White students was 243.4 compared to the average score of 216.1 for Black

students (U.S. Department of Education, 2005; U. S. Department of Education:

National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Even though recent data show that performance in some subgroups is improving, a significant achievement gap exists and, simply put, according to results of standardized tests across racial and social class subgroups, poor children of color are still not faring as well as their more privileged peers in America’s public schools.

NCLB, the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, was designed and implemented to increase achievement for all students and, specifically, to close the achievement gap.

According to Title I of NCLB, the purpose of the Act is to “ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments” (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b, 115 STAT. 1439). Specifically, the Act aims to accomplish this purpose, in part, by “meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our nation’s highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or

–  –  –

“closing the achievement gap between high- and low- performing children, especially the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers” (U.S.

Department of Education, 2002b, 115 STAT. 1440).

NCLB aims to close the achievement gap that exists along racial and social class boundaries (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b, 115 STAT. 1440).

This aim is targeted toward all schools with varied racial and social class populations and has serious ramifications for urban schools such as those found in diverse cities, for example, the New York City public schools wherein the vast majority of the student population is both poor and of color (“New York City,” 2004).

Since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), nearly $200 billion has been invested in our public schools in an effort to support our nation’s most disadvantaged students, yet the achievement gap continues to exist (U.S. Department of Education, 2005; U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2003). Previous to the NCLB Act, funding was distributed to local districts, and schools and districts were allowed to spend their money mainly as they saw fit. Supporters of the new legislation argue that there is a need for greater accountability in how funding is used along with a call for greater accountability for student learning. In response to these calls for greater accountability, President George W. Bush proposed

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testing, and an “escape hatch” for disadvantaged children stuck in schools in need of improvement (Stern, 2004).

Through the mandates of NCLB, schools, states and districts are held accountable for the educational progress of all children. Each has interpreted and responded to NCLB in various ways in its efforts to help all students achieve. In turn, each of these efforts to “leave no child behind” has influenced students’ achievement and their relative freedoms to achieve in different ways.

Schools are required to serve every child through rigorous standards, standardized testing, and reporting procedures. According to the Act, student learning, and therefore, overall school success can be gauged through the testing process and subsequent disaggregation of scores. This new testing regime requires a breakdown of performance into specific, targeted subgroups. Given this disaggregation of scores, Meier and Wood assert that schools will no longer be able to “disguise the failures [of students of poverty and color] the federal funds were meant to target“(Meier & Wood, 2004, p. ix). Under the legislation, all schools are charged to meet a designated AYP goal by a certain deadline, with the ultimate goal being 100% proficiency for all students by the year 2014. Each state has been given the privilege of setting its own progress targets that will result in this 100% proficiency rating across all subgroups by 2014. The student

categories that are included in disaggregated comparisons and breakdowns are:

“total school population, special education students, Limited English proficiency

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Hispanics, other ethnicities, and economically disadvantaged students” (Karp, 2004, p. 54).

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