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Monograph Series Volume II, Number 1

Executive Summary

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Focus Area One: Coordinating Services Between Schools and Agencies
Focus Area Two: Increasing Family Involvement in the Child's Development
Focus Area Three: Providing for the Health Needs of Children in the School Setting
Focus Area Four: Providing Continuity of Service for Highly Mobile Children and Families
Focus Area Five: Improving the School Performance of All Children
Focus Area Six: Creating Partnerships with the Private Sector to Support Children

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Executive Summary
Dave Else

John Dewey said, "The purpose of education is to allow each individual to come into full possession of his or her personal power."

A rapidly growing number of youth in Iowa and across the nation have little hope of capturing their personal power for a variety of reasons. They are students at risk. At risk of ridicule by peers; at risk of failure in school; at risk of being unable to bond with society; at risk of social deprivation; and at risk of never realizing their sense of personal value, worth, and dignity.

For whatever reasons, Americans have not responded effectively to the needs of these children. In fact, the way we treat our young generally raises many questions about why our nation tolerates risks to children. Despite our new national goal that all children should start school ready to learn, the United States is the 17th best country in which to be born and the 14th best country in which to be educated," according to a study completed by the American Association of School Administrators' Director of Legislation (Penning, 1991, p. 28). A child is at greater risk of losing his or her life at birth in the United States than in Singapore, Hong Kong, France, Canada, Germany, or Japan. Additionally, the United States allows such economic competitors as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan to devote a greater share of their national wealth--public and private--to elementary and secondary education than we do as a nation. Over the past 10 years, our national priorities have been clear: interest on the public debt has increased 224% beyond inflation, Social Security spending increased 196%, defense spending increased 126%, Medicare spending increased 108%, and spending on agricultural programs went up 80%, while spending for all children's programs-- education, social, nutrition, and health services--climbed a paltry 15% over inflation. Social Security and Medicare have brought stability and security to one end of the vulnerability spectrum. If we are to add stability to the other end we must act dramatically on our children's behalf to improve their lives before we lose more of them to personal despair and before the nation suffers even greater loss of productivity (Penning, 1991).

While educators and others wring their hands, thousands of apathetic students leave school each year to begin lives of unemployment, poverty, crime, and psychological distress. Although more than one in five school children in the United States come from families in poverty, "dropping out" is not unique to poor or homeless children, to a small percentage of minority students, to low ability children, or to mentally lazy kids. As Margaret Clifford noted (1990):

It is a systematic failure affecting the most gifted and knowledgeable as well as the disadvantaged, and it is threatening the social, economic, intellectual, industrial, cultural, moral, and psychological well being of our country. Equally disturbing are students who sever themselves from the flow of knowledge while they occupy desks, like mummies (p. 22).

Interestingly, society knows it is wrong to allow students to leave school ill equipped for adult life. The Phi Delta Kappan publishes the results of an annual September Gallup Poll, sampling public attitudes toward public schools. In the 1989 poll, while most respondents (70%) knew children can drop out of school when they reach a minimum age, only 13% regarded this as a viable criteria. Forty five percent thought students should be compelled to remain in school until high school graduation and 38% favored requiring school attendance until certain standards are met. The same poll found that the public wanted special services for low income children and indicated they were willing to fund services with increased taxes.

Over the past quarter century, programs designed to provide quality education for children who are economically disadvantaged and educationally deficient have received substantial funding. In recent years, individual states have begun to fund their own programs for students who fail to meet state achievement standards. Iowa has allocated $11.2 million beginning July 1, 1991, for this purpose. Iowa, like all states across the nation, is experiencing increasing numbers of children at risk to be served by public and private schools and agencies. Leaders recognize that success for all students is now more than a romantic ideal; it is imperative for development of our society both economically and morally (Brandt, 1990). With rapidly changing demographics and demands on our lives, we must find ways to coordinate academics, health, family and social services for students who have often failed in schools and society.

Unfortunately, responsibilities and authority of agencies have been segmented and communication between agencies restricted by existing laws or institutional procedures. Additionally, schools have had extreme compliance pressures placed on them by state standards and, consequently, in many cases have not, had the time nor the expertise to adequately address the needs of at risk students. To compound the problem, not all families know how to become involved in their children's education and some schools have not actively encouraged parental involvement.

With these factors in mind, the Institute for Educational Leadership at the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa Principals' Academy, and the Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education sponsored a working conference to identify and define critical issues surrounding services for at-risk students, to develop options for resolution of issues, and to build consensus on recommendations and strategies that better enable schools, agencies, and families to meet the needs of at-risk students.

Forty-five school and service agency leaders, university faculty, and recognized experts were invited to the University of Northern Iowa campus. Individuals were selected based on their keen interest in students at risk, their skills as communicators, and their enthusiasm about exploring issues in an in depth and interactive environment. The purpose of the conference was to establish an agenda for collaborative action among state and local, public and private agencies, and to influence public policy related to the support of at-risk students.

Each conference participant selected one of six focus areas: coordinating services; increasing family involvement; providing for the health needs of children in the school setting; providing continuity of services for highly mobile children and families; improving the school performance of all children; and creating partnerships with the private sector. Participants prioritized interest areas and were then invited to write on the area to which they were assigned. Papers were submitted prior to the conference, copied, and sent to participants of specified focus areas.

During the two day conference, the practical knowledge in school and non-school settings was brought into relationship with the theoretical knowledge of the university. The result was stimulating dialogue which addressed the complex issues surrounding education and services for at-risk students. Participants worked extensively in their focus area groups but did come together to share ideas and offer input between groups. The insights and ideas which evolved offer a foundation for future decision making which and may be of interest to policy makers, educators, and parents.

The position papers in each focus area are preceded by a consensus report written by the group's facilitator. Because time constraints prevented development of a conference report, these reports represent the views of the participants within each focus area and are not necessarily shared by all conference participants. While the reader is encouraged to read the entire monograph to gain detail and understanding, the following recommendations are presented to highlight the outcomes of the conference:

To increase the effectiveness of services currently provided by schools and agencies, a common prevention philosophy should be developed as a part of all intervention services for students and families.

Priority should be given to the identification of services available to students and families and to increasing the awareness of schools, parents, and other agencies of these services.

Access to services by students and families needs to be simplified by reducing red tape and the streamlining of transition procedures when moving from one service agency to another.
To provide increased training for school/agency personnel and parents, collaborative efforts between and among service agencies should be encouraged and supported.
Attention should be given to the development of collaborative, community based networks which can eliminate and/or deal with confidentiality issues (through interagency agreement) and agree on how to share the costs of collaboration and services. In such efforts, schools might be identified as key players.
Both the school district and the local building should develop a master plan for improved student achievement. The master plan must assess where students presently are and what the appropriate strategies might be for improvement. Specific strategies for achieving the plan's objectives should be established and carefully monitored.
Accommodations must be made in curriculum to assure its relevance to the student and the future. Selective abandonment of present curriculum must be activated so that there is increased clarity on the desired outcomes we want learners to achieve. Plans need to be made for developing flexibility in teaching styles, teaching materials, and teaching methods. In addition, there must be flexibility in the time utilized for learning. The nine month calendar and the 8:30-3:30 day must be abandoned in favor of time frames that meet the demands of today's students and provide full utilization of facilities and equipment allowed through flexible scheduling. Meeting the needs of the learner's schedule must be a priority.
Learning must be viewed on a continuum rather than a group of nine month building blocks. Clear pictures must be developed of what we want students to know and do as a result of progressing along the learning continuum.
Schools must be characterized as having a climate of pervasive caring for the students. This caring must support the students' self esteem needs and help all feel they belong within the community of learners.
Alternative learning environments must be established for students with unique circumstances or needs. These environments may be other native schools, work/learning sites in the community, supplemental instructional programs, summer programs, and other environmental alternatives.
To establish successful partnerships, it is vital to look beyond the "volunteers in the classroom" stereotype of community involvement and look toward working collaboratively with a plethora of community persons in both the private and public sector to communicate perspectives on leadership, vision, goals, quality, and resources.
There is a need for commitments for the partnership movement from the Iowa Legislature, the Iowa Department of Education, local school districts, the individual schools, and private/public sector partners.
Since many partnerships with public and private sector groups are hampered by the fear of legal entanglement when acting in partnership with a school, it is recommended that this stumbling block be removed by placing partnership activities under the liability umbrella insurance programs of the schools.
The goals of the prospective partners from the public and private sector and the goals of the school should be identified before partners and their resources are matched with a school. Though these goals may change and expand, a focus needs to be set before the groups may successfully collaborate with mutual and reciprocal benefits.
Educators, parents, and families; public and nonpublic health and human services providers; and school boards and advisory groups offering health services need to address providing health services for children by raising the concept of health (to a higher level of priority).

Most kids who experience failure in school or society perceive themselves as helpless. In this helpless state children begin to look at life as a hopeless situation. Hopeless people tend to give less effort and consequently experience additional failure. What we must do is give kids hope. The monograph on Strengthening the Partnership between Schools, Service Agencies and Families in Meeting the Needs of Students at Risk offers new pathways to building hope in all children.

Resource List
  • Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. (1988). America's Shame. America's hope: Twelve million youth at risk.
  • Ohio Department of Education. Reducing dropouts in Ohio schools: Guidelines and promising practices (No. 2). Columbus, OH: Author.
  • Aldridge, M. N. (1989). On review: The 21st annual Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Iowa Educational Leadership, 6(1), 63-65.
  • Berlin, G., & Sum, A. (1988). Toward a more perfect union: Basic skills, poor families, and our economic future. New York, NY: Ford Foundation.
  • Brandt, Ron (1990). Overview: Secrets of Success. Educational Leadership 48(1), 3.
  • Catterall, J. S. (1987). An intensive group counseling dropout prevention intervention. Some cautions on isolating at risk adolescents within high schools. American Educational Research Journal, 24(4), 521-540.
  • Clifford, M. M. (1990). Students need challenge, not easy success. Educational Leadership, 48(1), 22-25.
  • Doss, H. W. (1986). Students at risk: A review of conditions, circumstances, indicators, and educational implications. Elmhurst, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.
  • Frist, P. F., & Cooper, G. R. (1990). Homeless doesn't have to mean hopeless. The School Administrator, 17-22.
  • Hahn, A., & Danzberger, J. with Lefpowitz, B. (1987). Dropouts in America: Enough is known for action. Washington, D.C.: The Institute for Educational Leadership.
  • Hodgkinson, H. L. (1985). An one system: Demographics of education. Kindergarten through graduate school. Washington, D.C.: The Institute for Educational Leadership.
  • Iowa Association of School Boards Committee on Strategies of Excellence. (1987). Strategies for excellence: Recommendations for a productive School model with strategies for achieving the model. Des Moines, IA: Author.
  • Penning, N. (1991, February). Why our nation tolerates risks to children. The School Administrator,28-31.
  • Stacey, N., Alsalam, N., Gilmore, J., & To, D. (1988). Education and training of 16 to l9 year olds after compulsory schooling in the United States. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (1986). Children at risk: A resource and planning guide. Madison, WI: Author.

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