Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2001 Issue »

    HER Classic Reprint: Empowering Minority Students

    A Framework for Intervention

    Jim Cummins
    Jim Cummins presents a theoretical framework for analyzing minority students’ school failure and the relative lack of success of previous attempts at educational reform, such as compensatory education and bilingual education. The author suggests that these attempts have been unsuccessful because they have not altered significantly the relationships between educators and minority students and between schools and minority communities. He offers ways in which educators can change these relationships, thereby promoting the empowerment of students, which can lead them to succeed in school. (pp. 656–676)

    During the past twenty years, educators in the United States have implemented a series of costly reforms aimed at reversing the pattern of school failure among minority students. These have included compensatory programs at the preschool level, myriad forms of bilingual education programs, the hiring of additional aides and remedial personnel, and the institution of safeguards against discriminatory assessment procedures. Yet the dropout rate among Mexican American and mainland Puerto Rican students remains between 40 and 50 percent, compared to 14 percent for Whites and 25 percent for Blacks (Jusenius & Duarte, 1982). Similarly, almost a decade after the passage of the nondiscriminatory assessment provision of Public Law 94-142 we find Hispanic students in Texas overrepresented by a factor of 300 percent in the “learning disabilities” category (Ortiz & Yates, 1983).

    I have suggested that a major reason previous attempts at educational reform have been unsuccessful is that the relationships between teachers and students and between schools and communities have remained essentially unchanged. The required changes involve personal redefinitions of the way classroom teachers interact with the children and communities they serve. In other words, legislative and policy reforms may be necessary conditions for effective change, but they are not sufficient. Implementation of change is dependent upon the extent to which educators, both collectively and individually, redefine their roles with respect to minority students and communities.

    The purpose of this paper is to propose a theoretical framework for examining the types of personal and institutional redefinitions that are required to reverse the pattern of minority student failure. The framework is based on a series of hypotheses regarding the nature of minority students’ educational difficulties. These hypotheses, in turn, lead to predictions regarding the probable effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of various interventions directed at reversing minority students’ school failure.

    The framework assigns a central role to three inclusive sets of interactions or power relations: 1) the classroom interactions between teachers and students, 2) relationships between schools and minority communities, and 3) the intergroup power relations within the society as a whole. It assumes that the social organization and bureaucratic constraints within the school reflect not only broader policy and societal factors, but also the extent to which individual educators accept or challenge the social organization of the school in relation to minority students and communities. Thus, this analysis sketches directions for change for policymakers at all levels of the educational hierarchy, and in particular for those working directly with minority students and communities.

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  2. Winter 2001 Issue


    HER Classic Reprint: Empowering Minority Students
    A Framework for Intervention
    Jim Cummins
    Resisting and Reversing Language Shift
    Heritage-Language Resilience among U.S. Native Biliterates
    Lucy Tse
    Rethinking the Digital Divide
    Jennifer S. Light
    Further Comment: Pragmatizing the Imaginary
    A Response to a Fictionalized Case Study of Teaching
    Tom Barone
    Book Review of Sound Identities: Popular Music and the Cultural Politics of Education
    Nadine Dolby

    Book Notes

    The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy
    Edited by John Comings, Barbara Garner, and Cristine Smith

    Crossing the Water
    By Daniel Robb

    Restructuring High Schools for Equity and Excellence
    By Valerie E. Lee and Julia B. Smith

    It Takes a City
    By Paul T. Hill, Christine Campbell, and James Harvey

    All Together Now
    By Richard D. Kahlenberg

    The Teaching Gap
    By James W. Stigler and James Hiebert

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