Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
Arizona State University
University of South Florida
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 5, no. 10 (April 08, 1997).
Tempe, Ariz. :
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Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c April 08, 1997
Cultural differences and the construction of meaning : implications for the leadership and organizational context of schools / Robert A. Pena.
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2 710
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University of South Florida.
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t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 18 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 5 Number 10April 8, 1997ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass, Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Edu cation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1993, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Cultural Differences and the Construction of Meanin g: Implications for the Leadership and Organizational Context of Schools Robert A. Pea Arizona State UniversityAbstract The relationships between student achievement, stud ent culture and practitioners' attitudes and expectations were investigated. Stude nt achievement was defined as academic performance but also included perceptions, rational es and explanations for student behaviors and conduct. Student culture described student's Mexica n American origins, customs and beliefs. Practitioners' attitudes described how middle schoo l personnel perceived Mexican American high and underachieving students generally, and practiti oners' expectations described how personnel interacted and behaved toward Mexican American stud ents. Results indicated that Mexican American students perceived themselves and school p ersonnel perceived these students as different from Anglo students. Mexican American cul tural traditions were also perceived as inferior and disadvantageous by high achieving Mexi can American students and by personnel. Underachieving Mexican American students generally valued their cultural traditions more positively than high achieving students becoming re sistant to learning when these traditions were marginalized in school. Student achievement was als o related to student compliance, student appearance, styles in written and verbal communicat ion and practitioners' perceptions about the willingness of Mexican American students to practic e and support Anglo norms. These findings are congruent with theories that discuss relationsh ips between student achievement, student culture and practitioners' attitudes and expectatio ns. Theories about school failure occurring less frequently in minority groups that are positively o riented toward their own and the dominant culture were contradicted and not supported in this research.Introduction Mirel (1993) notes that during the early 20th centu ry, urban schools were the "jewel in the


2 of 18crown" of the American public school system. Today, unlike their counterparts of almost 100 years ago, Mirel adds that urban schools epitomize the "pessimism and despair" (Edson, 1994, p. 34) of urban decay to the degree that some suggest that they are "not even worth saving" (p. 34). High dropout rates and academic underachievement ar e particularly high among urban school students from minority groups according to M irel. Student alienation due to discrepancies between school cultures and the attitudes and value s found in students' homes (Banks, 1993; Brookover et. al., 1982; Edmunds and Fredereksen, 1 979; Karweit and Madden, 1989; Weber, 1947) are sited as causes of student under performa nce. Coleman et. al, (1966) found for example, that academic success and the completion o f schooling were due to the "supportive nature" of community life in homes and outside the school, and when a student's values and community relationships mirrored the values and soc ial relationships within the school context. These findings seem deterministic, describing a heg emonic relationship between home and school cultures that frames schools as sacrosanct a nd student and family characteristics as conducive or not conducive to academic success in s chool. In contrast, Pea (1994), Hewlett (1991) and Turnbu ll and Turnbull (1990) found that school structures that marginalized minorities also led to depressed outcomes for these students. Exclusionary curriculum, scheduling, disciplinary a nd instructional practices constrained student achievement, limited parental involvement and stimu lated antagonistic student behaviors in schools according to these researchers. Scheurich a nd Imber (1991) also hypothesized that lacking broad community input, policies and practic es implemented to benefit underachieving students may also have contributed to their attriti on, alienation and underachievement in school. Empirical and qualitative researchers both suggest that school structures can be deliberately created, maintained, and strengthened through specific approaches to leadership, management, and the manipulation of organizational factors (Bryck, Lee and Smithy, 1990; Newmann,1989; Rosenholtz, 1989). There are, however three important issues that require further research. The first calls for interviewing minority youth to learn about their self concept and its relationship to achievement in school. The second requires examining the home and school experiences of students in tandem to underst and their beliefs about education and in particular, their feelings about social institution s like schools. This approach makes youth and communities rather than schools the primary unit of analysis. The third issue involves analyzing practitioners' behaviors and beliefs to understand how their expectations work with school structures to support and constrain the educational chances, cultures and traditions of minority urban school students. Sociologists and anthropologists from Emile Durkhei m (1984) in his treatise titled The Division of Labor in Society to John Ogbu (1987) in his research on voluntary and involuntary minority groups have found that comparing external social experiences and school organizational characteristics yields information on the values an d beliefs of specific groups and how these relate to institutional behaviors and expectations. Analyzing this information may also specify more precisely what organizational features relate most powerfully to the cultural attributes of minority students and to their enhanced achievement in school.Review of the Literature Educational theorists attempting to explain minorit y success and failure in school during the 1980s and 1990s point to what Deyhle (1995) cal ls "cultural difference" and "sociostructural theories." Deyhle labels James Cummins a cultural d ifference theorist for example, because of his work and body of ideas on empowering minority s tudents. Cummins (1986) suggests that minority failure and failures in school reform have not significantly altered the relationships between educators and minority youths and between s chools and minority communities in his writings. Cummins "central tenet" is that "students from dominated societal groups are


3 of 18empowered or disabled as a direct result of their i nteractions with educators in schools" (Cummins, 1986, p. 21). His recommendations are tha t educators change their relationships with minorities to promote empowerment of students which in turn, can lead to success in school. John Ogbu is described as a sociostructural theoris t by Deyhle (1995) because of his writings on economic and political structures, and the academic under performance and dropping out of voluntary and involuntary minorities. Volunt ary minorities are described as immigrants "who are doing better in school" and "who have move d more or less voluntarily to the United States because they believed that this move would l ead to more economic well-being, better overall opportunities, or greater political freedom by Ogbu (1989, p. 187). Involuntary minorities describe nonimmigrants who initially wer e brought to the United States through "slavery, conquest or colonization" (p. 187). The reasons Ogbu gives for the success and failure of voluntary and involuntary minorities are that immigrants possess a positive dual frame o f reference that they use to interpret the "economic, political, and social barriers against t hem as more or less temporary problems, as problems they will overcome." Involuntary minoritie s interpret the same obstacles differently and without this frame of reference. Ogbu (1987) sugges ts that because "they do not have a homeland situation to compare with the situation in the Unit ed States, they do not interpret their menial jobs as better" or "temporary" (p. 188). For involu ntary minorities discrimination is permanent and institutionalized forcing them to look outside of schools and individual effort to collective effort for overcoming barriers to getting ahead. De yhle (1995) labels Ogbu a "sociostructural" theorist because he argues the reasons for minority student failure lie in the racial, social and economic stratification found in the United States. In her recent longitudinal study of Navajo students and families on Native reservations, Deyhle (1995) writes that she hopes to "represent t he specific Navajo experience" (p. 6). She implies that Cummins' and Ogbu's theories are inade quate because neither addresses "racial warfare" in "both the schools and society" (p. 6). Deyhle also contends that Anglo teachers and Navajo students engage in "racial conflict," and that Navajos "have substantial ethical disagree ments with the Anglo values manifested in the schools and greater economy" (p. 6). This racial co nflict also stands for what Deyhle sees as a representation of the integrity of the Navajo cultu re and figures into the discrimination, subordination, exploitation and to the manufacture of deficit explanations that Anglos create to account for Navajo behaviors in majority dominated schools and businesses. For Deyhle, the school failure of Navajo youth come s as they have little identity as Navajos and because they are not accepted by Anglos Deyhle also supports Cummins' (1986) belief that "widespread school failure does not occ ur in minority groups that are positively oriented toward their own and the dominant culture, that do not perceive themselves as inferior to the dominant group, and that are not alienated from their own cultural values" (p. 32). Deyhle (1995) writes that "Navajo youth who are better int egrated into their home culture will be more successful students, regardless of the structural b arriers they face" (p. 8). She concludes by asserting that "the more Navajo students resist ass imilation while simultaneously maintaining their culture, the more successful they are in scho ol" (p. 8). These three theories on the success and especially the failure of minority students frame understanding the relationship between minority and majority cultures as crucial to building academic success. Each theory also describes commun ity involvement and acquiring an understanding of the student's community as playing pivotal roles in enhancing school reform and student access and achievement in school. Final ly, the authors of each theory insist that what goes on inside the schools, including instructional methods and the kind of curriculum taught, are very important for minority student success. Where each of these theories lingers is in explaini ng the success and failure of minority students with similar cultural, community and schoo l backgrounds. These theories do not account


4 of 18for students who reside together in the same commun ity, share the same cultural background, have the same teachers and like schedules of classe s, experience the same instructional methods and curriculum in the same school, speak a version of English at home, whose home language and culture differ from those of the school and wid er society yet who also show high and underachievement in their classes Cummins (1986) posits that minority language incorp oration, community participation, enhanced intrinsic motivation and the professional acting as an advocate for minorities are four key dimensions that operate on a continuum and prom ote the empowerment of students on one end while contributing to the "disabling of student s" (p. 21) on the other. Ogbu (1987) suggests that variability in minority school performance at the individual level can be traced to differences in cultural models: to the initial terms by which t he minorities were incorporated into U.S. society; and by the way minority students interpret their initial incorporation and their subsequent treatment by white Americans. Deyhle points to the importance of reservation life and to the preservation of traditional culture for Navajos as contributing to failure in public schools that stress competitiveness and individuality. In each discussion, these theorists neatly explain how the dominant culture diverges from and seizes the weaker less traditional culture. Cum mins, Ogbu and Deyhle also suggest that superior integration in the school and community is necessary for increasing minority academic achievement and greater success overall. This study consequently tests these theories by attempting to understand why students unable and ab le to maintain their cultural connections nonetheless contradict and prove successful and uns uccessful respectively in the Anglo world of schooling. This study hopes to expand previous unde rstandings by analyzing the success and underachievement of twenty Mexican American student s that live in the same feeder neighborhoods and are enrolled together in a single public middle school in a state located in the Southwest.Theoretical Framework Based on the studies described earlier, minority st udent achievement may be improved by making school factors more relevant to student back grounds. School attempts to enhance school membership, teacher expectations, educational engag ement and school support presumably yield improved student performance and outcomes (Pea, 19 95; Wehlage, 1989; Wehlage, 1986). Researchers also agree that school traditions that do not agree with students' cultural attributes will adversely effect membership, instruction and t he disciplinary climate in schools (see Erickson, 1987, McNeil, 1986 and Willis, 1977). Con sequently, this researcher proposes to examine the school and community experiences of hig h and under achieving first generation Mexican American working class students to understa nd how these students define themselves, education and success in schools and in their commu nity. This examination may generate understandings on how attitudes and school cultures support and constrain the achievement and behaviors of these students and members of their et hnic and racial peers. Mexican American pupils describe first generation students who have some English proficiency skills and have taken up permanent residence in the United States. Although there is significant variability among fir st generation Mexican American students from working class families, individuals from these groups may nonetheless share "underlying cultural patterns that influence their behaviors an d beliefs" (Deyhle & LeCompte, 1994, p. 156). Labeled "cultural boundaries" by Erickson (1987), s tudying these patterns may give evidence of different "ways of growing up," "raising children," and "evidence of different cultural standards of appropriateness" (Deyhle & LeCompte, 1994, p. 15 6). Studying the home and school experiences of high and under achieving Mexican Ame rican students then, may explain how they define themselves, how they interact with peers and school personnel, and what attitudes and


5 of 18behaviors these students exhibit that enable them t o succeed and fail in school and in their communities. Community in this context describes a specific external location where persons live, share daily interactions and a location that is contained by school boundaries and common to the students included in this study.Methodology and Sources of Data Data generated through depth interviews, document a nalyses, and participant observation were analyzed using constant comparison and methods taken from grounded theory (Glaser, 1978; Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987). Con stant comparison describes the simultaneous collecting and analyzing of data for their refineme nt, categorization and integration into a coherent theory (Taylor and Bogdan, 1984). High and underachieving Mexican American middle school students and school personnel who routinely interacted with these students were interviewed, while guardians and relevant members f rom the community were observed. Data collection started upon acquiring the recommen dations of administrators and teachers for "ten high achieving and ten underachieving Mexi can American students" to interview. Decisions for expanding and including others were b ased on snowballing techniques where interviewees recommended additional participants, o n the development of themes, and on the emergence of data saturation or the point at which information collected became redundant (Bogdan and Biklen, 1992; Glaser and Strauss, 1967) In total, 20 students were nominated (ten high achieving and ten underachieving Mexican Ameri can students) and participated to the completion of this study. Additionally, 12 teachers and two middle school administrators were interviewed and observed. The formation of questionnaires, elements, themes a nd supplemental data collection instruments for document analyses and observations were guided by the theoretical framework described earlier and by prior social science and a nthropological research (see Cummins, 1986; D'Andrade, 1984; Deyhle, 1995; Erickson, 1987a; Eri ckson, 1987b; Goodenough, 1981; Geertz, 1973 and Ogbu, 1987). Analyses of discussions with different respondents, documents and observation notes were also employed to understand Mexican American student self perceptions, their perceptions of schooling and how school polic ies, practices and practitioners' perceptions relate and contribute to their success and failure in a single middle school located in the Southwest.Findings Analyses of the data indicate that the ten high ach ieving Mexican American students demonstrated attitudes and behaviors that were dist inct from their underachieving peers in and out of school. High achieving students were complia nt with demands placed on them by teachers, middle level structures and other requisites for so cial acceptance and achievement in school. These students also framed meeting school demands a s more important and personally satisfying than pursuing ethnic membership. High achieving stu dents also viewed their cultures as embarrassing more often. These students described e xperiences in Mexico, at home and characteristics of language and culture as impedime nts to fitting in, gaining social acceptance and their achievement in school. Underachieving Mexican American students in contras t, were generally less compliant and more resistant to school customs that agitated and marginalized their own cultural traditions. These students placed cultural membership before ac hievement in school more often, attaching greater import to cultural knowledge and integrity than to being compliant and making friends and grades in school. Social acceptance emerged for these students through relations with family members, close peers and community members with sim ilar values in both informal and middle


6 of 18school settings. Analyses related to teachers' perceptions indicated that educators spent little time and possessed scant knowledge of their Mexican American students backgrounds. Practitioners also felt that higher achieving students possessed a cle arer sense of personal identity than underachievers, and that these students were more w illing to adapt to and prevail over different demands that might be perceived as culturally antag onistic by minority students. Teachers also agreed that high achievers demonstrated greater flu ency in Spanish and English than underachievers, and greater mastery in transferring and adapting prior experiences and understandings to unfamiliar concepts and tradition al instructional methodologies. Teachers added that underachieving Mexican American students seemed less capable of expressing their thoughts and reasoning about prior experiences in a thorough and orderly way. They felt that underachievers demonstrated sporadic flashes of thought in school while demonstrating a cultural rift, unable to integrate their experiences on Mexican and US soil. Teachers also concluded that this cultural rift pre vented underachieving students from applying prior educational experiences and knowledge for mak ing meaning of instruction and expectations in traditional US schools. What follows is detail o n higher and underachieving Mexican American students, the strategies they used to make sense in school and in their communities, and school and community factors that supported and constrained their school success. In this context, the nature of school success and failure i s considered using two frames (Erickson, 1987b). These frames refer to the ways that student s succeed and fail to achieve in school and in their community, and to the ways their school and c ommunity support and fail Mexican American middle school students. Understanding High and Underachieving Mexican Ameri can Students Explanations for success in and out of school were organized under three domains. The first, or personal domain fixes explanations to the students, their families, their backgrounds and to students' lifestyles. The second or interpersona l domain attaches success and failure to students' peer and social relations. The third cate gory labeled formal and informal domains contains fixes student success and failure to power configurations and the interplay between school and community characteristics.Personal Domain Students explanations for their high and underachie vement in school were based upon assimilationist and cultural resistance ideologies. The high achieving students understood they were different from Anglo teachers and students and that academic achievement required them to "work harder to prove we all aren't dumb and we cou ld do it [achieve] too." These students also perceived they "have to be better than everybody el se all the time because you want to be like them when you're in school," because they needed "t o fit in," and because "you want your teachers to like you" and "have teachers help you o ut." One high achieving student noted that "everyday you remember you're not from here even if you are, and then your mother and father talk different and are not from here and that you'r e really not as good and maybe don't look like you belong in this school." Another student recalle d concealing her anger and embarrassment over Mexican American students being singled out an d treated unfairly in class: "Mrs. Thomas likes to put the Mexican's against the Anglo kids all the time and I really hate when she does that because it's not tha t right. For recess she treats us like little kids and she makes us go to the door and lin e up and be quiet. The kids with the green eyes go first, then the kids with the blu e eyes then if you got brown eyes you go last sometimes. Then another time in spellin g Lucinda got marked down because she didn't spell her word loud for Mrs. Tho mas to hear her. Then when the students said they didn't hear Judy talking loud en ough either then Mrs. Thomas told


7 of 18everybody to be quiet and then she said to Judy to spell her word over again and louder this time. I said that wasn't fair and Mrs. Thomas looked angry at me and I could feel my face turning all red inside you know because everyone was looking at me. Then she said we weren't at home and if we didn 't behaving right she was gonna cancel everything for the spelling contest and pick the winner for class by herself." Underachieving Mexican American students in contras t were less interested in demonstrating compensatory behaviors and making a p ositive impression on their Anglo teachers. Like the ten high achievers, the ten unde rachieving students understood they were different and did not measure up to Anglo teachers, students and school norms. These students also felt they could achieve and excel in school, b ut they were more often unwilling and resistant to provide answers in class when they perceived the y were being singled out because they were Mexican, Mexican American and different. One student recalled being "picked on by the teache r to say who was Jackie Robinson and what was Jackie Robinson famous for." This student correctly explained to the interviewer that "50 years ago he [Jackie Robinson] was the first Bl ack man to play in baseball" but added that he "didn't answer" and "went like this [raised his sho ulders] like I didn't know" because he perceived "he [the teacher] asked me because I'm Me xican and we're supposed to know about sports and who was first and shit like that." Another student recalled when he and his classmates were "pressed on" or "hassled during PE [physical education] because we were hanging and talking in Spanish on the side and laughing and we didn't want to get into it [play ba sketball] and all dirty and everything." This student explained that he believed "the teacher got mad because he thought we was talking about him" and "we weren't ready for class." When asked t o tell what happened next, the student answered that "they [his teachers] forgot about me" and that he "had to sit in the office for making a face at him [the teacher] or some other sh it for over a hour." Finally, a third student said that "everybody knows you have to give up being Mexican to do good in this school." When asked to explain this student added: " starts right at the beginning of the year wh en everybody tries to be real nice. They hook you up in the same homeroom with the same teachers because they think you don't know nothin and you're stupid and you don 't speak English the right way or something. And they talk real loud and slow so you understand what they're saying just because we're from Mexico. It's like the schoo l already made up their mind about us even before we got here that we're dumb an d if we change in school like they tell us then we'll stay out of trouble and we' ll make it okay. I guess they want us to act different like our families didn't come from Mexico or something and we should be like we're American in school like that's something right or whatever." Explanations by school personnel for the success an d failure of Mexican American students that were also attributed to the personal characteristics of students related to congruities and incongruities in individual versus formal (scho ol) styles of learning. Teachers believed that high achieving students jockeyed for high grades, p raise and recognition in school more often than underachievers for example, because these stud ents attached greater significance to school and personal recognition than to benefits that migh t accrue from cementing cultural membership for themselves. Underachievers, according to administrators and tea chers also demonstrated loyalty to their cultural traditions and origins more often, becomin g upset and resistant to learning in school when cultural characteristics were ignored, did not match and were handled negatively by educators. Finally, teachers also believed that hig her achievers were more pleasant, willing to please teachers and demonstrate positive behaviors than their underachieving peers who seemed


8 of 18less trusting and more cynical about how "Mexican" and "Mexican American" traditions were treated in school. Evidence of compensatory and resistant student beha viors emerged during interviews with teachers and during observations of instruction and observations of classroom patterns of interactions. Teachers explained that it was "very important," "real important" and "more important for high achieving Mexican American stude nts to get [good] grades in school" for "getting into college," "for making some money," "f or making lives for themselves," and for these students "to be liked by their teachers." Two teachers added that "high achievers and their guardians concur that it is important to succeed in school in the United States" and "they understand it's real important to make the effort t o get along with people." All teachers were also impressed with the "industry and "more pleasant demeanors" of high achievers mentioning that these students were "appropriate" in dress and "neat" when completing assignments. These teachers also explain ed that underachievers were "more demonstrative," "insubordinate," "less neat," "mess y" and that their assignments were "not always finished or handed in on time." Higher achie vers also completed "work early" on occasion even doing additional work while underachievers beh avior and attendance was described as "less reliable" and "not as friendly" by teachers. Analyses of field notes, specific verbal exchanges and samples of students' writings similarly indicated that teachers praised students for style in the forms of precise language skills and in writing mechanics. Teachers also described t heir appreciation for students who "knew things," "were always in class" and for students th at "did not interrupt" and apparently placed fewer demands on teachers. In contrast, underachievers were described as stude nts "who constantly needed supervision and guidance" with "poor mechanics in writing." The se students were described as "silent," "unmotivated" and "car[ing] less about standard pro nunciation." Teachers also felt that underachieving Mexican American students made "less effort to correct errors," "to learn from their mistakes," and that these students were less skilled in "transferring and applying knowledge," "synthesizing information" and "using a nalytic and upper level thinking skills" than their high achieving peers.Interpersonal Domain Students descriptions of their interpersonal relati ons with teachers, peers and members from their community were similarly influenced by t heir inclinations toward assimilation and resistance, and their beliefs about the supportive and non supportive characteristics of their Mexican American culture. The high achieving studen ts actively pursued recognition in school for example, choosing to associate with other high achievers and recipients of school accolades regardless if they were Mexican American or not Mex ican American students. These high achievers also seemed more eager for com petition for praise, higher test scores and higher averages on first term report cards than for affirming their cultural identities. For them, academic achievement and positive social rela tions in school became hard earned wages that took on a transactional significance. Each A o r B grade and word of praise was like another dollar adding up to a rite of passage for membershi p in a student association or "college Greek house" with other high achieving students. Their cu ltural background on the other hand, was a constant impediment; a reminder to these students t hat they were different and not wholly accepted in the formal order of school. One high achieving student explained that "we [Mexi can students] have to be better all the time to show we're good as Anglos and we belong her e." A second student said "I try and be the best in everything I do. In school, in PE [physical education] too." This student explained that "sometimes the kids tease me because of my hair or my skin or something, or another time when my mother spoke Spanish and she came to get me... s o I get good marks and everything and that


9 of 18I'm nice and just like they are so I get along bett er with them." Other high achievers said that classmates were "nic e," "ask[ed] for help," "think you're smart," "walk together" and "pick you for doing thi ngs" if they earned high grades and praise. Finally, one high achieving fair complexioned stude nt shared his strategy this way for fitting in with others: "When I'm alone and not with anybody I don't tell p eople that I'm a Mexican right away. My last name is Mexican but a lot of people d on't know my name before so I don't say nothing and they think I'm American or It alian sometimes. Then sometimes when my friends in school get on me about my shoes or my clothes or what I bring to lunch or whatever, I pretend like it doesn't bot her me and I make fun too. Then sometimes I shift what we're saying and talk about another thing or another classmate or whatever. I never had too many people come over my house because they always say my mother talks too fast so they do n't understand what she said." Underachieving students in contrast, neither pursue d recognition for academic performance nor did they seek association with high achieving students. For them, high achievement was like "being Anglo" or Anglocanized with negative consequences for their Mexican identity. Additionally, underachievers more often gravitated rather than actively moving toward peer and social relations in school. Their s ocial circles seemed to include fewer students and to include more trusted peers from their local neighborhoods and community. Specific data on social patterns for underachieving Mexican American students emerged during interviews and especially during observation s of these students in school, their homes and in their surrounding neighborhoods. These students seemed uncomfortable in school more often than high achievers yet more comfortable out in the ir neighborhood communities. Pregnant with expectation as though they were waiting for someone or something to change their lives, these underachieving students often belonged and fit best in tight knit social circles. For these students, school was a challenge where their personal faith a nd cultural loyalty was regularly tested while life in their homes and neighborhoods brought predi ctability and ease. Interactions with Anglos and high achieving Mexican American students were u sually guarded and suspicious while their noncompliance in school was also proof of their cul tural integrity and loyalty to their Mexican roots. One student described routinely "go[ing] late [to s chool] to get out of confrontation with [the mathematics teacher] during first period." Thi s student explained that the mathematics teacher " homework everyday even on the wee kends then when you're in school she makes you get it out so she could come to your desk and give you a hard time if you don't have it." This student added that she did not know "why you should have to do the homework all the time if you get it," and that "doing homework" and "being good in class is for the Anglos and the wanna-be's." A second student described high achieving Mexican A merican students as "trying to be so white they're squeaky clean." This student explaine d that high achievers worked for grades and "try to talk English good because they want people in school to like them because they don't like being Chicano." This student added that "people thi nk it's bad because we're dumb and don't have no friends in school but they [high achievers] don' t have no friends in the [neighbor]hood." This student went on to explain that "they [high achieve rs] don't know what's going on" and that "you never see them outside or in church with anybody or with any friends out of school because they turned their back and forgot who they are for real. Finally, this student also warned that "when something happens and they aren't doing good... the n we'll see what Anglo friends they got because they won't have any." Other underachieving Mexican American students echo ed these statements, explaining that high achievers were "fools," not "liked," "disrespe cted," "chumps," "dogs" and "ghosts" in their


10 of 18communities because they "disappeared," were "invis ible," did not "come outside ever," were "not respected" and "never did anything in the neig hborhood except for go to the store once in a while." These students further explained that they preferred making and having friends in their community because "there's no front," "you could be yourself," "there's more trust," "people [in the neighborhood] know what's going on," "everybody 's the same," because these students "like the neighborhood" and because "you could see someon e [from the neighborhood] in the eye and know what's goin on with them." Finally, one underachieving student said that: "'s real hard to be good in school and in the neighborhood at the same time. It seems like it starts real early like when you're in third grade or second. Your mother and your father they're on you all the time to do g ood in school and to get make better grades than they did, but then you're torn u p. You see the way the Anglos treated better in school better and how when you do the same thing but it doesn't make matter. Then you come home and all your mother and father tell you is you have to do this and it's gonna be okay or whatever and then you start to hate it and that you know because it isn't. You go with your fr iends and your friends come over and they hate what happened in school just like you do too. And then it's all bullshit all over again like you're dirty or something and t he good [Mexican American] students are dirty too except they don't know it or something and their clean on the outside and the Anglo's are the only ones that are good. It's like everyday they [teachers] already made up some secret about us and that we're Mexican so we got to remember that everyday wherever we go in school. I remember it because I want to because I'm proud to be Chicano. I don't need nobod y to tell me. I want to be proud and my mother and father and sisters they're proud too, but not the teachers... It's like they have some problem or something before they eve n know who you are and then your mother and father want you to do good too." Explanations provided by school personnel for stude nts' social patterns were similarly attributed to the compliance and resistance of stud ents and to students' attitudes about their Mexican culture. Teachers generally believed that h igh achieving students were "more pleasant," "sweeter," "comfortable" and "at peace" with their Mexican culture for instance, than were underachievers who were "less forgiving," "bitter," "angry" and "more combative" when they perceived their cultural traditions were being insu lted. Teachers also described high achievers as "happier" and from "better more supportive homes." These teachers added that high achieving st udents had "more desirable" and "greater numbers" of "white and Mexican American" friends th an underachievers who tended to associate with "other poor performers" and "less friends" who are "usually Mexican" and "friends that are usually in trouble too." Finally, teachers also bel ieved that higher achievers were more likely to "succeed" and "make something" of their lives than were their underachieving peers who "seemed less trusting" and experienced "more troubl e making more than their few friends." Data supporting teachers' accounts of the compliant and resistant nature of students emerged when teachers described the attitudes of th eir Mexican American students. One teacher commented that "it's easier to enjoy students with a more pleasant attitude than those who behave suspiciously." Another teacher explained that high achieving students "have more friends because they apply themselves more and have more to offer in school." A third teacher added that "high achievers extend themselves and are willing t o meet others half way" while a fourth said students "learn at home it's real important to make the effort to get along with people inside and outside of school." All teachers also agreed that making friends was "m ore important" for high achieving students. According to these teachers underachievin g students more often "drifted" from one


11 of 18friendship to another." These teachers added that u nderachieving Mexican American students "spoke less to adults and other children," were mor e often "introspective" and "mysterious," and that these students "have low self concepts," "low confidence" and "immature social skills." Underachievers were also described as "awkward" and "uncomfortable" when being addressed by teachers. Analyses of field notes compiled largely through ob servations revealed that teachers touched and responded pleasantly more often to high achieving than to underachieving Mexican American students. Like their students, teachers al so seemed more comfortable and at peace with high achievers and more awkward and less forgiving with underachieving students. Analyses of notes indicated that high achievers were left unsup ervised more frequently for instance than were underachievers, and that teachers were more hasty a nd severe when disciplining underachieving students. Teachers scolded, showed their appreciation and att empted to correct high achieving Mexican American students who they felt behaved ina ppropriately in class on occasion while choosing to talk loudly, yell, crowd, become physic al and remove underachievers for interrupting classroom instruction.Formal and Informal Domain: Formal and Informal Cul tures The formal and informal domain is also labeled form al and informal culture in this manuscript. Formal cultures describe the customary beliefs, social forms and institutional structures that a particular group of students or i ndividuals encounters in school. Informal cultures describe the same characteristics, groups and individuals but as they intermingle, create meaning and are defined and redefined in an informa l setting. Formal and informal cultures are conceived here not as static but as active as groups and individuals are routinely and significantly affecte d by environmental contingencies. These cultures may be marked by "underlying cultural patt erns" (Deyhle and LeCompte, 1994, p. 156) that characterize group and individual behaviors an d beliefs, and by environmental factors that collide and struggle with these patterns and agains t one another to establish social control and a sense of equilibrium in schools for example. This notion of formal and informal cultures then is conceptualized as an inchoate number of variables leading to a particular result rather than as a postulated outcome or event. A similar description of culture as process is implied in Har rington's (1962) The Other America: Poverty in The United States In this influential book (Spring, 1976), Harringt on introduces the "culture of poverty" explaining that trapped within a "vicious circle" with inadequate nutrition, medical care and lost wages, the poor get sick more often while their sickness stays longer. This image synthesizes the characteristics of people and their lifestyles with environmental factors to establish that when combined, a culture of poverty is made. In short, the individual's personal characteristics and the characteristics of their en vironment conspire to economically disable them in this case. The individual's personal attributes in isolation are neither adequate to describe nor to confine them then to the culture of poverty. The notion of formal and informal cultures and the process previously described is hypothesized to be violent and deleterious as nontr aditional and weaker cultural orientations hide, adjust, resist or become trampled by stronger more traditional understandings in a formal or an informal setting. Additionally, informal underst andings may not prosper and survive in a formal environment and formal knowledge may wither and die on the vine in more informal environs. Taken together, this struggle for legitimacy, contr ol and social equilibrium becomes a chaotic yet systematic attempt to establish order w here threats to that order constantly emerge. This struggle between formal and informal cultures may also be imbued and bereft of morality and the human spirit at the same time, depending on the relationships and organization of groups


12 of 18and individuals, and social, political and economic configurations of power. This discussion comes from the previous research on high and underachieving Mexican American students who all together seem required to regulate formal and informal cultural understandings in a formal middle school setting, a nd who also are all required to weigh and manage these pursuits in their local communities. F urther analyses of the data collected indicate for example that none of the 20 students interviewe d was comfortable and flourishing in both their school (formal) and community (informal) envi ronments. Based upon their sense of personal efficacy, students would seemingly achieve or resist in one setting, and struggle and flourish in the other. Success in school came more readily for those willing to understate, separate from or deny their Mexican culture. Studen ts who emphasized their Mexican cultures on the other hand, experienced low expectations, failu re and hardship in school while experiencing respect and fulfillment in their community more oft en. Further analyses of interview and observation data collected also indicate that high achievers generally preferred school experiences to life in their neighborhoods while underachievers preferred the comforts found in the community. For high achievers, school appeared to provide rationality, a routine and to b ring certainty to their daily lives. Expectations on thinking, dress, scheduling, behaviors and rewar ds were clear in school but muddied when high achievers returned to their neighborhoods. Exp ectations in school for underachievers on the other hand, were too severe requiring them to chang e their intellectual approaches and to cash in their cultural understandings for a chance at high grades and assimilation. At home in their neighborhoods, underachievers felt they could think and act for themselves, make sense of local activities, events and behaviors, detect and unders tand the glances of neighbors, and empathize with passers by on the street. Further analyses of data collected in the middle school indicate that teachers usually preferred higher achieving Mexican American students. Teachers often approved of these students more because they were compliant, hard working, reliable and because high achievers interrupted less and placed fewer discipl inary and book keeping demands on them. Teachers also judged high achievers as superior ana lyzers and evaluators of knowledge, more popular, better socially adjusted and more concerne d about achieving a better future without necessarily testing students higher order thinking and without observing students in their neighborhoods. Finally, teachers also described the parents of high achievers as more supportive than the parents of underachieving students without talking to them or visiting their homes.Discussion Conclusions drawn from the data collected supports earlier assertions on the importance of understanding the relationship between minority and majority cultures while adding discourse on formal and informal cultures and on the importance of considering the school and home communities of students perceived to be different. Results from this study also gave no evidence that minority group members that are positively ori ented toward their own and the dominant cultures are better prepared to resist failure in s chool. In contrast, students who viewed their Mexican American culture less favorably achieved in school and were less accepted in their communities. Those who emphasized their Mexican Ame rican culture underachieved in school and flourished at home. Finally, this study weighed the value of making school processes more culturally relevant finding that the promotion of c ultural traditions in school held promise but did not benefit all members of a particular minority gr oup equally. Analyses of the data collected in this research sug gest that it is equally important to understand the relationship between minority and ma jority cultures, and to understand the interplay of these in both the school and community This means that educational leaders and school practitioners become knowledgeable of minori ty cultural traditions, and that these individuals become more reflexive in their thinking about culture. In other words, a fuller


13 of 18understanding of cultural differences may require e xperiencing them in and out of the formal educational setting, and perhaps experiencing what it means to be different in a predominantly minority context. Fluency in school policies and being an effective a dministrator of school procedures that reflect Anglo preferences solely is not conducive t o supporting achievement and minority culture, and is akin to asking members of minority groups to support Anglo school structures and traditions they are unaware of and do not fully und erstand. On the other hand, neither does full immersion in formal and informal settings guarantee that one will become an insider or that changes in personal attitudes and patterns of discr imination will emerge. Conclusions on the relationship between full immersion programs and in dividual's perceptions of cultural differences requires additional research. Further study of dist rict transportation and zoning policies are also needed to understand how these support and limit kn owledge about what is appropriate and inappropriate in the school and community context. As noted earlier, conclusions about minority studen ts being better prepared to avoid school failure by holding positive orientations of both th eir own and Anglo cultures were also not supported in this research. Analyses indicated that the academic performance of students was value-laden and largely related to practitioner's j udging habits. Grades appeared to be used as a means for rewarding, penalizing and separating stud ents, while achievement was measured according to students' attention to detail, writing and speaking habits, physical appearance, and minority student's attitudes about Mexican American and Anglo cultures. Teacher habits in assessment also led to untenable conclusions about the intellectual makeup of students and the supportive and non suppo rtive nature of students' backgrounds. Teacher made tests and styles of questioning did no t measure students' application, analytic and evaluation thinking skills for example, although un derachieving Mexican American students were judged less competent in higher order cognitio n. Errors about the readiness of students to benefit f rom learning and about the willingness of families to help students learn were also made as t eachers decided that high achievers and their guardians naturally valued learning more than famil ies with underachieving children. This is not to say that the readiness of the students in this s tudy could not be benefited from compensatory programs. Instead, analyses suggest that because th e range of student cognition was not adequately addressed, accurate decisions about effe ctive pedagogy, curricula and school reform also could not be made. This finding means that adm inistrators skills in instructional leadership and supervision need refinement so they can help pr actitioners become more competent in teaching and assessing students' higher order think ing. This also requires that district supervisors and researchers play a larger role in understanding possible relationships between culture, learning styles and student assessment. Finally, while the practice of making school polici es and procedures more culturally relevant appears to hold promise, analyses conducte d for this study contradicted earlier writings by showing that the random promotion of specific cu ltural traditions in school did not benefit all members of a particular minority group equally. Hig h achieving students generally viewed their cultural traditions as embarrassing and as impedime nts to their acceptance and achievement in school. Underachievers valued their cultural identi ty more producing resistance to learning, alienation from other students and conflict with te achers. In contrast, high achievers also enjoyed their home communities less feeling insecure and un certain more often than underachievers who generally felt less scrutiny, more belonging and mo re comfortable at home. Implications for theorists, education leaders and t he organization of schools require that they become knowledgeable about the relationship su rrounding student self concept, social acceptance, culture and the achievement of minority students in school. Analyses of the data collected indicates that minority students value fi tting in with others in one setting or another, and that their self concept, willingness to partici pate and freedom to learn are constrained to the


14 of 18extent they feel alienated from their peers, their community and their cultural understandings. In this context, being Mexican American also meant being different in school and that this difference was perceived by students and educators to mean naturally inferior to Anglos. High achievers worked hard to gain school membership by deferring their cultural identities while underachievers worked hard to keep their cultural i dentities and membership at home. Understanding how to promote self concept, acceptan ce and belonging in school and in the external community seems important for improving st udents' academic achievement. This suggests that researchers and practitioners become more compassionate and knowledgeable of the relationship between formal and informal cultur es, and the implications of this relationship for helping youths feel better about themselves, ac hievement and their place in school.Conclusion Like other research, this study ends prematurely pr obably raising more questions than it answers. Early on, it included highly general causa l theories by Cummins, Ogbu and Deyhle that link school success and failure to cultural differe nces, sociostructures, and racial conflict. Then, i t explained that these theories were inadequate demon strating how students that fit these models nonetheless achieve in school and in their home com munities. This inquiry consequently expands on the literature reviewed while also serving as a warning against simple explanations to challenging issues. It also asks that researchers t hink "more self-consciously about the philosophical and political implications and meanin gs" (Scott, 1988, p. 134) of the theories they endorse. Next, results coming from this study reminded reade rs how classifications by culture, ethnicity and race may be based on delusions (Husba nd, 1982) as they lack scientific validity and are largely informed by socio, political and econom ic pressures. Students' attitudes on fitting in at school or in their home communities, and teachers' behaviors toward Mexican American students in this research, related to their perceptions of d ifference. A positive definition of Mexican American culture r ested on the desire and ability of high achievers to think and act "normally," or as the do minant Anglo group in the school believed they should. Negative definitions of Mexican American un derachievers emerged because their behavior was perceived as resistant and antagonisti c, and because their culture seemed antithetical to the dominant Anglo culture in schoo l. This suggests that the Anglo culture was accorded primacy in school while the Mexican Americ an culture was secondary. This also suggests that the educational experiences of the st udents included in this study were largely based on cultural contrast and subjugation rather than fr om some cultural interdependence. Future research on student achievement and failure must continue with a deconstruction of cultural relations and how difference is constructe d in school. Future research must also strive to assess the interdependence of cultures in and out o f schools to determine how schools can foster cultural harmony and intellectual, social, politica l and economic gains for all.ReferencesBanks, J & Banks, C. (1993). Multicultural education: Issues & perspectives 2nd ed., Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Bogdan, R.C. & Biklen, S.K. (1992). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theory and methods 2nd ed., Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Brookover, R. (1985). Can we make schools effective for minority students? Journal of Negro Education, 54 3: 257-268.


15 of 18Bryck, J., Lee, V., & Smithy, C. (1990). Are head-s tart effects sustained: A longitudinal follow-up comparison of disadvantaged children atte nding head start, Child Development, 61 2: 495-507.Coleman, J.S., Campbell, E.Q., Hobson, C.J., McPart land, J., Mood, A.M., Weinfeld, F.D., & York, R.L. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.Cummins, J. (1986). Empowering minority students: A framework for intervention, Harvard Educational Review, 56 1: 1836. D'Andrade, R.G. (1984). Cultural meaning systems. I n R.A. Schweder & R.A. Levine (Eds.) Culture theory: Essays on mind, self and emotion Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Deyhle, D. (1995). Navajo youth and anglo racism: C ultural integrity and resistance, Harvard Educational Review, 65 3: 403-444. Deyhle, D. & Lecompte, M. (1994). Cultural differen ces in child development: Navajo adolescents in middle schools, Theory into Practice, 33 3: 156-166. Durkheim, E. (1984). Durkheim: The division of labor in society Introduction by Lewis Coser. Translated by W.D. Halls. NY: The Free Press.Edmunds, R. & Fredereksen, J. (1979). Effective sch ools for the urban poor, Educational Leadership, 46 5:29-32. Edson, C.H. (1994). Crisis in Urban Education Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Erickson, F. (1987a). Conceptions of school culture : An overview, Educational Administration Quarterly, 23 11-24. Erickson, F. (1987b). Transformation and school suc cess: The politics and culture of educational achievement, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18 335-356. Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretations of cultures New York: Basic Books. Glaser, B.G. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity: Advances in the methodolog y of grounded theory. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A.L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine. Goodenough, W.H. (1981). Culture, language and society. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.Harrington, M. (1962). The other America: Poverty in the United States NY: The Macmillan Company,Hewlett, S.A. (1991). When the bough breaks: The cost of neglecting our c hildren. New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins.Husband, C. (1982). Introduction: Race, the continu ity of a concept, In Race in Britain: Continuity and Change Edited by Charles Husband. London: Hutchinson.


16 of 18Karweit, N., & Madden, K. (1989). The effects of a story reading program on the vocabulary and story comprehension skills of disadvantaged prekind ergarten and kindergarten students, Microfilm: ED313655.McNeil, L. (1986). Contradictions of control: School structure and sch ool knowledge. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Mirel, J. (1993). Rise and Fall of an Urban School System: Detroit 19 07 1981. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press.Newmann, F.M. (1989). Organizational factors that a ffect school sense of efficacy, community, and expectations, Sociology of Education, 62 4: 221-238. Ogbu, J. (1989). The individual in collective adapt ation: A framework for focusing on academic under performance and dropping out among involuntar y minorities, found in Dropouts from school: Issues, dilemmas and solutions Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Ogbu, J. (1987). Variability in minority school per formance: A problem in search of an explanation, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18 312-334. Pea, R. (1995). Teacher expectations and students with challenging behaviors, Current Issues in Middle Level Education, 4 67-78. Pea, R. (1994). Organizational uncertainty: Public schools and stud ents with challenging behaviors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of W isconsin-Madison, WI. Raudenbush, S. & Bryk, A.S. (1986). A hierarchical model for studying school effects, Sociology of Education, 59 1: 117. Raudenbush, S. & Bryk, A.S. (1989). The effects of high school organization on dropping out: An exploratory investigation, American Educational Research Journal, 26 3: 353-383. Rosenholtz, S.J. (1989). Workplace conditions that affect teacher quality and commitment: Implications for teacher induction programs, Elementary School Journal, 89 4: 421-439. Scheurich, J.J. & Imber, M. (1991). Educational ref orms can reproduce societal inequities: A case study, Educational Administration Quarterly, 27 297-320. Scott, J.W. (1988). Deconstructing equality versus difference: Or, the uses of poststructuralist theory for feminism. Theory, Curriculum and Society, 10 4: 127-142. Spring, J. (1976). The sorting machine: National educational policy si nce 1945 NY: David McKay Company Inc.Strauss, A. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. New York: Cambridge University Press.Taylor, S.J. & Bogdan, R. (1984). Introduction to qualitative research methods: The s earch for meanings. 2nd ed., New York: John Wiley and Sons. Turnbull, A.P. & Turnbull, H.R. (1990). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: A Spec ial partnership. 2nd ed., NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.


17 of 18 Weber, M. (1947). The theory of social and economic organization. NY: The Free Press. Wehlage, G.G., Rutter, R.A., Smith, G.A., Lesko, N. & Fernandez, R.R. (1989). Reducing the risk: Schools as communities of support. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press. Wehlage, G.G. & Rutter, R.A. (1986). Dropping out: How do schools contribute to the problem? Teachers College Record, 87 374-392. Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour: How working class kids get work ing class jobs London: Saxon House.About the AuthorRobert A. Pea Robert Pea is an Assistant Professor in the Divisi on of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at Arizona State University. He was graduat ed in 1993 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with is Ph.D. in Educational Administrat ion. Dr. Pea was awarded his M.A. in Secondary English Education in 1988 from SUNY Buffa lo and his B.S. in English in 1984 from Buffalo State College. He has served as a public sc hool principal, assistant principal, program coordinator and teacher. Dr. Pea's research interests include poverty, inte ragency collaboration and their implications for value centered leadership. He also writes on the relationship between organizational theory and behavior and disadvantage d students and families. Email: rpena@imap2.asu.eduCopyright 1997 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Stat e University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692). T he Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov


18 of 18 Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Marshall University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Rocky Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education William McInerney Purdue University Mary P. McKeown Arizona Board of Regents Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers University of California at Davis Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University


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