Changing Faces, Changing Places: Challenges as We Enter a New Century

The face of education in the United States has changed in the last 25 years, and the changes that began to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s have accelerated. The places where education occurs have likewise changed. Some schools, insulated from changing demographics and isolated from the mainstream of the majority of the country, continue to be unaffected. But the majority of schools and teachers struggle to adapt to a new reality of different students, different parents and changing communities.

Statistics on school dropouts, retentions in grade and academic achievement levels indicate that in too many schools and communities, educators are not succeeding. The reasons for the lack of success vary and are often multi-dimensional. IDRA believes that one of the major reasons that more schools and more students are not succeeding is that, although the faces of those whom we educate have changed and will continue to change, those who serve them – the school “systems” – have not.

Schools continue to be staffed by teachers, administrators and support staff who were prepared in other eras, who are different in color and economic background than the communities that they serve. Despite claims of reform, most schools operate out of an educational paradigm that has remained basically unchanged for decades: a paradigm in which educational success for some and educational failure for many others is deemed acceptable.

This paradigm is based on a deficit view of children. It assumes that a particular type of child – whether defined by race, gender or language – is to blame for educational failure. Deficit models try to change the characteristics of the student and the family so that they will fit into the school program. Instead, schools should be changing their programs to fit their students.

Schools have been slow to change and have not been able to keep up with the evolving realities (new faces, new societal demands, fast technological advances) because schools are people, and real change is hard for real people. Like most institutions, schools tend to be tractive and resist change. Many people in schools know little about how change can be planned and managed, even when they want to change. In many cases, people in schools do not see for themselves that change is possible and can be good. Schools do not feel the urgency to change because schools are not held accountable for results.

Since its beginning 25 years ago, IDRA has promoted accountability and equity in public schools. IDRA has provided expert testimony in court cases that created contexts for change. IDRA worked with state legislatures to create policies that promote appropriate instruction in bilingual education programs and to advocate reforms to school finance systems. IDRA has conducted critical research on the status of education and promising practices. For more than two decades, IDRA has operated a desegregation assistance center and various other research and technical assistance centers funded by the US Department of Education. IDRA works with tens of thousands of educators each year in creating educational solutions through participatory hands-on presentations, workshops and technical assistance that promote sustained growth and development.

Many people believe that schools must change but lack insight on what needs to change and how to change it. Based on its more than 25 years of educational reform advocacy, IDRA believes that schools can change, but not on their own.

In the 21st century, IDRA will continue to be a champion for education equity for all children as it works with people to achieve three targeted goals: for all children to stay in school through high school graduation, for all children who speak a language other than English to benefit from quality instructional programs that capitalize on students’ language and culture, and for all children in every neighborhood to have access to excellent public schools.

Schools can change if they have a new vision created by people who believe that all children are valuable, that all people can contribute, and that public education can indeed change things, including futures.

Christie L. Goodman, APR, is the IDRA communications manager. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]