• by Bradley Scott, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1998 • Dr. Bradley Scott

The question was raised in a teleconference held among the directors of the 10 regional desegregation assistance centers: “To what degree have we really created equitable educational opportunity for kids in schools?” The question surfaced in relation to the theme of the Improving America’s Schools (IAS) conferences. The theme this year is “Schools…Equity…Quality…Together: Connecting the Dots.” The conference agendas are in their final stages of planning. They will highlight many efforts throughout the nation where school systems are stepping up to make “all” mean all.

We have evidence of programs that “either in part or in their entirety” are working for diverse learners. The greater challenge, however, is to reproduce these successes in a nation full of millions of learners on hundreds of thousands of school campuses in thousands of school districts.

A little more than four short years ago, the educators around the nation began talking about creating schools that work for all children. They spoke about solutions similar to the ones the desegregation assistance centers had been proposing since they published Resegregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (1989). IDRA has advocated this issue throughout its entire history. As we celebrate this 25th anniversary, we are committed to the mission of creating schools that work for all children. I think most educators, citizens and communities are committed to this notion, at least in principle.

What will be important, though, is how we turn the corner from principle to practice, from vision to creation, from talk to action, from inputs to outputs, and from highlights of success to regularities of success for all. I am encouraged because we know things now that we did not know before. We have learned new lessons. There is new hope. We can embrace the potential of the possible.

The book, Education on the Edge of Possibility, focuses on learning theory and its application to a changing world-reality (1997). The authors, Renate Caine and Geoffrey Caine, point out: “Education has worked well [at least for some] for over 100 years. Although many people have fallen through the cracks and numerous inequalities have occurred, the model of education has been a good ‘fit’ for the industrial age.” We are leaving behind that particular way of looking at the world and are moving toward a new paradigm where “the ground itself is moving.”

For Caine and Caine, there are four ideas that should guide our understanding of this change and the continuing possibilities that are emerging:

  • Disequilibrium is everywhere.
  • The brain is equipped to deal with a turbulent world.
  • The change process is intrinsically transformational.
  • To function best in this new environment, we need to embrace a fundamentally different world view and perceptual orientation.

Peter Negroni extended the discussion presented above in some critically important ways. He describes a new imperative for the transformation of US public schools that addresses the issue of educating all of our children. Negroni states:

For the first time in this experiment called the American democracy, educators are expected to do something never done before in history: To educate everyone and to educate everyone to be able to participate in a complex technological world [author’s emphasis]…A great deal of change by all in America, however, is required. Particularly those employed in the public schools – they must change. Key to the transformation of the public schools is an understanding and respect for America’s growing diversity by the people who work in those schools. They [educators] must be made to understand that we live in a changing society that can no longer survive with only some of its children being successful. All Americans must be convinced that there are compelling reasons for the transformation of America’s public schools into places that effectively educate all youngsters (1994, 1996).

Negroni describes four transformations that lie at the very root of systemic change.

Organizational transformation

is where schools are “organized so that the needs of the students become the focus of the organizational structure.” Additionally, schools “must move to become places where the organizational structure and the pedagogical models stress the importance of producing students who have specific skills” (e.g., higher order cognitive, adaptive, communicative, social, interpersonal and self-management skills that operate at a world-class level).

Pedagogical transformation

is where a revolution, not an evolution, occurs: “It requires the liberation of the American educators.” Negroni suggests that “a growing body of evidence indicates that present instructional delivery models cannot survive if we are to meet the needs of a 21st century world…Educators must combine what we are discovering about teaching and learning with changes in organizational structure to meet new requirements of teaching all children.”

Political transformation

manifests the will to educate those who have traditionally been ignored or who are found in urban centers and who look different than those who control the economics of the urban centers. According to Negroni, the political transformation embraces a fundamental additional issue of equity and excellence. This issue calls for a response to two questions, one that he raises: “Does each child born in America have equal access to an effective and appropriate education?” and one that I raise: “Is there adequate funding to support equitable, excellent education for all learners so that educators can be held accountable for comparable educational outcomes among learners?” Coming from a low-income environment should not automatically sentence a child to an inferior education. Political transformation also involves race relations. For Negroni, t is a political issue that US public schools still “suffer from the practices developed during the slavery period that created different expectations for races…The performance of Black and Hispanic students over the last quarter century has conditioned everyone, including parents, that they are able to perform similarly to White, middle-class children.”

Social and attitudinal transformation

is where everyone in the community understands the interdependence of the school and community. Negroni contends that “the social and attitudinal transformation requires the development of child-centered communities where children and families have real value.” To that end, there are several additional points that cannot be overlooked:

  • US society and its schools must change the expectation of the distribution of results. “People who were traditionally not expected to succeed must now succeed if our economy is to survive,” Negroni states.
  • “The new paradigm [of education] indicates that it is what we do in the school in response to how they come to school that makes the difference and not how they come to school” (emphasis added). This transformation is possibly the most challenging and most difficult for the US public school to make.
  • Negroni states that in this country we have struggled with our multicultural and diverse nature. We have met with only limited success. He says, “A new approach taking hold in some schools is inclusive education…[which is a] fundamental belief that considers each person an important, accepted member of the school and community…Inclusion is truly the process through which all children can develop the skills, the attitudes and the experiences [needed] to be fully enfranchised members of the society.”

This matter of inclusion has also been more recently addressed by MA Faley, et al.:

Inclusion is the opposite of segregation and isolation. Segregated, specialized education creates a permanent underclass of students, with a strong message to these students that they do not “cut the mustard.” The growing diversity of our student population is a topic of great debate and concern…Diversity is often spoken about as if it were a plight rather than a wonderful opportunity for learning…about what it is to be human – to be included, to be valued and respected just for who we are in a naturally diverse world (1995).

Faley and his fellow researchers also contend that the need for genuine, inclusive education requires a true restructuring of US education not only to establish meaningful standards, but also to hold educators accountable for accomplishing outcomes. It requires a great commitment.

This commitment means that we must believe each child can learn and succeed, that diversity enriches us all, that students at risk of failure can overcome that risk through involvement in a thoughtful and caring community of learners, that each child has unique contributions to offer to the community of learners, that each child has strengths and needs, and that effective learning results from the collaborative efforts of us all to ensure the success of each student.

We are practically at the new millennium. In public education we are standing at the door of a new century that already presents the possibility that who we will be is very different from who we have been. Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1999. We are uniquely positioned to look backward and forward almost simultaneously. We can see the United States as the giant during an industrial age in the 20th century, and we can see our country as the world leader in the information and technological age of the 21st century.

I am not a fortune teller, but I can look through the glass and see the possibility of our continued success as a nation, provided we heed the lessons we have learned about the need for us all to be included. All can no longer mean some. That is old math for an old age. All can no longer mean more. That is transitional math for a transitional age. All must mean all. That is transformational math for a transformational age.

This total inclusion is possible. I witnessed a practical example of it in a south Texas school district just last weekend, where I was working with a group of teachers and aides examining racial and gender bias in the curriculum. The training took place in the high school cafetorium. During the lunch break, several people left the training site to get lunch. But, many stayed because we either had brought a lunch from home or purchased a barbecue chicken dinner from the band booster club. I purchased one of the dinners and was about to proceed to a table away from a group of teachers and aides who were already talking and eating, with their meals spread out before them.

One of them called out to me, “Señor, come on over and join us; It’s only us at the table.” The unspoken message was “Join us, we’ve already been here together, working together all day so far anyway.”

“Oh,” I deferred, “it’s full; There’s no room at the table.” I felt like such an outsider.

“There’s plenty of room,” one of the aides said to me in a mixture of Spanish and English. Without any apparent cue or signal, they all rose, Hispanic and Anglo, male and female, teachers and aides, able and disabled, and moved another table into the group configuration. She repeated, “There’s plenty of room.”

I was embarrassed because I had been so shortsighted. You see, I had only focused on the reality of the single table. They, in their wisdom, considered the possibility of the cafetorium and all the resources (tables and space) that were available. What was impossible for me was quite possible for them. They had the vision not only to see it, but to create it as well.

Who is at the table? We all are, or at least, we should be. Is there room enough for all? Absolutely, if we look around and commit ourselves to making room as we stand at the edge of the future and peer into the possible.


Caine, R.N. and G. Caine. Education on the Edge of Possibility (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1997).

Desegregation Assistance Centers. Resegregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (Portland, Oregon: Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, 1989).

Faley, MA, C.C. Givner and C. Kimm. “What Is an Inclusive School?” In R.A. Villa and J.S. Thousand, Creating an Inclusive School (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1995).

Negroni, P.J. “Educating All of Our Children: A New Imperative for the Transformation of America’s Public Schools.” Unpublished paper and speech presented at the annual conference of the Texas Association of Hispanic Administrators (San Antonio, Texas: 1994, 1996).

Scott, Bradley. “Faster than a Plymouth and Other Reflections on the Opportunity to Learn Standards,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 1998).

Bradley Scott, MA, is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. He directs the IDRA Desegregation Assistance Center – South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]