14 SES 09 A, Disadvantaged Students, Schools and Institutionalised Children
Since 1996, Taiwan has been implementing the Educational Priority Areas (EPA) Program to reduce the achievement gaps between students in different regions. Despite its efforts, the weight of social inequality on Taiwanese student performance in mathematics is the highest among 65 countries and economies, according to PISA 2012 result (OECD, 2013). Taiwan’s Basic Competence Test results also reveal a widening gap between urban and rural students (Sung, Tseng, Kuo, Chang, & Chiou, 2014).
The Taiwanese Ministry of Education piloted the "Success Program" from 2014 to 2017, an experimental program in order to reform the EPA Program. There are two major differences between the traditional EPA and the Success Program. First, the intervention area of the traditional EPA program is school-based while the Success Program emphasizes zone-based intervention. The latter requires the junior high school and primary schools in the same catchment area to form networks and to integrate families and community resources in order to prevent learning difficulties from accumulating. Second, the traditional EPA Program allocates earmarked funds for remedial teaching, feature curriculum, aboriginal education, teaching-learning equipment, parental education and home visits, whereas the Success Program utilizes the zone project as a policy instrument to initiate bottom-up educational change. In other words, disadvantaged schools need to plan their zone project and funding together in order to enhance learning support, to develop partnerships with the public and private sectors, and strengthen family-school relationships.
British and French experience demonstrates that EPAs were unable to produce a large-scale impact in either the short or the longer terms (Assemblée Nationale, 2013; Smith, Smith, & Smith 2007; Smith 1987). Rees, Power and Taylor (2007) argue that area-based initiatives in the UK are based on highly simplistic conceptualizations of the geography of inequality. Derouet (1993) specifies that the territorial logic of the French educational priority zones delegates to the local actors the task of defining "a common local good" which is likely to rebuild an education system at the cost of diversification. The French educational priority zones; therefore, have become places where several logics of action of different conceptions of justice are confronted and combined.
The zone project helps to develop social learning through an empowerment objective (Robert, 2009). However, man might question the ability of local educational teams to find on their own, appropriate responses to the challenges they are facing. The research of Rowan and Miller (2007) suggests that a policy of this kind, giving local education teams the responsibility to seek, develop and implement solutions, is not enough to guarantee instructional change.
This study sought to investigate the implementation of the Success Program. Four junior high and fifteen elementary schools participated in the Success Program from 2014 to 2017. The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 school principals, division heads and teachers recruited from participating schools and utilized content analysis to analyze challenges, difficulties and compromises during the first two years of implementation. Specifically, the purpose was to explore the extent to which the Success Program promoted educational change at the zone, school and classroom level, the advantages and limitations of zone-based intervention, as well as the factors hindering educational change.
This study begins with a consideration of area-based intervention for disadvantaged schools, followed by an analysis of the French and British experiences to better understand the interests, limits and challenges of area-based intervention. Based on organizational theory, the researcher illustrates an organizational perspective on the instructional change. The author then explores the challenges that area-based interventions for disadvantaged schools face in Taiwan through qualitative data. Policy recommendations are provided to tackle the problems of instructional change in disadvantaged areas.
Sample Qualitative data were collected from four junior high and 15 elementary schools which participated in the Success Program from 2014 to 2017. These 19 schools belong to four remote catchment areas (zone) in Taiwan. The sample included three categories of education staff: principals (n=8), division heads (n=6), and teachers (n=12). Three to four school principals or division heads were selected from each zone according to the zone committee member list of the Success Program. The zone committee which consisted of the principals as well as the division heads of the junior high and primary schools in the zone was responsible for drawing up and implementing the zone project. In addition, two to four teachers were selected from each zone based on the zone's professional development workshop attendance sheets. In order to balance the representativeness of each school, at least one member (school principal, division head or teacher) from each school was interviewed. The length of each interview lasted from 48 to 126 minutes. Instrument The researcher developed two sets of interview questions for the administrative teams and teachers, respectively. The interview questions for the administrative team collected three themes regarding the operation of administrative leadership at the zone level, the collaboration network at the zone level, and the partnership and school-family relationships. The teacher interview questions collected teachers’ working experiences in remote areas, the attitudes and perspectives towards the Success Program, and the needs assessment of teaching support. Data collection Semi-structured interviews were employed for the data collection. The interviews took place in two phases. During the zone project preparation period in 2014, the researcher interviewed four junior high school principals who were leaders of each zone committee. 22 school principals, division heads and teachers selected from 19 schools were interviewed during the implementation period of 2015 to 2016. The author also collected zone projects and meeting logs of zone committees to conduct data triangulation and content analysis. Data analysis The interviews were recorded and transcribed for analysis. The author made use of Atlas.ti software to analyze data. The data analysis was based on a constant comparative method to check new and old data for differences. Particularly, the data were coded according to guidelines for inductive-exploratory research and comparative analysis (Glazer, 1965). This process involves a comparison of each new element formerly coded with developing categories and subcategories.
This study examined to what extent the Success Program facilitated educational change at the zone, school and classroom level and analyzed barriers impeding zone-based intervention. The results indicate that the Success Program facilitated inter-school cooperation among elementary teachers by preparing lesson plans, designing a common assessment framework and organizing professional development workshops at the zone level. Besides, the adjustment of remedial teaching and parental involvement strategies were observed at the school level. However, no change was found at the classroom level, which underlines the great difficulty for disadvantaged schools to deploy its resources on teaching and learning. The primary reason why schools could not focus on pedagogical change was a lack of discussion mechanism between the administrative team and teachers. Second, school principals and division heads who were the main planners of the zone project lacked pedagogical leadership skills. Therefore, the teaching practice and learning experience have remained unchanged at the classroom level. In addition, there was a goal displacement at the school level. Some disadvantaged schools, faced with an unattainable mission of achieving academic success for their students, chose to affirm that the goal of academic success was less important than the well-being of the students. Some schools, in view of promoting the image of their school, have developed excessive amounts of extracurricular activities, to the detriment of students learning time. In terms of zone integration, lacking of administrative power, short of discussion time, insufficient collaboration skills as well as high teacher turnover rate were main challenges of initiating and sustaining educational change. Policy recommendations: (1) Cultivating curriculum leaders and concentrating the focus of zone integration on basic competences. (2) Establishing the discussion mechanism between the administrative team and teachers and providing scaffolding to support collaborative discussions. (3) Introducing experienced teachers and school-based workshops to strengthen instruction practices.
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