Compensatory Education: Approaching the Problem from the Wrong Direction
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*Designated as an exemplary master's project for 2015-16*The American approach to disparities in educational achievement is deficit focused and based on false assumptions of equal educational opportunity and social mobility. The labels attached to children served by compensatory early childhood education programs have evolved, e.g., from “culturally deprived” into “at-risk” for school failure, yet remain rooted in deficit discourses and ideology. Drawing on multiple bodies of literature, this thesis analyzes the rhetoric of compensatory education as viewed through the conceptual lens of the deficit thinking paradigm, in which school failure is attributed to perceived genetic, cultural, or environmental deficiencies, rather than institutional and societal inequalities. With a focus on the evolution of deficit thinking, the thesis begins with late 19th century U.S. early childhood education as it set the stage for more than a century of compensatory education responses to the needs of children, inadequacies of immigrant and minority families, and threats to national security. Key educational research and publications on genetic-, cultural-, and environmental-deficits are aligned with trends in achievement gaps and compensatory education initiatives, beginning mid-20th century following the Brown vs Board declaration of 1954 and continuing to the present. This analysis then highlights patterns in the oppression, segregation, and disenfranchisement experienced by low-income and minority students, largely ignored within the mainstream compensatory education discourse. This thesis concludes with a heterodox analysis of how the deficit thinking paradigm is dependent on assumptions of equal educational opportunity and social mobility, which helps perpetuate the cycle of school failure amid larger social injustices.
DepartmentGraduate Liberal Studies
"at risk" for school failure
early childhood education
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Rights for Collection: Graduate Liberal Studies