Engaging the Disengaged: How Schools Can Help Struggling Student Succeed by Lois Brown Easton (Corwin Press, 304 pages, $37.95), reviewed by Dan Condon
Far too many young people sit in classes disengaged; far too many drop out of school altogether. The drop-out statistics are frightening enough, but no one really knows how many more students merely endure school, sitting in the back of the room, tuned out. Engaging the Disengaged is addressed to those of us who work with such students, and also to those who work with the teachers and principals who work with such students – district administrators, for example. Finally, it speaks to teacher education and continuing education programs that prepare teachers and administrators to work in schools that “house” such students. The reader will encounter many different voices from K-12 schools throughout the country in this book: voices of students, voices of their teachers, and voices of those who observe these students and teachers working together.
This book is about changing the culture of schools so that they are more humane and habitable for struggling learners – really, for all learners. Easton argues that schools should make important changes, such as creating whole-school learning communities. Teachers can certainly change their own classrooms, but school wide change is likely to have a greater effect. In fact, redesigned schools – not just high schools but all schools that serve struggling students – can help keep such students in school, learning, graduating, and contributing to a society that needs them.
Easton organizes her ideas into two sections: Culture and Curriculum, and Instruction and Assessment. The final chapter pulls it all together by looking at the effect of school on the whole student. Topics include a testing culture vs. a learning culture; the importance of building relationships and creating community; how principles govern a school better than rules; building a democracy in schools; how really to be standards-based; innovative instructional strategies; and performance assessment for learning.
For over a decade, I have been working with young people who have found success to be elusive in their high school experiences. Few were on track to graduating and many had dropped out. Easton’s book shares realistic and inspiring examples of the kind of engagement that transforms such kids’ lives.
Based in Estes Park, Colorado, Dan Condon is the Associate Director of the Professional Development Center, a CES Affiliate Center, at Eagle Rock School, a CES Mentor School.