Teacher’s Aides Case

The city of Sorghum is a community of 20,000 located in northwestern Arkansas near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders. For the last fifty years, the population of Sorghum has been engaged primarily in agriculture or in servicing the agricultural community. Five years ago, the major utility company finished construction of a nuclear power plant that serves the needs of cities in three states. The plant now accounts for 54% of the jobs in Sorghum. Seventy percent of those employed at the plant are recent arrivals who have no roots in the local community. This population influx resulted in rapid construction of two new grammar schools (grades one through six) and one new middle school (grades seven and eight). The next anticipated pressure will be on the high school, which must expand its facilities to accommodate the maturing newcomers.

The district now has four grammar schools, two middle school, and one high school. Some 24% of the students in the district are bused in from farms surrounding Sorghum. A pilot program for busing city residents also has been underway for two years as a result of threatened lawsuits by the local African American and Native American communities, who feel that the current racial composition of the schools is inequitable. Generally, the minority communities are made up of long-term residents.  

The racial composition of the schools causes community unrest. The high school is fully integrated. Problems at that level center on student assignments to the new and old facilities when the new facility becomes operational. The middle schools also are relatively balanced. Johnson Middle School is 75% white, 20% African American, and 5% Native American; Kennedy Middle School is 34% African American, 12% Native American, and 54% white. The actual racial composition of all school-age children in Sorghum is 60% white, 31% African American, and 9% Native American.

The principal problems of racial harmony stem from student distribution in the grammar schools of Sorghum. Jefferson School is located in a predominately white part of the city. The student composition at Jefferson is 95% white; as a result of the pilot busing program the remainder of the student population there is 3% African American and 2% Native American.

Lincoln School is located in the black section of the city, and its student composition is 84% African American, 11% Native American, and 5% white. The white students are bused to Lincoln School. The two newer schools (Carver and Roosevelt) have operated for three years and are located in areas accessible to all three communities. The composition of the student body at Carver School is 65% white and 35% African American. Roosevelt School is 40% African American, 40% white, and 20% Native American. Minority parents are as much concerned about the overcrowded conditions at the Lincoln and Roosevelt schools as they are about racial balance.

The Sorghum school board is made up of seven members elected at large. The membership includes five men and two women. To date, no African American or Native American has secured a seat on the board, although African American and Native American candidates have made strong showings in the last three elections. The occupational status of the board members reflects the community they serve. The president of the board is a farmer in his ninth term. Two other rural residents also hold seats on the board: One, in her eighth term, is a retired teacher and the wife of the farmer; the other, in his third term is a medical doctor who raises horses near town. The remaining board members are a grocer, now in his second term; a housewife, now in her first term; an executive at the power plant, also in his first term; and a service station operator, who has been on the board for 30 years and is in his last term.

The membership of the board is deeply divided on the question of busing; the newer members see a need for the program, and the senior members strongly oppose such innovations. The swing vote on such issues rests with the doctor, who voted for the busing program in the interest of community peace. The board is also skeptical about ethnic studies programs and special programs for persons with learning disabilities, even though the presence of the power plant has considerably increased district revenues. The conservative members of the board would rather return excess tax revenues to taxpayers than sink them into high-cost, low-return programs for the educationally challenged. They want the curriculum to consist of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The vast majority of teachers in the district are Sorghum natives who attended one of the two state-supported universities for four years and returned home to teach. Most recently, however, an increasing number of the teaching positions are being filled by newcomers who are affiliated one way or another with the power plant. Most notable among the new hires are four African American teachers who are not Sorghum natives, bringing the total number of African American teachers in the district to twelve. The remaining eight African American educators are longtime Sorghum residents, one of whom is principal of Lincoln School.

The school system is headed by a 35-year-old superintendent, now serving his second year, who has a doctorate in education from a university in a neighboring state. He has spent the last 18 months getting acquainted with the district and establishing himself with the board, the staff, and the community. He has acquired a reputation as an innovative, level-headed person, but there is some resentment about his appointment stemming from his being selected over two local candidates—one the African American principal of Lincoln School, the other the high school principal.

The superintendent has two assistants and a clerical staff of four to run the entire district. The void is filled somewhat by school principals, who assume more duties than are required by the normal course of school operations. This strategy has worked fairly well, but the superintendent is preparing to push for additional central office personal in the upcoming budget year. Two months ago, a notice from the State Department of Education arrived at the superintendent’s office specifying that an evaluation of the teachers’ aide program (which had been funded for a five-year period) was overdue. If the district wished to apply for continued funding of the program, it would have to demonstrated that the goals of the program had been met. The last sixty days have been spent reviewing the original grant proposal and examining how the program was set up and operated. A central office review of the program indicated that the former superintendent had secured a grant for a teachers’ aide program. Because Jefferson and Lincoln were the only two grammar schools at the time the grant was secured, all the aides had been placed in those schools, where they remained. The office staff vaguely remembered that the former superintendent, now deceased, had two motivations: first to preserve racial harmony in the district, and second to run “some sort of experiment.”

The Department of Education wants to know how well the program is achieving its stated goals. The program calls for an aide in the classroom so that (1) the teacher can spend less time on administrative duties and more on teaching, (2) classroom discipline can be improved by the addition of another adult, and (3) students can receive more individualized attention in math and reading. All this was supposed to improve the educational experience and provide maximum educational benefits for the dollars spent.

The present superintendent has called a meeting of the two central office professionals and the principals of the four Sorghum grammar schools. The purpose of the meeting is to determine how to proceed in light of the following facts:

1. The district intends to reapply for the funding. 2. The superintendent wants to know whether there is a better way to distribute the aides. 3. There is $10,000 in contingency fund that could be expended on the evaluation, but the superintendent would prefer to spend the funds on books for the library. 4. It is hoped that the evaluation will demonstrate program success, which will support the request for additional funds for the board in the upcoming budget year.

Using the background provided in this case: 1. Construct a survey to gather data surveying the teachers and aides. Time is always an issue when asking anyone to answer a survey; look at the number of questions you ask and make sure to develop a reasonable instrument. 2. Make sure your questionnaire is written as you would administer it; e.g., instructions, responses.

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