Volume 14, 2008
What Olney Teachers say about their Students and School
Rasheeda Enoch & Gerardo Zuviri
Olney High School* is located on 100 W. Duncannon Street in Philadelphia, PA. It is a five story high school that has a football field directly across the street which takes up a whole city block. On the same side but at the next corner there is a mini market that has a blue banner that hangs at the top of it. Surrounding this school stands a Cousins Supermarket which is located in the same area as an Auto Zone. Across the street from that parking lot is a pizza store that goes by the name of Bally's. Row houses surround the school and are throughout the neighborhood. When you enter the school building from the front, there will be two staircases that lead you to the two separate schools that now exist (Olney 704 and Olney 705). When you walk through the door that leads you to the school of your choice you will see the main office. At this moment you can explore life at Olney High School.
The 2005-2006 year at Olney High School was the first year that Olney was split into two medium-sized schools. This report is about one of those schools, Olney 705 East. As reported from the School District website during the 2005 2006 school year,* the race and ethnic composition of Olney 705 East High School was 62.9% African Americans, 2% Whites, 8.8% Asians 25.6% Latinos, and 0.9% others. At the time of our study, Olney 705 had 50 teachers and half the teachers were new to the school. Not only were there many new teachers but many of them were placed as teachers of honors as well as AP classes. In total, Olney 705 had 1131 students.
A program called Youth United for Change (YUC) came up with the idea for small schools at Olney. After struggling for several years, in 2005 - 2006 Olney was split into two medium sized schools by erecting a wall down the middle of the school building. The two sides of the school were renamed Olney 704, with Law and Creative and Performing Arts, and Olney 705, with Business, Carpentry, and Medical. Within this first year, Olney turned into a disaster. There were fights at least once a week, and the schools were always on the news. Thus far, in the 2006 - 2007 school year, Olney 704 and 705 have changed and there is less violence.
The topic of this research project is teachers' perspectives on Olney 705 and its students. We made this our topic because the student researchers felt that Olney high school teachers need to have more input and decision making about things that affect them. We also felt that teachers were interested in the activities and other issues that occur at their school.
The Research Question and Data Collection
Our research was guided by our observation that our school was dirty and we wanted to look at how that affected the relationship between students and the teachers in the school. By looking at the topic question we really decided to change it because we found out that the questions we were asking had to deal with teachers' perceptions of the school and not how dirty the school was. From there we went in a different direction and we began asking questions about the teachers' perceptions of the school and of the students. We read some articles about other youth organizations that are working on small schools and we used those articles to give us ideas on how to gather the information we needed to investigate our question.
We, the youth researchers, created the questions for our survey of teachers and from there our research mentors from Research for Action placed the questions in a survey format. Research mentors and the youth researchers shared the survey with the school principal who then approved it and gave permission to conduct the survey. We then decided on how we were going to distribute the survey to the teachers and how we were going to collect them once the teachers filled them out. At first we came up with the idea of putting the survey in every teacher's mailbox but we also looked at the fact that we wanted the survey back as soon as possible. From there we made the decision to just walk from classroom to classroom and ask the teachers if they would fill the surveys out for us while we stood there, and if they could not fill it out at the time, we asked them for a time to come back and either pick it up or give them the survey. We did a good job with the response rate since 36 out of 50 teachers completed the survey, meaning that only 14 teachers refused to do it.
"Our research helps to fill the gap by telling a story about the struggle...[to have] successful small schools."
We also wanted to do a focus group to see if any teachers had any additional issues they wanted to put on the table that they were not able to talk about on the survey. Out of the 36 teachers that answered the survey, 6 of them wanted to be part of a focus group and this focus group was conducted after school. The questions from the focus group were questions that would give us a better understanding of how the teachers felt about the school and the students.
After the survey and the focus group were done we met and we analyzed the data. We looked for themes that emerged from both the survey and the focus group. The section that follows discusses those themes. From all of the articles that we have read during this project we saw that they all talked about the success they had and not the struggle they went through to get what they needed. We believe that our research helps to fill the gap by telling a story about the struggle we are going through towards having successful small schools.
All people concerned about Olney High School need to really find out where the money for public education is being spent since the teachers at our school perceive that there are not enough resources in the school. According to the statistical results of the teacher survey we created, I learned that the teachers at Olney High School (705) feel that there are insufficient financial resources coming to the school, with 26 out of 36 teachers agreeing with this point of view. The survey information was followed by a focus group with a small group of the teachers we had surveyed, in which we gathered more information on issues such as resources available at the school. First, the teachers believe that the school has money to spend but it is being spent on the wrong things. Second, teachers believe that they and the students are going out and finding their own resources. Third, the teachers sometimes believe that the resources are there but teachers just can not find them.
At the school, non-instructional supplies are being bought, but they are not the supplies that teachers believe they need most in order to teach their classes. Some of the teachers feel that the materials that are being bought are completely unnecessary. For example, one teacher expressed her thoughts on this by saying:
Other teachers complain that every resource that they do have connects with another set of resources that they do not have. One teacher explained to us that:
All the resource issues are important to teachers, but one of the most important issues is that the teachers feel they need computers in every classroom. For example, one of the teachers told us:
Teachers believe that due to the lack of sufficient financial resources the teachers are forced to go out and buy the resources they need to teach their class. Along with the issue of teachers going out and purchasing resources with their own money, some of the teachers also feel that they have put time into the job that they are not required to and for which they are not being reimbursed. Several teachers had something to say about this. Here is how one of them feels about this issue:
It is not just the teachers that must purchase materials or donate their time. The teachers feel that the students are forced to go out and find and buy their own resources too, especially the resources they need the most. As one teacher said:
As a student at this school where these issues are occurring, my experience is consistent with the teachers' perceptions. I could definitely say that these issues are true because there have been several times where I was forced to go out and find and buy the resources that I need, such as when I went out and bought the TI-83 calculator for my math class that I needed when I knew that it should have been provided within the school walls.
Lack of sufficient resources is only one problem revealed by our research. Teachers also perceived that sometimes there are resources that the teachers need that are in the school, but they do not know how to find them and how to acquire them. These materials have actually been harder to acquire since the school was split into two different schools. There were some teachers that felt that they needed to have some type of system so they could work this issue out in a calm and smooth way. This is how one of the teachers explained the difficulty of crossing to the other side (704) to acquire resources:
It is not just that the teachers can not find the resources, they actually don't know how to acquire them. Here is another comment on how the teachers felt on this particular issue:
Also from my observations, I know that the separation has caused some confusion because I know that the English supply closet is on the other side of the school. Teachers reported that it was hard for them to go out of their classes and go to the other side to get what they need from the supply closet.
Another issue that emerged from the research was the lack of infrastructure and poor communication that resulted from the division of the school. The teachers said that the split was not a well thought out plan because all the administration did was just build a wall right down the middle of the school. Now the administration is calling Olney High School two small schools. But the new schools are not small because they both have over a thousand students each. One teacher drew the connection between the lack of infrastructure and the poor communication saying:
Another teacher added:
Yet another teacher reported:
In conclusion, the teachers believe that the resources available for them in their classrooms are inadequate, and even when they do have resources there is a mismatch between what they have and what they need. The teachers believe that the resources that the administration is purchasing are not the most important ones to support the proper teaching. The process of putting up the wall and dividing the school into two was conducted too quickly and it caused confusion with the resources that are available because specific departmental book closets are located on only one side of the building or the other. So according to most of the teachers that were in the focus group the whole process of Olney High School being split up into two was not well thought out; the administration did not look at the effect that it would have if they did not build the same infrastructure on both of the sides of the school. There is a belief that Olney High School still has promise of becoming two small schools. To make this come true, the administration needs to make sure that the process is well thought out instead of just doing what they did the first time - just placing a wall in the middle of the school.
Lack of Communication and Low Expectations at Olney High School (705)
This section of the report is based on information from the focus group and survey of Olney High School (705) teachers. It examines teachers' perceptions of their relationships with students and their expectations of students. It also reveals how communication between Olney staff, teachers, and students contributes to teachers' low expectations of their students. Despite these low expectations, teachers still feel that they have good relationships with their students.
Using the data from the survey and focus group with the teachers, we found evidence that teachers and students have a good relationship but teacher expectations and standards for the students are low. While most teachers feel that Olney High School has good student and teacher relationships (26 out of 36), they also feel that the school has low expectations and standards for the students. Survey results show that teachers have low expectations of students: 18 out of 36 teachers are not satisfied with the curriculum the Olney High School is receiving; and 30 out of 36 teachers feels that majority of Olney High School students will not be prepared for college.
The teachers that attended the focus group agreed that Olney High has good student-teachers relationships. One teacher stated,
Similarly, another teacher commented that it's good that students find their resources outside of the school. This teacher expressed,
While teachers described good relationships with students, the teachers realized the whole administrations' (district, region, and school) decisions created low expectations for students. If the whole administration finds it hard to get the necessary materials and to communicate with teachers and students, then Olney High School teachers will have low expectations for students. One teacher stated,
While the survey shows that teachers feel they have a good relationship with the students, the data from the focus group gives us reasons as to why Olney teachers' expectations and standards still remain low. Data from the teacher focus group supports the fact that the lack of communication is a result of low expectations and standards:
The lack of communication between staff, teachers, and students connects to low expectations because if the principal does not share information with the teachers, then the information is not being passed down to the students. Without the students being informed about school rules and consequences, then the students will not have a clear understanding of what they need to do. There is no way for teachers to have high expectations of students, if students do not understand the rule and therefore cannot obey the rule.
Another example of the connection between lack of communication in the school and low expectations of students is the bell schedules and confusion about the rules:
Focus group discussions pointed out that a problem of lacking communication in the school contributes to low student expectations. If the staff changes the rules several times a week then that confuses the students. This can cause the students to get in trouble, which may result in a suspension for the students. If the students are suspended from school then they are not receiving their education. This problem brings low expectations because if the students are not attending class due to suspensions then teachers will not have high expectations for their students. It also brings lack of communication because the school has no bell schedule therefore the teachers and students are confused about when the classes begin and end. This lack of structure results in low expectations because the students can miss out on part of a class period because they leave a class too late, and classes can be interrupted by the students that come to class late. This causes low expectations because if a teacher is not given a full class period, then the students are not receiving a whole class lesson. Therefore, there is no way a teacher can hold high expectations for students if they are missing part of every class lesson.
These findings reveal many true feelings and beliefs of some of the teachers. It provides a clear understanding of teachers’ perceptions of their students and the school. The survey and focus group data show the lack of communication throughout the school which contributes to low expectations and standards for the school and the students. There is a contradiction with the teachers saying they care for the students but an anonymous survey shows that teachers also don’t think students are prepared to go to college due to the fact that the curriculum is not challenging. With this in mind I question what good is it for the school to have positive student-teacher relationships if the staff has low expectations for their students. Therefore, if the whole administration builds a better education plan, then the teachers will likely have a higher expectation for the students.
General Recommendations to district and school leaders, students, and community groups.
Home and School Association
*Information about the schools comes from: the School District of Philadelphia School Profiles, 2005-2006.
This roadmap traces the steps of the Olney YUC chapter during the second year of its campaign for small schools. The youth activists were exhilarated upon learning of the SRC's announcement that Olney would be transformed into small schools, and gravely disappointed by changes in District leadership at the school and regional levels. Nonetheless, the Olney YUC chapter persisted, and closed the 2004 - 2005 academic year on an optimistic note, reflected in the upswing of the title banner.
Readers are free to copy and use the following research instruments provided the work is credited to the authors and Research for Action, and the work is not distributed or used for commerical purposes.
Olney East 705 High School Teacher Survey
The following survey was distrubuted to teachers at Olney East 705. Participants were asked to answer each question based on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 = strongly agree with the statement and 5 = strongly disagree with the statement.
This survey is being administered to gain important information about
your experiences as a teacher at Olney East 705 High School. It is part of a
student research project being conducted by Gerardo Zuviri and Rasheeda
Enoch, with support from Research for Action. Principal Newton Brown has
granted permission for this study. On this survey, you will be asked to
provide factual information about yourself and your perceptions about the
school. Your responses to this survey will be confidential and used for
research purposes only. Thank you for your cooperation and the valuable
information you will provide. Please indicate your answer as shown below:
ABOUT OLNEY EAST 705
Please indicate your most appropriate response for each item where 1=strongly agree and 5=strongly disagree.
1. Students feel safe at this school.
4. This school has good physical facilities (classrooms, cafeteria,
How long have you been teaching, in any district? O < 1 year O 1 - 3 years O 4 - 7 years O 8 - 10 years O 10 - 15 years O 16 years +
How long have you been teaching at Olney? O < 1 year O 1 - 3 years O 4 - 7 years O 8 - 10 years O 10 - 15 years O 16 years +
Do you plan to be teaching at Olney next year? O Yes O No
What is your gender? O Male O Female
What is your age? O 20 - 25 O 26 - 30 O 31 - 35 O 36 - 40 O 41 - 45 O 46 - 50 O 51 - 55 O 56 +
What is your ethnic background? Please identify:
FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION
O Thursday, March 23, 3 - 3:30
O Thursday, March 30, 3 -3:30
Thank you for completing and returning this survey!
The youth researchers have had opportunities for reflection on their work with RFA throughout the project: through journal writing, peer feedback, end of meeting evaluations, and public forums. Below, you will see some of their comments in which they assess the opportunity the project offered to contribute to improving their schools, and to improving on their academic skills. Overall, they conveyed that the experience of working individually and collectively to research and write was an important experience - larger and different from anything they had previously undertaken.
About the experience:
"This is something new. It's like I've never been through anything like this. I never really did research and stuff like this before. So just doing research to help my school and people at my school is just a good experience."
"The journal was important to me because like we would write in our journal and then our mentors would reflect back on the words that we say--like they give a personal note."
"Being a youth worker makes me proud of what I accomplished and proud of myself for what I have done. This also makes me proud of my peers to show we are leaders of today and will be tomorrow if we continue to do the right thing."
Influence on school work:
"I've learned a lot from this writing. I became a better writer and my English teacher told me I got better. That's how I knew."
"[My English teacher] says I was a pretty good writer...but since I been doing this research and all this writing it seems like my writing has skyrocketed as part of the skills of learning how to write longer and just to write better."
I learned that "now's the time when you know you all have to start doing [multiple drafts] and it's actually better for me to proof read something and then when I finish proof reading it to then go into my rough draft instead of just going to the final draft off the bat." My teacher said "when I was writing my report on The Crucible...oh my gosh...your draft is so good, and I did like five of them. That's all I kept thinking about was [people] telling me you’re going to start needing to do drafts."
"I now observe everything around me and form my own opinions and act on them too. Participating in the research program helped me learn to do that. I actually improved my English skills in paragraph writing. When the honors teacher asks me to do an essay I now know how to use evidence or examples to back up my point."
"I'm used to writing to myself or a close friend or a teacher, but when you have to write like past that, it's harder because you got to make sense of it, and you got to make sense so that other people will know besides yourself. It's a lot of corrections and all that [we] had to do. It was hard work but it paid off...I learned that I have to push myself and stop staying in my safe zone."
"I had to push myself to speak in front of everyone and then it made me feel like...the topic was really important, not only to us but to other people out there because they really were interested in knowing what we wanted to talk about so I had to dig deep and be brave enough to just do it and just say what I had to say and so I did and I was proud of myself for doing it."
Working as a team:
"I learned how to work as a team. Because when I first came, I knew that that would be one of my problems. I never worked as a team, I work by myself. It’s just like playing a sport. If you think you’re the team then you're going to go nowhere. Same with the project: If you don't let people share their ideas and experiences, then it's just not going to work."
"When I looked at [the research report] I didn't think I wrote all that. And my peers around me did a lot of stuff and so like when it all comes together and you see the final product, it's crazy…in a good way!"
Capellaro, Catherine (2005). When Small Is Beautiful: An Interview with Héctor Calderón (excerpt). Rethinking Schools: Special Small Schools Issue, 19(4), 35-37.
Carlo, Fernando, Antoine Powell, Laura Vazquez, Shoshana Daniels, Clay Smith, with Kavitha Mediratta and Amy Zimmer (2005). Youth Take the Lead on High School Reform Issues: Sistas and Brothas United. Rethinking Schools: Special Small Schools Issue, 19(4), 61-65.
Chavez, Gerardo Reyes (2005). Letters to the Youth Activists of Tomorrow (excerpt). In Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, Eds., Letters from Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out, 201-205. New York: Nation Books.
Christensen, Linda (2005). Rhetoric or Reality? Rethinking Schools: Special Small Schools Issue, 19(4), 43-46.
Fine, Michelle and Janis I. Somerville (1998). Perspectives: Parents. In Small Schools Big Imaginations: A Creative Look at Urban Public Schools, 60-66. Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform.
Glennie, Elizabeth, Charles R. Coble, and Michael Allen (2004, November). Teacher Perceptions of the Work Environment in Hard-to-Staff Schools (excerpt). Education Commission of the States.
Lewis, Kristine S. (2005). Twists and Turns in the Journey: Youth Activists' Use of Research in their Campaigns for Small Schools. The Evaluation Exchange, XI(3), 9.
Meier, Deborah (2005). Creating Democratic Schools. Rethinking Schools: Special Small Schools Issue, 19(4), 28-29.
Warren, Susan R. (2002). Stories from the Classrooms: How Expectations and Efficacy of Diverse Teachers Affect the Academic Performance of Children in Poor Urban Schools (excerpt). Educational HORIZONS, 80(3), 109-116.
About the Authors
Rasheeda Enoch is a twelfth grader at Olney High School - 705. She is a member of Youth United for Change and has been a youth researcher for the past year and a half with Research for Action. In her spare time she does programs, reads books or spends time with her family and friends or just by herself. Her goal is to become a successful lawyer with a wonderful and healthy life. "If you don't like the look of things, lift your voice so you can make a change."
Gerardo (Jerry) Zuviri is a twelfth grader at Olney High School - 705. He is a member of Youth United for Change and has been a youth researcher for the past two and a half years with Research for Action. In addition to being actively involved in his chapter’s efforts to transform Olney into a complex of small schools, Jerry is also a stellar athlete. He shares: "I love any kind of sports. I play tennis and football. I am a down-to-earth person. After high school, I want to continue my education and study biology or criminal justice." Jerry aspires to become either a doctor or a lawyer after college. He volunteers at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, because he "likes helping kids."
This project was made possible through the generous support of the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation. The views expressed within are solely those of the authors.
Copies of these reports may be downloaded for free from www.researchforaction.org. Printed bound booklets are available for shipping and handling costs by calling 215.823.2500. Readers are free to download, copy, and use this report provided the work is credited to the authors and Research for Action and is not distributed or used for commerical purposes.
Copyright © 2006
Related materials from Research for Action:
This guide, developed for Youth United for Change in 2004 to facilitate action research for youth, includes a case study of Oakland youth and provides a framework for supporting youth action research. The guide describes action research, how to address a problem and develop a research question, how to analyze findings, and then how to use the findings to promote positive change. It includes activities for youth, as well as a number of additional resources and references.
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