Negotiating Mandates and Memory: Inside a Small Schools Network for Immigrant Youth
by Reva Jaffe-Walter - 2008
Context: Networks are seen as important vehicles for educators’ professional development because they provide opportunities for educators to develop their teaching and leadership capacities and establish forums for educator resistance. Networks that also function as intermediary organizations provide spaces in which educators and network leaders can bridge and buffer the external demands of accountability policies.
Focus of Study: This article considers how the Internationals Network for Public Schools (Internationals Network) contends with the often incompatible external demands of current accountability policies, and the internal professional and pedagogical practices of their schools. First, this article explores the challenges that the International schools encounter as they negotiate commitments to inquiry-based learning and local decision making in the context of top-down mandates. Second, it discusses the history, practices, and internal challenges of the network. Finally, it provides examples of how the network acts as a bridge and buffer for the schools as it negotiates current external accountability pressures.
Setting: The International High Schools serve a population of recently arrived immigrant youth from over 90 countries, who speak over 50 languages and come from socioeconomic backgrounds that qualify most for free lunch. The International High Schools constitute a network of nine public high schools throughout New York City and one newly opened school in Oakland, California. The term network is used here to refer to both the nonprofit intermediary organization, Internationals Network, and the community of Internationals educators across schools.
Research Design: This case study engages Shore and Wright’s approach to the anthropology of policy that involves exploring policies through various sites to understand how the discourses, provisions, and technologies of education policies are encountered, experienced, and negotiated by different members of a community. This article is based on participant observation of network meetings and retreats, and interviews with educators and leaders within the Internationals Network that took place over a period of 2 years.
Findings: This study finds that the role of the network is critical in the Internationals context because it creates spaces for fostering professional community and contending with the multiple external demands of accountability policies. This study also concludes that the institutional knowledge and historical memory that has grown over time within and between International schools is a significant resource for educators as they negotiate external challenges. Finally, this study calls for an accountability of policy itself in which policy makers consider how education policies are experienced by youth, educators, and schools.
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