Initial Theoretical Framework

The following work comprises of an examination of existing scholarship that will aid in our understanding of alternative high school programs and previous research methodologies that have successfully conducted surveys, focus groups and interviews with youth. Our aim is to further develop our current research question as we explore further avenues in our research.

Changing community perspectives on alternative education systems

Since the 1980s there has been a strong focus on remedial, discipline-oriented programs for youth in trouble. In Becker’s work she focuses on the shift in attitudes towards students in alternative schooling from a mentality of youth in trouble, to youth with troubles. By examining the intersection of diverse students that attend alternative schooling, she highlights the importance of understanding that each individual faces varying academic, social, legal, economic, or mental problems. In Becker’s research she conducts her study with the students of Cromwell Alternative North (CAN). In order to reduce stigma of the school as a dumping ground for discipline cases, administrators and teachers at Cromwell Alternative North (CAN) reframed the school as a place for students with “special needs”. In the students’ social world, having “special needs” was not awarded status like being a troublemaker was. Students at CAN therefore had to manage both discourses in their daily interaction with teachers and peers. Some students accepted special needs rhetoric, some rejected it. Most attempted to manage it creatively, being a problem in the eyes of peers and having problems in the eyes of teachers.

The challenges pertaining to special needs and vulnerable students

Further Becker explores the shift in attitudes of students at CAN through the adoption of a special needs rhetoric. Instead of being portrayed as culpable troublemakers, they became youth in need of academic, behavioural, emotional, or psychological guidance. This created a more positive reputation for CAN throughout the school district. Under a “special needs” framework, students with problems (SPEDs), emotionally troubled, and learning disabled youth resulted in a better school atmosphere than youth who were deemed as “the problem”. However not all youth accepted this labelling of “SPEDs”, and some of them ran the risk of being deemed more than just defiant or out of control. They were deemed at risk of becoming a “lost cause.” A “lost cause” was a student who wasn’t considered worth the time a teacher might normally spend working on his or her behalf. These students did not self-identify as having learning disorders but instead, they shared about their criminal past and a history of troublemaking in the mainstream school system.

Becker, Sarah. “Badder than “Just a bunch of SPEDs”: Alternative schooling and student resistance to special education rhetoric.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (2009).

Methods for improving school operations and educational curriculum

The Collaborative Intervention Process (CIP) is a strategic approach for initiating school wide change. The CIP uses visioning, benchmarking, survey feedback, quality teams and continuous improvement approaches for making organizational improvements. It consists of a five phase process of planning, assessing, executing, implementing and evaluating.

Phase 1: Planning
The main goal of this stage is to develop a clear statement that reflects the needs of the students. The vision should represent a long range picture of what should be accomplished, and must be adapted into a vision plan. The vision plan should general mission statements, organizational goals and strategies for achieving the goals.

Phase 2: Assessing
During this stage, information can be collected through surveys or focus groups to identify the organization’s strengths and areas in need of improvement. After completing an assessment report, a comprehensive school improvement program (SIP) can be developed, which consists of a set of defined objectives, time frames and strategies that are aligned with the vision plan.

Phase 3: Executing
At this stage, quality teams, comprised of students and teachers, can be formed to take responsibility for developing and executing the action plans. These teams should receive training in teamwork, problem solving and decision making skills.

Phase 4: Implementing
Next qualities should work with appropriate individuals or departments in implementing the action plan. For example, an action plan developed by a quality team to improve student attendance can be implemented by an administrator. The quality teams can help monitor the ongoing progress.

Phase 5: Evaluating
Finally, the results of the action plans should be evaluated through the use of surveys, interviews or student assessments. Adjustments can be made to improve the action plans.

Tomal, Daniel R.. “Collaborative Process Intervention: An Alternative Approach for School Improvement”. American Secondary Education 26.1 (1997): 17–20. Web

Approaches for facilitating interviews and focus group discussions with youth

Herdlein and Zurner present their methods and approaches in collecting information on students satisfaction, needs and learning outcomes at a European university. This study was designed to align student services with the mission, long-range goals, and strategic planning of the university. The research took place through both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, where students participated in both segmented focus group sessions and individual surveying. This mixed methods approach to collect data was used, including both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, “to investigate the relationship between the university environment and student perceptions of satisfaction, needs, and learning outcomes.” (Page 4..)  

The study consisted of 5 focus groups, 3 of which were with national students, and the other 2 with international students. There were a total of 33 participants, which each session having 5-8 students. Notes were taken and each session was recorded in order to document more accurate feedback responses. After the three weeks of focus group discussions, researches were able to group major topics including: student satisfaction, needs, and learning outcomes relative to student services and outside the classroom experiences.

Additionally, 86 students also participated in the Likert-type ccale surveys at the beginning of class lectures. Brief orientations were provided to each group, explaining the purpose of the research and directions on instrument procedures. There were a total of 9 Likert-type scale questions and two open-ended written responses, with most students taking around 5-7 minutes to complete the survey. The two open-ended questions in particular, were aimed at complementing the qualitative data gathered from the focus group responses.

This article provides helpful guidelines and suggestions on implementing and conducting research concerning student satisfaction. By using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, researchers would be able to compare the two to check for participant consistency. Additionally, the ability for students to participate in both can help make the results richer and give participants a better appreciation and understanding of this particular study. Furthermore, Herlein and Zurner intentionally use segmented focus groups by dividing national and international university students. As Skop suggests, this particular method enables homogeneity and shared grounds between a group, which can often make participants more comfortable and increase group discussion. Additionally, it also gives the researcher the ability to gather significant themes and ideas from the different categories of people.

Herdlein, Richard, and Emily Zurner. “Student Satisfaction, Needs, and Learning Outcomes.” SAGE Open 5.2 (2015): 2158244015580373.

Libbey’s article aims to explore the various terminology and methodologies that help researchers measure student connection to school. As the author suggests, considering the various definitions of school connectedness can help highlight overlapping elements and theoretical frameworks of these. This article is incredibly valuable in providing eleven different measurements of school connectedness. The following definitions are provided by the author:

  1. Positive Orientation to School
  2. School Attachment
  3. School Bond
  4. School Climate
  5. School Connection
  6. School Context
  7. School Engagement
  8. School Involvement
  9. Student Identification with School
  10. Student Satisfaction with School
  11. Teacher Support

Each of these definitions have been produced by a different author and consist of different measurements i.e. survey questions. As a result, this will be an ideal data bank of survey questions that could guide us into specific areas that we may want to focus on in the near future.

Libbey, Heather P. “Measuring student relationships to school: Attachment, bonding, connectedness, and engagement.” Journal of school health 74.7 (2004): 274-283.

Last Updated: February 11, 2016