Author: Ready, Douglas D., & Lee, Valerie E.

Title: Choice, Equity, and the Schools-Within-Schools Reform

University Affiliation: Columbia University, University of Michigan


Research Question:

  1. To what extent did subunit themes emphasize students’ disparate occupational and educational futures over their common social and academic needs?
  2. What rationales did students offer for their subunit selections, and how did their choices reflect their interests, motivations, social backgrounds, and academic abilities?

Published: Yes

Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation: Teacher College Record

Journal Entry: Vol. 110, No. 9, Pp. 1930-1958

Year: 2008


  1. In each of the five schools studied students were permitted to choose among subunits that offered varied academic, pedagogical, and vocational themes.
  2. These subunit themes were, as intended, more attractive to some students than to others. However, as with differentiated curricula in traditional comprehensive high schools, students’ subunit choices were associated with their race/ethnicity, social class, and, most important, demonstrated academic ability. As a result, to varying degrees, social and academic stratification developed between subunits within each school.
  3. Although these schools were engaged in fundamental structural reform, most staff had retained the belief that students’ intellectual needs should be tailored to their past academic performance and future occupational plans.
  4. Racial composition both reflected and influenced a subunit’s status and reputation. Academically motivated students usually selected subunits known for academic rigor and orderly behavioral climates. The weak social and academic standing of high-minority enrollment subunits negatively influenced their ability to attract high-achieving students. Moreover, for some students, subunit racial compositions were sufficient to sway their subunit choices.
  5. Schools were quite aware that middle- or upper-class parents who were dissatisfied with the public schools would move to another school district, transfer the child to another school in the same district (if school choice was available), or enroll the child in private school. Partly in response to such pressures, these schools maintained subunits and programs catered to high-achieving students and their families.
  6. Parallels exist between comprehensive high schools and the SWS high schools studied in terms of (1) their philosophies and beliefs supporting differentiation, (2) their rationales for choice-driven academic structures, and (3) the outcomes associated with students’ choices.
  7. Support for differentiated subunit structures among staff was partly rooted in the desire to meet students’ needs. Although each school had implemented a fundamental structural reform, staff generally retained the view that students’ academic experiences should be tailored to their past academic performance and future occupational plans. In short, the philosophical components of the comprehensive high school were alive and well in the five SWS high schools.
  8. Scholarship Type Journal Article Empirical Research

    Keywords: Choice, Inequality, Policy, Race, Racial Composition, SES, SES Composition

    Regions N/A

    Methodologies: Mixed

    Research Designs: Case Studies, Content Analysis, Interviews

    Method of Analysis: Content Analysis

    Sampling Frame: High schools with schools-within-schools (SWS)

    Sample Types: Nonrandom

    Unit of Analysis: Classroom, Educator, School, Student

    Data Types: Qualitative-Longitudinal

    Data Description: