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January 11, 1999

CREDE researchers reveal best strategies for reaching at-risk students

By Jennifer McNulty

When Roland Tharp was named director of the second national center for research on education to be funded at UCSC, he hoped to identify the unique needs of the nation's large population of at-risk students.

Photo of Chancellor Greenwood and Roland Tharp
At a recent luncheon, Roland Tharp presented Chancellor Greenwood with a portfolio of work by CREDE researchers (more photos).

Instead, Tharp and the center's researchers have built up a convincing body of evidence that shows that at-risk students benefit from the very same kinds of instruction that have been showered for years on gifted and talented students.

"The irony is that it's been happening in gifted and talented programs all along, and they're the students who need it the least," said Tharp, a professor of education and psychology at UCSC and director of the campus's Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE).

The five linchpins of quality instruction identified by CREDE are:

"We began our studies of culturally and linguistically diverse children by searching for their specific classroom needs, but we've discovered that the best teaching methods work for everybody," said Tharp. "At-risk students don't need a different curriculum. What they need are the same qualities of teaching that most help mainstream kids."

The critical question, said Tharp, has turned out to be why at-risk kids are the least likely to receive that type of teaching, and how that can be changed.

UCSC was selected by the federal Department of Education in 1996 to administer a national center focused on the needs of students whose education is at risk due to factors such as limited English proficiency, race, poverty, and geographic location.

CREDE has reached the midpoint of its five-year mandate and is being evaluated this week by a four-member team from the Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement and a ten-member panel of peer reviewers.

In conjunction with the evaluation, CREDE researchers from the center's more than 30 projects around the country are gathering in Santa Cruz this week to present their work and meet with representatives of CREDE's partner agencies and universities.

"Nearly 50 researchers, including those working on local projects, will be presenting their work. We have an extremely productive group," said Tharp. In addition to Tharp, UCSC participants in CREDE projects include Margarita Azmitia, Maureen Callanan, Catherine Cooper, Peggy Estrada, Barbara Rogoff, Trish Stoddart, and Priscilla Walton.

In addition to identifying the most effective instructional standards for at-risk students, among the center's other accomplishments are the creation of interactive multimedia CDs for teacher instruction; development of curricula; publication of journal articles, special-issue journals, training manuals, and generation of two book manuscripts; and identification of effective observation and research methods and techniques for at-risk students.

In addition, CREDE researchers are helping to shape federal educational policy, said Tharp, noting that CREDE representatives are on the committees, boards, or advisory panels of nearly a dozen top educational groups, including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the National Academy of Education, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the President's Commission on Race, and the American Educational Research Association.

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