Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Forgotten Half/Perceptions

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How do differences in perception and reality affect learning?

No Child Left Behind Reforms to Aid Foster Children

Reforms to NCLB Act:

  • Improve school stability as many foster children are moved from school to school.
  • Make sure that youth in foster care have access to education-related support services such as Title 1 and Part A services.
  • More functioning school counselors and mental health services within the school setting.

Why the reforms?

A student who had changed schools four or more times had lost about one year of educational growth
Only 54% of the youth who leave foster care graduate from high school.
15-year-olds in foster care were half as likely to graduate from high school in 5 years.
55% were more likely to drop out of school and 10% end up in prison. (Craft, 2007)

Foster Care is a life for approximately 800,000 children in America (Craft, 2007). On any given day a child is taken from a home that is not safe, nurturing, or supportive, but it is the only home that child has known. This is traumatic and will affect the life of this child forever. Foster care children are likely to have health problems, social problems, and behavioral problems. The child will move from one home to another several times during their stay in foster care, which will further stunt their education. They find it very difficult to form necessary bonds with teachers and classmates. School records take anywhere from three weeks to eight months to catch up with the child (Zetlin, 2004). During this time, teachers are in the dark as to the child’s situation and educational needs. School councilors do not have the proper information they need to administer to the child’s welfare. Foster parents are lacking in information they so desperately need to care for the child properly.

During this time all involved, due to being either misinformed or not informed at all, form perceptions. A child that is detached, withdrawn and disinterested in class is viewed as a “typical teenager” or a difficult student. Foster children “exhibit with greater frequency behavioral problems in school ranging from aggressive, demanding, immature, and attention-seeking behaviors to withdrawn, anxious, and over-compliant behaviors” (Zetlin, 2006). These children are victims of abuse and has not had the support needed to develop social skills. They are often embarrassed to raise their hand out of fear of any type of attention. How do these children move from one abusive home to a home that is ill equipped to care for them and still grow into a productive member of society? What are the realities of these children’s lives and what are the perceptions of those around them?


Children are placed in Foster Care for a wide variety of reasons that range from neglect, to abuse, and even to extortion. No child should ever have to grow up in an environment that is not nurturing, caring, and educational, but they do. We perceive the Foster Care System to be a safety zone for these children. Our foster care system is supposed to provide safe homes, loving caregivers, stable education, and reliable health care. Foster care is supposed to provide all the necessities that were lacking in the home they were previously taken from. These are perceptions that just do not coincide with reality. In many cases, foster parents do not have resources necessary to care for these children, the educators do not have the necessary information to educate them, and the system itself does not have the funding necessary to provide them with the skills to become productive citizens once they are adults. The realities of children in foster care need to change.

Children of foster care usually have not had a stable educational background when they enter the system. They usually have a variety of health problems, social problems, as well as educational problems. Our first instinct is to find a safe home for the child, address the health problems, and then to submerge the child into an environment that is as close to “normal” as possible. Once enrolled in school, the child is then placed in a classroom that has already begun its year, so the child is behind. The teacher and the students are all unknown to the child, so the child tends to be withdrawn, unsociable, and disinterested. The teacher is unaware of the child’s history, because their records have not yet been received by the school. The homework assigned by the teacher, is way beyond the abilities of the child. The child does not turn in any of the work he has attempted, because of embarrassment. The child also finds it very hard to concentrate given all the disruptions in his life, all the court hearings, and the uncomfortable questions asked by his new foster parents. Now the teacher begins to perceive the child as difficult and has begun to feel that the child is unreachable.


A child viewed as lazy, detached, uncooperative may just be scared, lonely, embarrassed. This child needs someone to guide them and to believe in them. “Unfortunately, for many foster children, the experiences they have endured in their biological families and those they encounter in the foster care system are so overwhelming that failure in school seems inconsequential by comparison” (Noble, 1997). The child’s school records have been reported as being lost, due to so many transfers. Because of this, the child has no way of being properly placed in an appropriate classroom. The teacher is unaware that the child has never been to school on a regular basis and has not had the opportunity to learn how to interact and form attachments with other children. The child also does not know any of the answers to the questions asked by the teacher, so they act out. They “would rather be “bad” than “dumb” (Noble, 1997). Now the child has been “labeled”, not only by the teacher, but by his peers as well. In an age of instant knowledge and advancing technology, we still cannot seem to get organized. If only the child’s records had been able to proceed the child’s first day, the child may have been able to learn and later attend college.

The child’s perception of foster care quickly changes also. A child that is taken out of an unsafe environment may be given the food he so desperately wanted, the clean clothes that he desperately needed, and the comfortable bed that he had never been given, but is he given the support that is necessary for his growth? Children in foster care are moved on average of three times during their stay. This move brings them new foster parents, a new school and a new teacher. The process then begins all over again. Educational and emotional assessments will need to be performed, again. Bonds that were just beginning to be formed are now broken, so it is now harder to form new ones. Emotional attachments are difficult for the child due to his history, but they even more difficult due to his mobile life. The child forms a pattern that everything is temporary. If only the foster home had prepared for the child before hand, the child’s social abilities could have been nurtured and the child could have been involved in his life.

Society sees children as being adults at the age of eighteen. “About 20,000 young people “age out” of the foster care system annually in the United States” (Missouri, 2007). A child who has gone through the foster care system is likely to see becoming eighteen as a time when they can finally make their own decisions instead of having to live with the decisions of so many others. Foster care is a life of change and adulthood is a time when the child is in control of their life. The reality is that a foster child is more likely to end up homeless, in poverty or in prison. “It’s estimated about half of the foster children … who age out become homeless at some point. Less than half have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and about 80 percent of young women who age out become pregnant before 21” (Missouri, 2007). The system has failed to provide the education necessary in today’s world. Most of these children lack the skills to live independently. They have no illusions of going to college, they do not know how to live on a budget, and they do have the social skills to acquire and maintain steady employment. For these reasons, approximately 10% of children of foster care will find themselves in prison (Craft, 2007). If only society had provided these children with the emotional and educational support they so desperately needed, they may have been very productive members of society.


There are many new proposals in America today to deal with these problems. One important component is to appoint one person that is responsible for the educational growth of the child (Gerber, 2005). This person will follow the child to each school, each teacher, each foster home, and each level of education. No matter where the child is transferred, this one person will always hold the child’s educational records and assessments. The educational contact will also work with the school and teacher prior to the child’s transfer. They will work along side the social worker, will help to educate the foster parent on the history and needs of the child, and will help to provide the stable educational support the every child requires.

Noble suggests several, systematic steps the teacher can take to encourage the child’s success, despite the challenges. Her suggestions encourage the teacher to set reasonable expectations, support the child educationally as well as emotionally, to get the foster family involve, be actively aware of the child’s sensitivities, and to make the child feel secure to explore, ask questions and ask for help (1997). Teachers have significant impacts on their students, and can have a greater impact on foster children. “Children in foster care are one of the most educationally vulnerable populations in our schools” (Zetlin,2006). With these tools, teachers can significantly change the statistics and show them the path to success.

The “No Child Left Behind” has even gone some recent reforms that take the realities of children in Foster Care into account. With this type of growth in the Foster Care System, children may be able to curb the trends that have overwhelmed them. With knowledge, understanding, stability, and organization we have the ability to make our positive perceptions of Foster Care a reality. Foster care can be the “Saving Grace” it should be.


  • Foster children are moved on average three times while they are in foster care. For some, they are moved up to six times. (Noble, 1997)
  • Foster Care children are three times higher to be placed in special education. (Gerber, 2005)
  • 54% of children in Foster Care graduate from High School. (Craft, 2007)
  • 10% of Foster Care children will enter prison. (Craft, 2007)
  • 90% of children in Foster Care have health problems. (Zetlin, 2004)
  • Children’s records take anywhere from 3 weeks to 8 months to be transferred. Among these, many are incomplete or are inaccurate. (Zetlin, 2004)

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What can teachers do to help prevent a foster child from being "lost" at school?
A. Try to keep all the students at the same level.
B. Thoroughly research the student’s file.
C. Question each student on their past educational history,
D. Get advice from "difficult" student’s previous teachers.

B. Thoroughly research the student’s file.

What is one major reason foster children are educationally misplaced in school?
A. Loss of family support.
B. Lack of involvement of the child.
C. School budget cuts.
D. Misplaced school records.

D. Misplaced school records.

In reality:
A. The teacher is fully prepared for any child’s situation.
B. The school has the child’s records prior to the arrival of the student.
C. All students have a support system in place.
D. Not all children are socially developed.

B. The school has the child’s records prior to the arrival of the student.

What should educators, foster parents, and social workers focus on in order to ensure success of children?
A. Their education.
B. Their physical well being.
C. Their emotional stability.
D. The whole child.

D. The whole child.

What hinders a child's education the most?
B. Video games
C. Computers
D. Changing schools

D. Changing schools

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

What steps can a teacher take to help a foster child succeed in school and life?

As teachers, we have a responsibility to research our student’s history. If we have a new child come into out classroom, we need to ask for the child’s file. If the child’s file is unavailable, we need to meet with the parent, guardian, or a social worker. Meet with the child and guardian together. Ask the child questions that will assist in proper placement. By doing this, the teacher is letting the child know that they have an active part in their education. They can make some choices and feel empowered. We need to know what their lives are really like. We need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are educationally. We also need to let the child know we are involved in and outside of the classroom. If a foster child should be moved to another classroom or school, the teacher should take every possible opportunity to help educate the new teacher as to the student’s abilities, areas of weakness, and their sensitivities. Every child needs to know someone is watching out for them, cares about where they have been and where they can go in life. We as teachers can have the greatest impact on a child’s life when we allow the child to feel empowered, safe, smart, and in control of what direction their lives can take.

I think that a teacher’s job is to assure the child that they are capable and able to learn just the same as the other kids. The teacher should do so by providing a nurturing environment but not letting the child over step certain boundaries. A foster child should be held responsible for their actions just the same as any other child but should have more support from staff as well as from home. The teacher should try his/her best to involve the family or whoever is responsible for the child before and after school. Since the child would rather be bad then stupid, teachers should offer extra help and encouragement but give firm boundaries. I think that the teacher should try their best to keep the child on task providing information and schedules since foster children tend to be more alienated due to schooling they have missed. Meeting with advisers, watching out for behavioral issues, involving the parents and providing extra help staying on track can help a foster child adjust. If a teacher is not willing to put forth some extra effort or is not understanding about special needs; they will be better off allowing someone more compassionate to educate the child. It is the educator’s responsibility to treat every child the same but put forth extra help when it is needed. If a teacher takes responsibility for a foster child at school and fails to help them properly it can be detrimental to their educational experience.

I think that the teacher's responsibility is to ensure the easiest transition into their classroom. This is a touchy subject because they are so vulnerable, however, I think that with extra effort any child can be given the right resources for an easier adjustment. There should be constant contact between the teacher and the educational guardian and the foster parents. I really agree with the idea of having the educational guardian be the constant stable figure in their life equipped with background knowledge that will aid anyone who interacts with the student. The important point here is that in order for the educational guardians job to be successful it must be coordinated with the assistance of the teacher. The teacher must make the effort to utilize the information about this child and incorporate it into their classroom. These children do need to be catered to, not saying we should neglect the others, but special attention should be paid to these students in order to pave a better path for their lives. I think it would be wise to encourage the student to become active in extra curricular programs. The teacher should also explore all options such as an after-school program focusing on children with behavioral and educational adjustment needs. Maybe the teacher can help organize an active participation with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. These are all examples of how the teacher can help outside of the classroom. I think the teacher must monitor the case of the student very closely and try every way possible to provide an educational nurturing environment in the classroom. I feel with all of these components the teacher can make a difference and a somewhat easier adjustment for the foster child. The teachers job should not stop at 3pm, but should always be finding ways to better their students. Even if this involves having home visits in the evenings to get a peek at the whole picture. Children will only succeed with the support of those they trust and look up to. Every teacher should make it their goal to be that type of role model. —