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UTSA researcher Sharon Nichols assesses impact of current educational policy

UTSA researcher Sharon Nichols assesses impact of current educational policy

New book suggests policy hasn’t kept pace with the needs of an increasingly diverse student population

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(July 13, 2016) -- The diversity of American classrooms has expanded over the last 10 years but educational policy hasn’t kept pace, says Sharon L. Nichols, associate professor of educational psychology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). 

“The average American classroom has become increasingly diverse,” Nichols said. “The social contexts in which our students and youth learn has changed, and it’s up to the adults who drive educational policies such as resource allocation, testing procedures and other academic opportunities, to understand how their policy actually affects students."

She added: "The problem is that they often don’t consider the needs of our increasingly diversifying youth populations that includes students with social, cultural, racial and linguistic diversities never before seen in this way.”

In her new book, titled “Educational Policies and Youth in the 21st Century: Problems, Potential, and Progress,” Nichols and contributors from across the country explore the unforeseen impacts of educational policy on the youth of today, particularly those from underrepresented demographic groups.

“I have been studying educational policy for a long time now,” said Nichols, whose research includes the impact of standardized testing on teachers and student learning, motivation and development. “Educational policies at the local, state and national levels are not having as positive an impact as they could. In many cases, our policies are making things harder for students from underserved populations.”

Legislation from the local to the national level is meant to improve students’ lives, but Nichols says that many policies instead effectively erode opportunities for minority student populations. Nichols’ offers solutions to challenges that have arisen as a result of what she calls poor policymaking and a lack of understanding by policymakers and school administrators. Her book explores the experiences of immigrant, LGBT, African American and Latino youth as well as youth from impoverished background.

“Youth and teachers are rarely consulted about the policies that affect them most directly,” said Nichols. “It’s important that policymakers are able to understand the many, many factors at play in the 21st century classroom and respond accordingly.”

Nichols hopes policymakers become more sensitive to the needs of the new student populations. Good educational policy, she says, could improve students’ academic performance and help shape a better future for them.

“I encounter so many teachers who go into the profession with next to no understanding about the policies that will rule their lives in their classrooms,” Nichols said. “I’m hoping to provide a resource that will arm teachers and current and future policymakers to best serve their students, especially those who need every opportunity they can get to succeed.”

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Pre-order “Educational Policies and Youth in the 21st Century.”

Learn more about the UTSA Department of Educational Psychology, housed in the College of Education and Human Development.

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