What Research Tells Us About Adjusting to Redistricting

Original article written by Wendy M. Williams and appeared in the Ithaca Journal on August 8, 2005

What are some of the lessons from educational research that can help parents deal effectively with redistricting?

Parental attitudes are critical to children’s school success.

Many parents expressed considerable anger and frustration, as well as a sense of helplessness, during the redistricting debate. To the extent that their children hear such sentiments, parents are setting their children up for negative experiences. The communication from the parents to the children is clear—redistricting is bad, the new school will be inferior to the old one, and the students who are sent there will suffer. Regardless of the potential merit of any of these points, parents whose children are attending a new school should communicate a positive attitude to their children, and stress the new learning experiences, friends, and relationships that this new environment will provide. If parents are negative, children will definitely suffer in their adjustment and learning outcomes, and the parents will have themselves created the outcome that they most feared.

Challenges create opportunities for positive growth and development.

Parents involved in the redistricting debate often stated that changing to a new school would be bad for their children’s development. While it is natural for people to be apprehensive about change, ample research demonstrates that learning to deal constructively with change and meeting challenges is a positive force in children’s development. While acknowledging the potential difficulties, parents can stress that flexibility and adaptability are critical life skills. Helping children to deal effectively with their fear of a new experience and overcome it can create a valuable set of competencies. A childhood devoid of challenges (such as changing schools) may leave a young person without the skills to deal with inevitable changes and challenges later in life.

Parents should expect setbacks during the transition.

Changing to a new school involves learning new routines and getting to know new teachers and fellow students. Approaches to education vary from school to school. Research shows that children sometimes need time to adjust. When children express that things are different and that they are having difficulties, parents should state that this is normal and expected, and that over time, it will undoubtedly work out. If children expect that transitions will take some extra time and effort, they will not become overly frustrated or disillusioned when this does, in fact, happen. Parents should be prepared to spend extra time assisting their children with the transition—accompanying them to school, showing them the school grounds and familiarizing them with the school layout, and even introducing their children to students who have previously attended the new school and who consequently know the ropes. The majority of children will grow to like their new school and will adjust to the change. In those situations in which things do not eventually work out, alternative options can be explored, either within the school system or outside of it.

Wendy M. Williams is a Professor in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University. She is an educational psychologist who studies the development, assessment, training, and societal implications of intelligence and related abilities, such as real-world reasoning and creativity. She co-founded and co-directs the Cornell Institute for Research on Children. Williams has written several books on education, including “The Reluctant Reader”, “How to Develop Student Creativity”, “Educational Psychology” , and “Practical Intelligence for School”.