College of Education Associate Professor’s New Book Addresses the ‘At-Risk’ Label

Oct. 7, 2016

Book Cover for After the At-Risk Label: Reorienting Educational Policy and Practice (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series) by Keffrelyn Brown

A new book by Keffrelyn Brown, a University of Texas faculty member, tackles the “at-risk” label: After the At-Risk Label: Reorienting Educational Policy and Practice (Disability, Culture, and Equity Series). The book was published by Teachers College Press this summer.

Brown hopes that the book will challenge how educators and policymakers think about the label, so that it can be used more equitably.

Brown is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in UT’s College of Education. Her book examines what the “at-risk” label means to those joining or in the teaching profession, the role the label plays in education policy, and the problems the label can create for students and teachers. Says Brown, “Risk matters. It’s an important construct that both pre-service and in-service teachers as well as policy[makers] invoke to presumably meet students’ needs. If you can figure out what the risk is and who has the risk or who faces the risk, you can better provide services for them.”

The issue is complicated, according to Brown, by the fact that the label is “laden with racialized meanings, gendered meanings, and often gets deployed in deficit and problematic ways so that some students are just presumed to be at risk by virtue of their identities.”

Photo of Keffrelyn Brown
Keffrelyn Brown

According to her research, teachers, especially pre-service teachers—those who are entering the profession—are aware that the label can be problematic, and it causes them uncertainty in using it. “They weren’t sure sometimes if a student really was at-risk or if the risk was really more about how they were viewing the student.” Teachers with years of experience tended to rely on their experience to determine if a student was at-risk.

Although Brown believes that the idea of risk and that some people are “at risk” is deeply ingrained in Western culture, she questions the notion of using the at-risk label at all. “What I argue is that the term itself is laden with problems. The term is just one of many that has been deployed since the beginning of the 20th century to describe children who fundamentally are positioned as against the norm.”

For more information, contact College of Education Communications Coordinator Yvonne Taylor at 512-471-3916.