|Letís Teach the Right Lessons in Our Schools
Nine year old Bobby reads at a first grade level, but at his parentsí insistence is promoted to the fourth grade. Because he cannot follow the fourth grade lessons, he loses interest and falls further behind. Bobby learns that he will get promoted to the next grade whether he can do the work or not. School becomes a meaningless exercise and eventually he drops out.
Under pressure to meet No Child Left Behind testing standards, an elementary school principal tells teachers to spend less time on science and social studies and more time drilling students in preparation for math and English standardized tests. Regardless of test performance, true math and language development is stunted because these skills are seldom applied to real world situations. Students learn that school lessons are abstract and boring.
Research indicates that family and community factors account for sixty per cent of student performance. Yet, parents are not required to get involved with tutoring lagging students, and textbooks or lesson plans often are not available to parents so they can work with children at home. Students learn that education is irrelevant once they leave the school grounds.
Eighteen year old Maria graduates from high school and immediately applies to NMSU while she is still eligible for a lottery scholarship. She is nowhere near proficient in language or math skills and will not earn the college grades to qualify for a scholarship, but she is admitted. The odds are remote that she will earn a degree. Family and public financial resources are wasted when Maria would have been better served in a college prep or career training environment. Maria learns she is not good enough to succeed in college, though the real issue is that she was never properly prepared.
As parents, teachers, and school administrators we too often let established conventions, rather than student welfare, drive our actions. Standards slide. Under the guise of fairness, consistency and access we reinforce behaviors and attitudes that set up students for failure. Many of the children who need us most fall through the cracks.
If we truly want to help our kids, we must stop giving away high school diplomas and provide the necessary tools for students to earn them. Success in school academics instills lessons of persistence and satisfaction in a job well done that will prove critical to success in whatever life paths our children choose.
Improving public education rests on one fundamental question. Are we as communities, parents, and educators willing to uphold the standards it takes to successfully prepare students for adulthood? At a current government investment of $12,000 per student per year in K-12 education we should have figured out that all the money, facilities, supplies and programs in the world have little impact without this commitment. With it, amazing things can be accomplished with fewer resources than one might expect.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Here are some ideas worth piloting. They are not particularly original, but seldom are they instituted with real follow through.
We should prepare children for a world where there are real consequences for success and failure Ė a world where customers, employers, and law enforcement donít care to hear excuses. Too many kids will continue to fall through the cracks if schools do not require that they meet standards and provide timely support to help them overcome failures. We all suffer the consequences when schools allow themselves to become day care centers for children and families to whom they have not taught the value of an education.
- Starting in the early grades, replace time-robbing government testing with a single comprehensive assessment towards the end of each school year that evaluates student preparedness for the next grade. If a child is not prepared, provide tutoring or summer school to get them up to speed and promote them only when they are ready. Letís prepare kids for success instead of promoting them into failure.
- Put all lesson plans and school assignment information online so that any interested parent, community organization or tutor can help a student who is struggling. Students who excel can use this same information to accelerate their learning instead of twiddling their thumbs. Make it a school priority to actively engage parents and community organizations in supporting the education process through learning events and parent tutoring.
- Require school principals and administrators to stand firm when maintaining school academic and behavioral standards Ė and give them the authority to do it. Struggling students are often the product of families who do not know how to respond to their childrenís educational needs. Schools must hear parents out, but explain thoroughly and honestly why a course of action will benefit a child even if parents initially disagree.
- Assign every student a staff mentor (preferably one of the teachers) to help them surmount the challenges they encounter throughout their stay in a particular school. Free up the resources by stripping away the many marginally effective programs and bureaucratic practices. Struggling students need a permanent partner who understands their circumstances, yet refuses to accept watered down academic standards.
- Extend lottery scholarship availability from the first year after high school graduation to five years after graduation, and institute stronger entrance requirements to our four year institutions. Improve college prep programs in community colleges. We are not doing students any favors by putting them into four year schools before they are ready.
Steve Fischmann is State Senator for District 37 and a retired Fortune 500 corporate executive.
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