|Posted on January 7, 2015 at 2:55 PM|
Speaking from experience (and again a reminder that I'm focusing on schools of Washington state, however colleagues in other states have agreed that these are the primary problems in their state as well), the three primary factors that negatively impact student performance are poverty, transience, and dissolution of the family unit. Until these elements are appropriately addressed we will not see the kind of student performance that the reform movement is expecting. Obviously these three elements are outside the direct control of the public school system. Yet public school employees constantly strive to address these in whatever manner they can individually or collectively and usually at personal cost.
Poverty's influence should be obvious. A student who does not have enough to eat, does not have a safe and comfortable place to live, and does not have the basic materials they need to progress in the classroom will not be able to focus on the learning hand. They are functioning in survival mode and that takes precedence over the luxury of learning. Almost every educator I know has provided basic materials to their students out of their own pocket. This includes things like shoes and coats as well as classroom materials.
Transience is not so much a problem in the school district where I worked, but in many districts in the state it is a huge problem. Students are moved from district to district and school to school as employment dictates their family’s location. All of this relocation disrupts the continuity of instruction as well as making it impossible for the students to establish relationships within the educational institution. There is also the negative impact on socialization that directly interferes with the social interaction that supports learning.
The dissolution of the family unit has critically and adversely changed the collective character of the student body in most schools. Students with incarcerated, chemically dependent, or mentally ill parents are not receiving the kind of character development and moral training that is necessary for a young person to function appropriately. In some cases the parents are simply uninvolved with their children and therefore not invested in their child's education. To many that may seem like an unrealistic statement, but I have witnessed that among my students on many occasions. It is obvious when a parent refuses to respond to any and all efforts to communicate with them about their student, including phone calls, mail, email and communication sent directly home with the students. Schools across our state have tried to address the lack of character training with programs within the schools. In my district is the pace (Partners Addressing Character Education) program. PACE is a grassroots initiative to promote the importance of good character through partnerships with schools, businesses, public agencies, residents, faith based organizations and community service groups. Working from a common list of monthly character traits, partners promote and integrate each trait into the regular activities of the organization.
Real progress in improving public education generally will require that our society address the three factors discussed above. I believe that the public school system is doing everything it can relative to these factors, but the real solution lies outside of the school system.