The most recent release of school grades continues to reveal poor grades for schools in high poverty areas (traditional public and charter). It should not be a surprise.
The prevailing belief in government is that the teacher is the only factor that determines the level of student achievement. Where there is poor achievement, parents should just choose another school. Any discussion otherwise is an “excuse” for not holding teachers and administrators accountable for the level of achievement students reach. Poverty, poor parenting or poor student attitudes are examples of “excuses” and must not be tolerated.
The reality is there are four factors that affect student learning, not one. While the teacher may assist in overcoming the other three, the other factors are nevertheless at the heart of why 20 to 25 percent of students in this country continue to be below grade level as well as why so many urban and charter schools continue to get D's and F's.
Those in control of education agendas want teachers and schools held to an extreme level of accountability without acknowledgment of other significant factors — home environment, school environment and the student (i.e. effort/attitude).
The differences between economic extremes begin in the home environment before birth with respect to nutrition and medical care. From birth to the start of school, the level of parent education, amount of vocabulary development, access to formal child care, technology and preschool determine learning gaps. Later, the expectations, parameters and resources in the home for reading, studying, and homework magnify the differences.
Home environment also includes “out of school” environment. While there is much discussion about “value added” effects of good schools, there is no acknowledgment of “value subtracted” effects of bad environments outside of school, on the street or in the home.
School environments vary widely with respect to funding for physical conditions, technology access, after-school tutoring, extended summer school, alternative schools for the most disruptive students and teacher aides for small group instruction.
Sometimes, the mental resiliency of disadvantaged students of poverty are miracles of the human spirit. But more often, the crippling experience of daily physical and emotional trauma results in academic resistance, defiance and despair.
As the next legislative session starts, the public must insist on an end to the reduction and diversion of public school funding, for the provision of free preschool education for at least the most disadvantaged, summer school funding for all students who fail ISTEP, funding for after-school remediation, and alternative school programs that include counseling and instruction which will keep kids in “value added” rather than “value subtracted” environments.
Refusal to acknowledge these factors, to describe disadvantages as “excuses,” are themselves excuses to avoid any sense of moral or financial responsibility. Simply blaming teachers and encouraging school choice are insufficient solutions to raising student achievement.