Monday, March 8, 2010

Who's responsible for failing students/schools?

There is a lot of controversy right now over the firing of the entire faculty at Central Falls high school in Rhode Island. The school and students were low performing, so the superintendent didn't like the teachers not agreeing to some proposed changes and fired them all. This has of course led to discussions of who is really responsible for student achievement and for failing students and schools.

My initial reaction to the above decision was "are you kidding me?! The feds give failing companies tons of money and the CEO's take big bonuses, but failing schools have to fight for money and teachers are always blamed." I think it is a sad commentary on our country right now that we don't support our teachers more. What about the superintendent? Aren't they the leader? Aren't they responsible too? Don't they get paid an average of 3x what a teacher makes and are expected to turn around failing schools? What about the parents? What about the students themselves?

In one of the articles on the Central Falls debacle (my term) students and parents supported the teachers, not the district and were even quoted as saying that it was "the students fault. They don't do their work and don't try."

So, who is responsible for failing students and failing schools?

The students need to come to school, behave, pay attention, and do their work.
Parents need to encourage their children, help them with homework, and be involved in their child's education and in the schools.
Teachers need to come up with engaging lessons and be available for extra help.
Support staff, such as counselors, have to be available for students and give them support and advice.
Administrators need to support teachers by enforcing rules and behavior expectations, and by providing the necessary resources.
Communities need to support the schools and make sure that they are fiscally responsible and funded properly and have the resources needed.
The Government needs to support schools with funding and make sure education legislation makes sense. They must get the input of educators before making changes. I also believe that the Secretary of Education should be an educator.

Everyone is responsible for education. Remember the saying "it takes a village to raise a child"? It is true. Teachers only see a student for 180-183 days a year. In high school, that equates to approximately 200 hours with a specific student. Compare that to 8760 hours in a year. Teachers can not be expected to teach content, basic skills, citizenship, behavior, and more without support from everyone else.

Firing teachers because students and schools fail is bad politics and will not change things. Many recent reports have also mentioned that when this has been done in the past, things are actually worse at the schools. Think about it - we are all taught that in order to educate a child we have to make connections with them. School reforms call for students to have a connection to a faculty or staff member for their whole time at a school. That means we need to have contact with these students for a long period of time. By firing all the teachers, the students will have no one that knows them and will feel lost.

Yes, there are bad teachers. But we should help them become better teachers. Support them, give them extra training, show them what they are doing wrong. If they are still not doing well, then it may be time for more drastic measures, but we need to help them first.

Everyone is responsible for educating our children. To place all the blame on one group is unacceptable and unreasonable. Instead, let's look for the true causes of the students failing and then fix those problems.

Here are some of the reasons I see in my district and state:
Teachers who are burnt out from getting no support from the administration for dealing with severe behavior issues.
Students are working part time jobs to help support the family.
Students take care of younger siblings.
Students don't see the point in education (because mom or dad doesn't care, or big brother makes a lot of money selling drugs, or they don't see the point because no one showed them what education can get them).
Parents who don't care about school or don't support their child.
Constantly changing/new initiatives that take time away from learning (and don't do anything to improve learning).
Initiatives and ideas from administration that have no chance of working, but are emphasized and pushed on teachers. (Getting teachers involved in these ideas earlier would help greatly).
Lack of resources to effectively teach students (books, supplies, lab equipment).
Too many interruptions to the school day (announcements, assemblies, required testing and more).
Behavior issues - disruptive students who are kept in the classroom and school and continue to disrupt the learning process. And their parents don't help the situation.

And much, much more.

Before trying something to fix the problems, we need to know the root cause of the problem. Then, we have to research that problem and find solutions that have been proven to work. To many schools and systems keep trying things that have never worked. Research the problem, find solutions, try them. If they don't work, try something else, but do research first.

Some solutions I have:
Make sure your teachers are supported and valued. Make sure they have the resources they need in their classroom.
Give teachers time to work with each other to develop curriculum and research solutions to problems.
Have teachers, administrators, and counselors talk to students that aren't doing well and find out what's going on in that child's life. Check on their home life. Work to help them with those issues.
Work with parents to help them get jobs or better jobs, get financial assistance. Get them to come to adult education if they need to finish school.
Get parents involved in the schools.
Work with community leaders and businesses to help support learning.
Support educators in developing new ways to teach. There are plenty of innovative, proven methods out there, but many districts won't change things. (And they wonder why they are failing still).
Support schools and educators. Work with them, not against them.

We need to identify ALL of the issues affecting learning and then find the root cause of the problem and fix it. And I can guarantee you that while some issues are with teachers, most of the problems are not the teachers. Let's work to fix the problems.

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