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Photo by Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education

Only 34 percent of children in Georgia read on grade level by the end of third grade. Whenever I think of that abysmal stat, I do three things:

  1. I shake my head in disbelief.
  2. I say to myself, “I must have misread that figure.”
  3. I go to the Get Georgia Reading site to double-check.

Then I’m saddened when I get there and see that the stat is a fact. To break that stat way down, that means that 2 out of 3 students can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade. Why is being able to read proficiently by the end of third grade so crucial? The Annie E. Casey foundation commissioned a longitudinal study that indicated several  negative outcomes associated with poor reading. Students who can’t read by third grade are four times more likely to become high school drop-outs. Those who do not graduate from high school are significantly more likely than those who earn a diploma to become teen parents. They are more likely to spend time in prison, to become victims of violence or subject others to violence, to be unemployed and to become recipients of Medicaid and welfare.

To combat this long-standing problem, a group of more than 100 public and private partners organized the Get Georgia Reading Campaign. Campaign organizers recently made more than 8,000 ebooks available to students at myOn.com. That means students have access to thousands of books wherever an internet connection is available. There is a range of genres from which students can select, including careers, family, math, science, hobbies, vehicles, mystery, the gross and the scary. Parents of younger children can read to them or select the option which enables the books to be narrated – often in the characters’ voices! The books are also downloadable! Here’s how you can share this wonderful site with your children and grandchildren:

myon

Dr. Oz has joined the effort to improve student literacy. On his May 25 episode, he helped to launch “Books Across America” along with UPS, Scholastic and the National WIC Association. You can help by donating books at your local UPS Store May 25 through May 31. WIC will then deliver the books to students of low-income homes.

During a segment of his May 25 episode, Dr. Oz discussed research in brain science, that indicates that more than 80 percent of children’s brain growth is completed by age three. As a result, the first three years of life are critical for mental stimulation such as talking, reading, and singing, which helps billions of neurons create connections that are maintained for life.

As you’re out and about shopping, grabbing a bite eat or running errands, please stop by your local UPS Store and donate a book.Let’s attack illiteracy together!

 

Teachers do not have the biggest impact on your child’s education

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Photo Source: Jimlaneyjr [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The poverty rates for children living in the United States have increased throughout the country. According to the Condition of Education Report 2015, the South had the highest rate of poverty, followed by the West, the Midwest and the Northeast.

ChildFund International lists the following as some of the effects of poverty on student outcomes:

  • The children of lower-income families have a higher likelihood of garnering lower test scores than students from higher income backgrounds.
  • These students have a higher chance of not graduating from school.
  • Even when they complete high school, they are less likely to attend college than are students of wealthier families.

There are numerous factors that impact the academic achievement of students. School climate is one of them. Research indicates that principals have the greatest influence on school climate. I believe that, because I taught at the same school for 8 years under 3 different principals. The school felt like a different place under each of them. Inside school buildings, teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. That might be part of the reason teachers have been the target of the brunt of the criticism for low test scores. Overall, socioeconomic status of students’ families has the biggest impact on student achievement. We can’t blame teachers for a factor they have no control over.

Factors like having a suitable breakfast each day, access to libraries, and someone to help with homework have positive effects on student achievement. Research has indicated that children exposed to real-world experiences attain greater academic success than those who don’t. For instance, taking a trip to Washington, D.C. is better than just reading about the capital city. Therein lies the problem. When parents are forced to funnel the majority of their salaries to pay bills, there sometimes isn’t  enough left to provide their children with a wholesome breakfast let alone a family vacation. Certainly, schools provide breakfast for students who need it, but schools can’t typically provide some of the other things that improve student achievement such as access to public libraries and trips to places like aquariums or museums.

Increasing worker wages so that employees are doing more than just barely making ends meet, enables parents to work fewer jobs so they can be around to help with homework, own vehicles so they can take their children to a public library, and have a few extra dollars to take their children to places that offer real-world experiences. In essence, improving the socioeconomic status of parents helps to improve education. Isn’t that what all of us want?

socio video  Here’s a short YouTube video explaining a few methods of offsetting the effects of low socioeconomic status on the academic achievement of students.

 

 

How qualified will your child’s teacher be?

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Photo Source: Douglas P. Perkins, via Wikimedia Commons

I recall feeling a little annoyed when I heard a parent gruffly ask a teacher, “What are your credentials?” As a former teacher, I understood that since the teacher was in the classroom, she was “highly qualified” according to No Child Left Behind. Soon, however, parents in Wisconsin might be fully justified in asking that question.

The Associated Press reported recently that Wisconsin could become the first state in the nation to certify people to teach who don’t have college degrees. The proposal would license people with suitable experience to teach non-core academic subjects in grades 6 through 12. That will include those who dropped out of high school. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree would be licensed to teach math, English, science or social studies. Before the measure can become law, the legislature and Gov. Scott Walker must approve it. I’m not trying to be the harbinger of doom and gloom, but overall this probably will not be good for students.

Here’s why I believe that:

  1. Just because someone has gained expertise in an area, doesn’t mean he or she can teach about it.
  2. Just because people have gained experience in an area, doesn’t mean they can teach it to children.
  3. Having expertise in an area doesn’t mean a person can exercise classroom management.
  4. Having experience in an area doesn’t translate into being able to handle the numerous responsibilities teachers juggle.

Maybe Wisconsin is trying to compensate for a shortage of teachers. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), 40 percent of teachers who graduate with bachelor’s degrees in education, never go into the profession. Research also indicates that between 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. Of those, nine and a half percent leave before the end of their first year.

How do we retain qualified teachers to diminish the need to hire those without degrees or even high school diplomas? Some methods supported by research include:

  • increasing teacher pay
  • hiring strong school administrators
  • offering professional support
  • providing mentors for new teachers

I’m not against teachers who enter education as a second profession. In fact, I know teachers who had degrees in areas other than education who obtained a teaching degree or certification who I can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching. It’s as if they were born to teach. Before we place people in the vital position of educating our children who barely have an education themselves, shouldn’t we take the necessary measures that research has for years shown help keep teachers in the classroom?

 

Black on Black Education

GinnGinn Academy in Ohio, is proving that students who attend majority-minority schools can excel as evidenced by its zero percent drop-out rate. The Black Home School reported on this success story.

The research is clear. Students who attend majority-minority schools typically face many odds. Despite the odds, I believe that when stakeholders, i.e. communities, central offices, school boards, lawmakers, school administrators, teachers and parents, understand those odds and make concerted efforts to combat them, many students who attend majority-minority schools can achieve academic success.

I must be clear. I am not against diversity in schools, but the reality is, most Black students attend majority-minority schools, therefore it would be prudent to actively address the odds students in such schools face. I am only speaking from my experience as an educator who has taught in majority-minority schools and in diverse schools. I am also speaking as a parent whose children have attended majority-minority schools. I believe that there are many majority-minority schools where the issues students face are being addressed as best as possible. Those schools are to be commended.

Here are just a few of the issues/odds students who attend majority-minority schools face:
Majority minority schools tend to have a high number of first-year teachers. A report by the U.S. Department of Education recently showed that Black, Latino and Alaska Native students are more likely to attend schools staffed with more first-year teachers than White students. I’m not saying that new teachers can’t be good teachers, but chances are they’re not going to be great. That’s not their fault. As with most professions, workers get better with time and experience. Simply put, the first-year teacher is a fledgling. Those teachers are learning how to juggle multiple balls, including curriculums that are new to them, upwards of 150 students if they teach in middle school, lots of paper work, tests to administer, and a steady flow of papers to grade among other responsibilities. In school buildings, teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. Overall, socioeconomic status has the most significant impact on student achievement. For instance, I taught at a majority-minority school that boasted good test scores. The income level of parents was higher than many of the other majority-minority schools in the area.

Majority minority schools have higher teacher turnover rates. There are a variety of reasons for this, including stress associated with juggling all those balls. Add to that higher rates of discipline problems. I’m not saying that students who attend majority-minority schools inherently behave worse than students of other schools. I am saying that some students who attend majority-minority schools often deal with factors outside of school that can negatively impact their behavior inside of school. When I started teaching back in 2003, the following question was circulating among teachers and teacher associations: “Should teachers who work at majority-minority schools be paid more than teachers who don’t.” My answer is a resounding “Yes!” Teachers who teach at non-majority-minority schools tend to experience a different work life – at least when it comes to students discipline. They don’t have to deal with discipline problems as much as teachers who work at majority-minority schools. The stress from teaching in many majority-minority schools can be associated with health problems in teachers, which can cause them to be absent more frequently, which has a negative impact on student achievement. Some school districts are answering that question with a “Yes,” as well by paying teachers who have shown that they positively affect student achievement with higher salaries in an effort to keep such teachers in majority-minority schools.

Students who attend majority-minority schools tend to get suspended at higher rates. According the U.S. Department of education, suspension and expulsion rates for Black students are 3 times higher than that of White students (16% vs. 5%). Many of the teachers would become upset with the principal of a diverse elementary school I taught at, because he refused to suspend students. I understood their sentiment at the time, but looking back, I understand his. Research shows that students who get suspended – even in elementary – tend to have higher drop-out rates than students who don’t. When students are suspended, they often receive make-up work, but it doesn’t compensate for learning that was lost from not being in school. Some majority-minority schools suspend students for 10 days at a time. That means students are missing the teaching of core concepts in language arts, math, science, social studies and foreign language for 10 days. For some students, suspending them is simply giving them what they wanted in the first place – to be out of school. I know of a student who was suspended, because he got caught in questionable situation with a female student. He was suspended for 10 days, and his mother sent him out of town to stay with relatives. He considered his suspension a vacation. I don’t have an alternative solution for what should be done with students who commit infractions that warrant suspension. I don’t, however, believe that widespread suspension is the answer.

There is no way I can name them all, but the following are a few suggestions on how majority-minority schools can help as many students as possible achieve at higher levels. Many majority-minority schools already do these:

  • Have high expectations. Some school districts don’t have a spot on elementary school students’ report cards to indicate “exemplary,” achievement. Students are given “N” for needs improvement or “S” for satisfactory achievement. What if a student IS excelling? How are parents to know their child is excelling unless a teacher tells them? How are students to know they are excelling, since schools in some districts hold awards programs where all students who make satisfactory progress receive certificates? Students who are actually excelling receive no recognition for doing so. As a result, some students who are excelling might decide to quit achieving to the best of their ability and settle for satisfactory achievement.
  • When improvisation is necessary, make it beneficial to students. For instance, sometimes some grade levels have more classes than connections classes like music, art and physical education. That often means some students must take one of those classes such as PE twice a week. Instead of sending students to a second PE class, administrators could allow students to attend a second music class or a foreign language class. Research has long indicated that students who participate in music education experience gains in math and reading among other benefits. Research also shows that it is easier for students to learn foreign languages in the early years than it is for those in middle and high school. If schools end up having more classes than connection teachers, maybe offering elementary students a foreign language is a solution.
  • Teachers and other staff should be cognizant of the language they use. I’m not making this statement to bash anyone, because I was a teacher and I believe that most educators are good educators. I worked in majority-minority schools where teachers spoke correct English while teaching and conversing with students. However, I’ve walked into schools and almost instantly heard a variety of staff members using improper grammar in the presence of students. In fact, when I attended a school holiday music program, it was hard for me to ignore the music teacher’s constant use of poor grammar. She was the MC of the program! In addition, as a teacher, I’ve always tried to make an effort to speak to my students using complete sentences. Even when my students asked me questions that could be answered with a “Yes,” or “No,” I would answer using complete sentences. It’s something I learned while I was a newspaper reporter from famed educator Marva Collins when I attended an event where she was the featured speaker.

Of course, the list of ways to improve education goes on and can’t be listed here. Additionally, practices that garner high achievement in one school might not work in another. I strongly believe that all students can learn to the best of their ability when all involved – communities, central offices, school boards, lawmakers, school administrators, teachers and parents do everything they can to help each child do his or her best. Doing so can give students the foundation they need to excel.

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