Today I will summarize two articles I just read that deal with student negativity about their schooling. Then, I will let you know why both of them irritated me. The first article, written by Betsy Hammond, was published in our local newspaper, the Oregonian; and the second, written by Tara Garcia Mathewson, appeared on an Internet site called “Youth Truth”.
Youth Truth, a San Francisco non-profit organization * conducted a survey of 80, 000 students in 24 states from grades five through 12 in order to find out their feelings about their school’s culture. The results showed that that 44% of 6th graders had positive feelings while 9th graders had only to 32% and 11th graders only 28%. It appears that no younger students were surveyed.
Although fewer than half of all students felt that discipline at their school was fair, the percentages varied for different ethnic groups. Fourty-nine percent of Asian students said that the discipline was fair, compared to 39% of white students and Latinos, 34% of multiracial students, and 28% of black students.
While this information is interesting and significant, the article does not say how it was gathered; nor does it give any examples of the questions asked. In searching the Internet I was unable to find any further information about the nature of the survey or any action taken in response to it.What purpose did it serve?
The Oregonian article was about chronic student absenteeism, but it did not mention any student surveys or cite percentages of absences. Instead, it cited data on the numbers of students who had been absent for least 10 percent of the school year and described a plan conceived by state officials to fix the problem.
This new plan will create a team of experts to assist schools that have the highest numbers of student absenteeism. Those experts will train 20 coaches to work with the schools selected to devise and implement new practices to improve student attendance.
Newly trained attendance coaches would help the chosen schools examine in detail what is going wrong, not only at school but also at home. Then they would make customized plans to reverse those negative patterns. Although most of the work would be done by the coaches, the participation of other school officials is mentioned. No specifics are given about the activities of either group.
What irritated me about both articles was the absence of any mention of interviewing students to get at the sources of absenteeism or school dissatisfaction, or any suggestions of how to change student behavior. Although I think that the assumptions made by the proposed coaches or school officials will have some value, the actions mentioned leave out the voices of the only people who can identify and solve the problems: the students. For goodness sake, why can’t teachers and principals have some private discussions with students to find out what they think is wrong with the school culture–in addition to discipline– and how it can be changed? At the same time, discussions could reveal problems outside of school that are causing student absences, such as family conditions, student health, transportation, or fear of being bullied.
In reading these two articles I continued to be appalled by the total failure of our education system to bring students into the groups of problem identifiers and solvers. When it comes to school, those are the roles they are best fitted for and the ones most likely to make them better students and citizens.
*Youth Truth was developed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy in collaboration and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Youth Truth was founded in 2008 by Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy; Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and former director of Impact Planning and Improvement at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Valerie Threlfall, former vice president at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and founding director of YouthTruth from 2008 to 2012.