GRAVES: Education is a partnershipReading to children, attending school are both part of building a quality learning experience.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article in this newspaper about educational research and the identification of certain factors which are strongly associated with (i.e. we strongly suspect cause) higher student achievement. In that article, I extolled the virtues of reading to your children 15-20 minutes a day and noted that students with this experience had notably greater success in school than students without it. A bit earlier this year, I also brought up a factor, a reform, the Mitchell Middle School had implemented which was consistent with student success, ICU, in which students were simply required to accomplish all of their work with a high degree of quality rather than be allowed to accept a failing or even just low grade.
Notice the difference between these two factors. When educators talk about items which produce (or are associated with) success in school (education is a soft science and thus almost everything we talk about is correlative rather than causal), we tend to divide those factors into two groups, those schools can pretty much control and those which are pretty much beyond our control. Parental reading to children at a young age is not within the school’s control. ICU is. This dichotomy is not perfect since schools can affect parents’ tendency to read by making the benefits of such clear in newsletters, banners, and such and ICU can be supported or opposed by parents, but it is a meaningful distinction, nonetheless.
Several years back, we wisely chose Mitchell High School social studies instructor, Mel Olson, to provide the inspirational, opening pre-service address to the teachers and among several items he discussed was a comparison between the job of teachers and medical doctors. While I must certainly paraphrase, he noted that while a doctor can be exceptional and give perfect advice to a patient, in the end the patient’s behavior will weigh heavily on both their tendency to incur disease and the success of treatment. To paraphrase the old theological aphorism from Thomas a Kempis, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” the physician prescribes but the patient imbibes.
I can only imagine the despair a doctor must feel when she watches a patient die needlessly because of their own lousy choices which go very much against her advice. I know very well, however, the frustration I and other educators feel when a student goes astray and falls far short of their potential due to, in our opinion, an obstinate refusal to take sound educational counsel.
The simple truth is that success in school is the result of a partnership between school and home and students will do well or not based, in part, on both parties.
Thus, it is the school’s responsibility to both provide the best academic program possible for its students and to offer advice to parents and students on how they can best capitalize on that program. As noted above, one way to do that is to read to your children on a daily basis. A second bit of advice comes this month from the Department of Education of the State of Georgia and it can be summed up very pithily as “Get to school.”
This advice, making sure students attend school regularly, seems obvious. Apparently, it is. What Georgia’s DOE, through a bit of longitudinal research on student attendance, graduation rates, and student achievement, discovered was:
1. The four-year graduation rate of eighth-grade students who miss more than 15 days a year is less than half of those who miss no school. Eighth graders who miss 11-14 days have a graduation rate 24 percentage points lower than those who miss no school. Eighth graders who missed even 6-10 days per year had a 14 percentage point lower graduation rate than those who missed no school. To sum up, students who miss even a moderate amount of school are significantly less likely to graduate from high school. The graduation rate plummets even more steeply for students who have significant rates of absenteeism in high school.
2. The most efficient intervention for improving reading achievement and attaining proficiency rates on state reading tests is not better reading materials or reading instruction, though each of these is extremely important, but simply increasing student attendance by 3 percent, or about five days per year.
Apparently, to quote a sage on the other end of the spectrum, Woody Allen’s advice was pretty sound: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”