Hardly a week goes by in the Magnolia State that we don ‘t hear about how to solve Mississippi ‘s perennial education problem. Almost all of the education reform proposals deal with students, teachers and/or schools. Perhaps it ‘s time we looked seriously at how to have parents be more responsible and accountable.
And dare I say it, we need to find ways to help economically disadvantaged – and disengaged – parents help their children with school. It will not be easy. The family issues are complex. But if we don ‘t focus on issues in the students ‘ homes we will continue to get unprepared students who get further behind every year because their parents are ill-equipped to handle their homework assignments and out-of-school activities.
The reason for this suggestion is that the data clearly show that there is a strong, if not direct, correlation between parents ‘ income and success in school. But it ‘s more than that. Income is correlated with education. The parents ‘ education. An educated parent usually results in an educated child. Indeed, consider this statement from an August 18, 2013 Tampa Bay Times article entitled “Parents have biggest impact on students ‘success’:
“Recent reports from the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, and the Center for Law and Education all echo a study by the national Parent Teacher Association that concluded, “The most accurate predictors of achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family creates a home environment that encourages learning … “
Creating a home environment that encourages learning takes work as my wife and I learned recently from taking care of our grandchildren for several days. They live in upscale Alpharetta, Georgia, which has an excellet school system. Every day upon returning from school our grandson ‘s backpack contained a folder from his teacher. Inside was a pocket on either side, one for items to be returned to school and one for things to keep at home.
Here ‘s a sample of the tasks were to be completed one day: Draw and label 10 living things and 10 non-living things, memorize the 10 sight words contained in the sight word sheet, cut and paste various shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, etc.) onto a robot figure, and locate several shapes (cube, cylinder, etc.) found in the house. There were also tasks to be completed each day of the week, such as counting to 50, reciting each day of the week, etc. And of course the parent and student were to read at least 20 minutes each day. These activities took over an hour of interaction each day between parent and child. Oh, did I mention that our grandchild is in kindergarten?
On the day we left to return to Mississippi the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained an article titled, “Elementary school scores drop in latest report card.” State officials attribute the drop to, “… the performance of at-risk groups, such as children from low-income neighborhoods. “ Results of the 2016-16 College and Career Ready Performance Index released on Dec. 8, 2016 show elementary school in Georgia on average scoring 71.7 points (on the 110 scale), a 4.3 point drop from the previous year. The Georgia Governor ‘s Office of Student Achievement applied its own readily understood grading scale, i.e. A-F. Thus, Georgia ‘s elementary schools scored a C, as did the middle schools. The Georgia Department of Education attributed the drop to the performance of “economically disadvantaged “ students.
Finding ways to help disadvantaged parents or guardians is not going to be an easy task. Many economically disadvantaged parents have educational shortages themselves. Many could not provide the homework help mentioned above. Nearly 7 percent of adults in the state have less than a ninth-grade education, which is two percentage points above the national average. As of 2003, the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, at least 15 percent of adults in Mississippi were found to be illiterate, with rates soaring as high as 30 percent in some of the most impoverished and rural counties.
And then there is the issue of race and education. I highly recommend a Washington Post article by Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled “White flight is creating a separate and unequal system of higher education.” He points out that “… whites are fleeing the underfunded and overcrowded two-year and four-year open-access colleges for the nation’s top 500 universities.” He also states that “our racially stratified postsecondary education system serves as a passive agent that mimics and magnifies the race-based inequities it inherits from the K-12 education system and projects them into the labor market.” He says that we must also acknowledge the inherent limits of affirmative action as we know it. The racial stratification of higher education is a systemic problem.
Reflecting on this issue reminds me of how Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Perhaps we should remember the maxim: We are perfectly structured for the results were are getting.