posted on April 08, 2014 04:00
Recommendations for Students, Parents,
and Educators to Improve Public Education
by Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
“True education should prepare our children for life and prosperity, not a job”. – Marlon Aldridge, Urban Education Alliance
Education is one of the most talked about activities among people of many different stripes from the most illiterate to the most scholarly. We all seem to understand its importance. Yet we have an educational problem or crisis in America, especially in communities of color. It is not a problem that exists in nature; it is a problem that exists only in our minds or our way of thinking. To the extent that we have not been able to solve it, we have an unresolved practical problem, which implies also that maybe we have a cultural or value problem. If this crisis is left unresolved, life and prosperity as we know it will be at risk for future generations.
Why then do we fail in grasping education’s liberating aspects? The reasons are many and are usually classified among many conceptual or theoretical frameworks, i.e., social, economic, cultural, familial, psychological, behavioral, etc. I will not argue for or against one or the other because they all suffer from one thing–lack of predictability. The power to predict outcomes with precision is the hallmark of good theorizing (i.e., explaining along cause and effect). Most educational predictors and so-called theories fail miserably in this regard. For instance, in the Dayton Public school district where over 90 percent of students are considered socio-economically disadvantaged and close to 70 percent are Black, 50 percent of them performed proficient or better on state standardized tests (2012-2013). What lousy predictors of performance. With that said, the social sciences are still very relevant. We just need to be more aware of its intended or unintended effects of devaluing and stigmatizing children of color while providing little help in improving their situation.
Where most would prefer to provide solutions at the policy level (usually the fallback position), I prefer to provide solutions and to persuade at the most basic levels, to wit, students, parents, and educators.
Who am I to provide solutions? I offer 18 years of direct teaching experience in the natural sciences, mainly physics, and graduate level educational experiences including doctorate level work in the field of education. My recommendations follow.
- The most important ingredients to succeeding in school are determination and self-confidence. Never be caught without them.
- Be respectful in class and allow your teachers to teach and your peers to learn.
- Intelligence is not something that you are born with. It is something that your desire and strive to learn from knowledgeable people who are willing and committed to teaching you.
- Learning involves a lot of reading and homework (i.e., practice). Just going to school is not enough. You must practice outside of school much in the same way that you practice at sports, music, arts, etc. If you plan to go to college, university, trade school, or even the military, you will definitely have to study outside of class. Prepare yourself now.
- To make learning fun, study with a friend who is just as interested in learning as you are.
- Take notes in class and keep all of your notes and assignments organized by chapters in a binder or folder. Study them and any feedback provided by your teachers often.
- Use technology to help you learn and check your work such as educational web sites and Microsoft Word®. Also, get a good scientific calculator. Use the Internet to search for web sites which provide help on any subject. Use the grammar and spell check functions of Microsoft Word® to help with writing papers. You can also use it to conduct research like looking up definitions or synonyms or getting more information about subjects. (For example, put your cursor on a word you need help with, then hold down the Alt key and left click your mouse. Click here for more info.). Get someone to teach you to use your scientific calculator correctly. A good one, which can be bought at Walmart, is Texas Instrument’s TI-30X IIS Scientific Calculator. Also, it’s reasonably priced.
- If you don’t understand something covered in class, ask your teacher for help. Asking for help is a skill used frequently by intelligent people.
- To overcome test anxiety do this.
- Develop your own test based on your best guess of what will be on it. Your teacher should be willing to tell you what to study. The answers should be available to you. For example, most textbooks have the answers to odd-numbered questions/problems in the back of the book.
- Put yourself in a test environment (no distractions) and take the test within the time you will be given in class.
- Grade your test and score it. Try to get an idea from your teacher on how she grades to assist with this step.
- Restudy the questions/problems that you missed only. Get help from a knowledgeable person, when needed. If need be, use the Internet.
- Repeat steps a thru b using the same test or a totally different test with items similar to the first.
- Ultimately, you want to attempt as many questions/problems as you can so that arriving at the answers become second nature to you. In other words, you’re not really thinking, just reacting. Following this strategy, you will react and not freeze up even if you are under a lot of stress during the actual test.
- Honor your parents; not only by what you do for them but also by what you become. Here’s what I mean. When people in the community outside of your family acknowledge how successful and accomplished you have become, you have, in effect, honored your parents. Your success is most likely a result of you and them. Degree completion is just one example of an accomplishment which brings honor to your parents.
- It is well understood that learning starts at birth. A baby must receive a lot of attention from his or her parents because this attention results in learning and development for the child. Perceptual skills, motor skills, emotional skills, cognitive skills are being rapidly developed at this stage. Let your child play as often as he or she likes. Playing is learning. Do not be angered by a playing child. Instead create a safe environment for play both inside and outside the home.
- Start your child early in programs outside of the home like sports, arts, dance, music, martial arts, etc. I make a general observation that children who start extra-curricular activities at very early ages and continue unabated become prodigies in their teens and icons in their adulthood.
- Read age appropriate books to your child each night for at least 15 minutes.
- Provide a balanced diet for your child while paying particular attention to the intake of sugary foods and drinks. Replace sugary drinks with water and milk.
- Do not allow smoking (both nicotine and illegal drugs) and profanity around your child at any time. Smoking, even second-hand smoke, will damage your child’s development. Do not use profanity around your child. Most likely, he will repeat it inside the classroom.
- Be especially cautious of teachers and mental health professionals who may want to diagnose your child with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Be sure to consult with your child’s pediatrician and with an independent speech-language pathologist if you can afford. Your child’s school will normally provide an intervention team consisting of your child’s teacher(s), school psychologist, and maybe a speech-language pathologist or special education teacher to diagnosis or provide interventions for your child’s learning disabilities. When you or your child’s teacher suspects that he or she many have a learning disability, response-to-intervention or RTI has shown good promise and should be tried first. Don’t be persuaded by the potential financial benefits which your child may receive by being labeled with an IEP (Individualized Education Program). This type of labeling may be detrimental to your child’s development especially if he or she is misdiagnosed. Read these articles: How are learning disabilities diagnosed? What is ADHD?
- Keep many culturally appropriate, age appropriate books in your child’s room. Search the Internet to find sources.
- Between 2 ½ to 5 years old, you should teach or find someone to teach your child to:
- Recognize numbers and count to 10 or 20.
- Recognize and recite his or her alphabets.
- Recognize basic shapes.
- Tie his or her shoes.
- Use the potty and wipe his or her self (will be required in most preschools and kindergartens).
- Hold and write with a pencil or pen.
- Spell his or her first and last names.
- Sound out consonants and vowels.
- Recognize sight words. Get them here at education.com.
Note: Your child will likely be tested on these bullet items during the first two weeks of kindergarten.
- Get your child into an accredited preschool or Head Start program beginning at age 2 ½, if one is available. To find an accredited preschool in your area, visit the National Association of Early Childhood Education web site, or find your state agency that monitors and certifies the best early learning and development centers. If you live in Ohio, visit the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services web site to find an early learning and development center monitored under the Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) program. SUTQ programs with 3 to 5 star ratings are best. To find a Head Start program in your area, visit the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center web site.
- Quit telling your child simply to “get an education”. The word education is a very general term; therefore, telling a child to “get an education” is not very instructive. We need to be more consistent in telling each child that getting an education or going to school provides one with repeated opportunities to learn to think and act on one’s own so that one may have good health, happiness, and a long life. Not being able to think and act independently threatens one’s health, happiness, and life. Parents and adults in general need to think more like advertisers, who link their products and services to emotional benefits. With that in mind, children will naturally equate poor health, unhappiness, and death with lack of education. Additionally, we need to quit telling our children to get an education simply to get a good paying job. There have been many people who have gotten good paying jobs or lived well without being highly educated or completing school. Besides, everyone should be entitled to a living wage job regardless of their educational level. It’s a matter of human dignity.
- Make sure that your child consistently completes his or her homework in a professional manner. Provide or get help when needed.
To educators (Here, I include teachers, administrators, and researchers)
- Quit comparing educational performance along racial or ethnic lines. It has been our tradition to do this probably because comparing and contrasting is a higher order thinking skill and is often used in scholarly settings. Many of us, including myself, do this in our attempts to be scholarly. However, quite a few theoreticians and academicians inform us that western scientific culture has consistently posited a “deficit model” when referring to cultures outside of its own. The deficit model and its findings have failed to improve educational outcomes for children of color. From this perspective, the deficit model may be seen a defense mechanism used mainly to devalue, stigmatize, and traumatize children of color. Said another way, it preserves the status quo. As an alternative, we should report descriptive, educational statistics without regard to race or ethnicity. Instead, using baseline data, we should set attainable goals targeted to specific groups which may provide guidance in policy planning, instruction, school improvement, community support, etc.
- Let’s upgrade our country's 200-year old educational curricula and the teaching practices that have accompanied them. Learning needs to reflect today’s challenges and concerns, not those of the past. Every learning opportunity should reflect a current reality and integrate traditional knowledge only to expound and evaluate its utility. Additionally, we should forbid the naming of concepts, principles, and laws after people and/or restrict their usage in the classroom. No one should be able to append his or her name to concepts and relationships that exist with or without our observation or construction of them. Moreover, it adds nothing of value to learning and instruction and may devalue other cultural knowledge systems.
- Quit using hands-on activities as a buzz word when it is not evident in your classroom. Find truly hands-on activities and let students inquire for themselves while you facilitate. Learn along with students and let them know that you do NOT know everything. Do not make up answers if you don’t know them because students will remember what you stay. Trust me! You will learn more than you can ever imagine from this because you will be forced to find answers or truly comprehend your craft.
- When using handouts in class do this:
- Establish a grading system where students receive points for working handouts and participating in class.
- Let students work in groups. Encourage them to teach material they have mastered or understand to their group members. Also encourage them to validate answers across groups.
- Be active by walking around the classroom and by guiding students.
- Let students demonstrate their performance before you give them feedback. Expound on concepts and principles while providing feedback to students.
- Constantly remind students that if you call them to the board that you will help them when they are stuck or when they don’t know where to start. Encourage other students to help them, when needed.
- When letting students use their textbooks, instruct them to paraphrase and quote answers from the text. Be sure to have them include the page number and paragraph for each answer. This will build their scientific literacy skills and allow you to teach them how to properly examine the text.
- Get to know your peers at the college and university level, so that they can keep you abreast of what students need to know and be able to demonstrate at that level. As a college physics professor, I see firsthand, the difficulties that students have with basic skills that should have been learned earlier. Even students who come from high performing school districts have challenges with basic skills. From this perspective, state standardized testing has little value in predicting college-level performance.
- Learn as much as you can about your problem students especially those with behavioral problems. They most likely have come from unstable environments where daily trauma has occurred or continues to occur. Build relationships with parents (caretakers) and children first, so that they are comfortable with divulging personal information to you. Keep this information confidential unless you have a duty to report abuse or neglect. Get permission to talk to other persons who may provide support to your students such as licensed social workers, magistrates or probation officers, coaches, etc. With them you can craft solutions and provide reinforcements to better manage and instruct your problem students in the classroom. You most likely have more support than you ever imagined.
- Never show these emotions or attitudes in front of your students:
- Fear. Forget classroom management if you display fear in front of students.
- Low expectations. Students will internalize them or act out in your classroom.
- Microaggressions. Read about microaggressions here.
- Contempt for students. You are setting yourself up for failure.
- Be careful and knowledgeable about your kindergarten readiness efforts. Don’t make hasty decisions based on one time assessments. Remember, children learn and develop at different rates. Read this article.
- Become more knowledgeable about alternatives to student expulsions and suspensions. You are creating more problems than you are solving with zero-tolerance policies. Read what California has done and share in their resources.
- Consult with teachers and support staff in your building to develop teacher attitudes, values, and behaviors which will be consistent across all classrooms. For example, I got this response from my 8th grade students, “Mr. so and so lets us watch TV and read the newspaper in his classroom. Why are you always trying to teach us something?” Lack of consistency in discipline and learning in one classroom affects discipline and learning in other classrooms. Be concise and specific in developing a code of teacher conduct for each building and grade level.
- Per your lesson plans, make room to provide remedial activities for concepts which were not well learned by your students. I was guilty of not doing this while teaching 8th and 9th grade physical science students, probably because I was not formally trained on what to do in the classroom and how to do it well. I lasted only two years teaching secondary education and was very depressed because I felt that my students did not want to learn. I know now that it was me and not them.
- Let community groups and professionals into your classroom to take advantage of the many resources that they provide. Do your homework though.
I would love to read your constructive feedback to my responses and have you provide additional resources to assist students, parents, and educators. Let’s better equip our children for life and prosperity by embracing the values we need to improve the success rates of all children.