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Student Academic Performance

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There was a time when American education was the tops in the world. High School graduates scored high on the SATs in both math and reading. They were accepted into the top colleges and universities in the nation. As a result, the United States was the top ranked nation in engineering, physics, medicine, literature, etc. This nation was noted for its innovative abilities, resulting in space technology and computer sciences.

A study was recently released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that demonstrated the dismal performance of High School Seniors nationwide. Students were tested across 1,600 school districts. Among these districts, 49,000 students were tested reading and 49,000 in math. Overall, the performance scores were worse than in 1992. Considering the state of our economy and competition from other nations in all of these areas, the results are a source of great anxiety for this nations future. It is important to note that Asian youngsters outperformed White, Black and Hispanic students.

Why is this happening?

Following, are some thoughts based on observations, experiences and opinions of my own.

1. I do not believe youngsters can learn when they come from a home environment filled with drug abuse, parental conflict, domestic violence and chaos. when I was a High School teacher many years ago, there were students who came to class exhausted and anxious as a result of their home environment. The situation has become worse. Youngsters cannot learn when their home lives are unstable.

2. Pressure was placed on youngsters to perform well at school. At the very least, everyone was expected to be able to read and do math. The nation was proud of its high rate of literacy as compared to years prior to the late 19th and early 20th century.

3. Sixty years ago schools and teachers were in control and were supported by families at home. Rules were set and enforced in the areas of dress codes, cleanliness and behavior. For example, I remember having to come to school dressed in shoes, shirts and slacks. Sneakers and jeans were not allowed and students were sent home if they violated that code.

4. Public libraries were open 7 days a week and, after school as well as on weekends, they were filled with student working on reports and other class projects.

5. The burden of performance was placed squarely on students and their families.

Today, by contrast:

1. There is enormous peer pressure to disregard school. Those who study are considered to be “nerds.” This type of peer pressure existed years ago but not to the extent it does today.

2. Not only is there drug and alcohol abuse at home, but youngsters are coming to school with drugs and getting “high” between classes. There is lots of evidence that drug sales go on at or outside of schools.

3. Much of the public views the public schools and its teachers with suspicion. When behavior problems arise at school too many parents side with their children rather than supporting the teachers and school administration.

4. Never has there been as much exposure to video games, cell phones, text messaging and etc. as there is at this time. All of these are sources of distraction from concentrating on studying and reading.

5. While tenure for teachers was once thought of as a way for them to educate youngsters without the threat of losing their jobs, it seems to have back fired. For many people, a combination of burnout and job security have conspired to make some teachers indifferent to what happens in the classroom.

6. In too many schools an atmosphere of anarchy reigns. This seems to happen in the urban schools but some of this has pervaded the suburbs as well. The lack of discipline and student violence makes enforce of rules and regulations impossible. Not only is there an absence of a dress code, there is no proper behavioral code as well. Many schools have become places of violence.

7. With both parents working to make a living, many children come home to empty houses. No one is present to supervise homework and find ask about the day at school. The rate of divorce and remarriage with combined families only adds to the confusion for many children.

What can you do?

Granted that parents come home from work exhausted and not wanting to help with homework and management of the children, it is important to do so.

Many studies have shown that children do better at school when their parents help with their homework. In addition, it is important for parents find time to go to school, speak to teachers and learn first hand about how their children are doing. Waiting for report cards is not enough.

Parents need to put strict limits on television and video game watching and playing.

The importance of reading and doing math needs to be enforced by parents for both their daughters and sons.

Perhaps communities need to demand the removal of teacher tenure and replacing it with some type of performance review at the end of the year. After all, this is what happens in the business world.

Parents need to constantly talk with their children about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

Finally, in my opinion, Asian students in the United States are out performing other groups because there is a strong family structure in place with boundary lines between generations strongly enforced and with parents closely monitoring and helping with homework and school performance in general.

What are your opinions about this complex issue and what have your experiences been like?

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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