Friday, May 25, 2012

Poverty and Student Achievement

I've read more and more bully-pulpit Tweeters, big-time Bloggers, famous FB-posters and powerful Pundits lately suggesting that to fix the problem with K12 student achievement, all we need to do is solve the problem of poverty.

First off, let me say the problem of student achievement is hard enough to fix. In fact, we're still trying. But until we get our focus off all this time-wasting standardized testing nonsense and find more ways to involve students and parents in assuming responsibility for learning success, improved achievement is not likely to happen.

What will work, you say? Well, I have a plan that will work. How do I know that? It worked before in an innovative school many years ago and it will work now.

What did we do? We required each student (with a parent or mentor) to develop a Personal Learning Plan - a listing of learning goals achieved; a listing of what yet needed to be achieved; and lastly and importantly, what resources the student needed to achieve it.

Why would this help? It puts each learner in charge of his or her own learning success. Not the teacher, not the principal, not the school, not the school board, not Sec. Duncan or Pres. Obama.

Let's ask ourselves, "Who is fundamentally responsible for our own learning?" Answer: "We are!"

Sure others can help us, motivate us, observe us, praise us, correct us, show us, invite us...but for us to learn, we must learn it. No one else can do it for us. We can be led to the water, they can even salt our hay, but if we are to partake of it, we must choose it.

It's that simple. Require each student to create, enact, assess their own Personal Learning Plan. Revisit it regularly. Report on it frequently to parents, mentors, advisors, teachers, the public at large, if you wish.

That single transfer of the major responsibility for learning to the learner can enable this increase of student achievement we've all been looking for.

No, it may not work well for everyone. Some will need more help than others. Some will choose not to do it. But bottom line, more will learn more.

Let's close with an observation on learning and poverty. Perhaps it's more appropriate to say ignorance and poverty. Years of research show these terms are positively correlated. That does not mean one causes the other.

When I started school over 65 years ago, many students were poor, especially by todays' standards. But our own expectations, and those of our parents, resulted in many of us becoming successful learners, graduating high school, seeking post-secondary training or education. Some did not, and dropped out of school, but were able to find work. There is little of that kind of work left any longer that pays well.

In a nutshell, poverty doesn't mean you can't learn. It does mean you may not have the resources or encouragement that others may have, but we all know you can succeed anyway. In fact, many of our recent immigrants provide ample evidence of learning success when parents care and students work hard to learn.


Clarinda said...

Great post, Tom! Now, how do we put this into action?

Tom King said...

I am glad you asked that question, Clarinda!

A good start would be asking each student, with help from parent, mentor, teacher, advisor, to create and monitor a Personal Learning Plan. It would list what the student knows, what remains to be learned, and the resources needed to learn it.

There are other, powerful strategies too. Let's hear yours!

Thanks, Tom