April 1, 2006
The following five suggestions to improve student achievement are grounded with a strong and proven research base. Each reflects simple applications of common sense to research.
The time has come for our educational leaders to make concerted efforts to support legislation enabling these practical policies that have potential to produce positive student achievement results.
Here are five:
Improve diets. Creating initiatives to improve the diets of inner-city and rural-poor students. Although neurologists have documented that high-protein diets are necessary for brain growth and physical development of young children, the economically disadvantaged continue to be subjected to high carbohydrate diets.
Far too many children come to school either hungry or malnourished. Policy leaders, social service agencies and government officials need to pay careful attention to increasing the ratio of protein in the kinds of meals served in school cafeterias, along with eliminating access to non-nutritional drinks such as carbonated beverages.
Limit school-night activities. Eliminate school-night contests in athletics, music, drama or other extracurricular activities. Recent ESPN exposure of basketball phenom Greg Oden and his basketball teammates traveling great distances on school nights for games has given focus to excesses in extracurricular activities.
Generally speaking, school-year policies should emphasize learning by providing opportunities for students to be home by 7 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday evenings.
Too many students are now sent the message that basketball, soccer, band competitions and other activities are more important than academic work.
This is not to suggest that extracurricular activities are unimportant and should not occur. For many students, extracurricular activities are the reason they attend school. Rather, schools should be organized to emphasize learning during the week and not schedule extracurricular participation and involvement on weeknights.
Fight grade inflation. Monitoring teachers who provide high grades that reward inferior schoolwork. Grade inflation is computed by establishing a correlation between achievement on standardized tests and earned grade point average. In recent years, many inner-city teachers have been known to inflate report card grades to keep students and parents quiet and happy.
It simply does not work and, in fact, has the opposite effect when students are unable to perform well in advanced courses and on college entrance exams.
Support stepfamilies. Developing initiatives to ease tension for children in stepfamilies. With an estimated 50 percent of inner-city youth experiencing their parents' divorce or status as single parents, school officials need to take positive actions to make sure their personnel understand that stepfamilies are the norm for many children, not a deviation from the two-parent, one-family standard.
The definition of a family is changing. Educators need to find ways to help students negotiate family relationships in ways that support their learning. Teachers do not need to be social workers; but they do need to understand that effective instruction requires them to understand current social conditions.
Lengthen school year. It would be difficult to find a school board member, administrator or teacher unfamiliar with research demonstrating the value of increased "time on task."
Nevertheless, most school systems throughout the nation continue to operate with the old agrarian-based 180-day school calendar.
Longer school days with more of the same are not the answer. Instead, educators need to identify new ways to "extend" the time and learning opportunities that already exist.
Some of these recommendations require little or no investment of dollars. All are supported by considerable research and offer significant opportunity for success. They do not constitute the "art of the impossible."
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data