Can We Make the Change?

In an article by Aki Mori, he notes that the schools in which he taught succeeded or failed, not because of teacher quality, but because of parental involvement. He essentially sums up his argument by saying:

“High-performing schools (and districts) get far too much credit for what they do, and low-performing schools get far too much blame…because regardless of whether test scores were below or above average at schools where I have taught, the quality of teachers has more or less been consistently good.”

“Although educational research is full of tortured arguments that attempt to de-emphasize the impact of a student’s environment and assert the primacy of classroom instruction as the chief factor in student success, the reality that I have consistently observed points convincingly to family support as the dominant factor. In other words, generally speaking, students who succeed in school have their parents to thank, first and foremost.”

Mori echos in his own words what I have basically believed since I started in education: a school reflects the community in which it resides. A community’s desires and commitments are reflected in the progress of the school(s) in the area. I have believed, as I told my principal last week when discussing the PLC conference we attended, that schools are microcosms of the communities in which they lie. Mori also states that schools are “Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, what happens in our schools is a reflection of many stronger forces at play in our society at large.”

In fact, Mori lists a few factors affecting student achievement:

  • “Busier lives also mean succumbing to the convenience of processed and fast foods, which results in poorer nutrition.”
  • “[P]oorer fitness has meant a frightening reliance on medications and their poorly understood side effects.”
  • “Parents in all strata of society, whether rich, poor or in between, are increasingly stressed in their ability to provide the emotional, physical and financial support that children need on a day-to-day basis.”
  • “The positive and nurturing values that schools (and families and churches) try to instill in our youth are constantly under assault from a crowded spectrum of media, entertainment and Internet influences that ‘push the envelope’ in order to survive.”

Mori continues his discussion by saying his visits to Japan confirmed his beliefs about environment determining school success. While the Japanese schools had high marks in math and science, their teachers were different from American teachers. He observed that Japanese teachers possessed higher levels of content-specific knowledge; however, “they do not possess key qualities that are essential for succeeding in the American classroom such as creativity, resourcefulness and compassion.” He further concludes that:

“The point is, though Japanese schools are often assumed to be superior to American schools, if we could wave a magic wand and teleport Japanese teachers into American schools, you would see no improvement whatsoever in student outcomes. For better and worse, both the American and Japanese models of education produce results according to what their respective citizenries value.”

In his opinion and mine, teachers have an impact but not the most significant impact on school success. Our abilities can impact children but not nearly as much as parental involvement and environment. Teachers and schools in general tend to try and go it alone too often. Mori explicitly states that “it is clear to me that teachers and schools cannot fix the problem alone. For better or for worse, we will always end up exactly with the system of education that we as a society deserve. Perhaps in the future enough of us will work together to deserve better than what we have today.” He’s right in one sense. We need the support of our communities to make the kinds of differences our students need.

But I’m not going to stop trying to do the best I can in my classroom with the time and resources I have. I think teachers make a significant-enough difference that we are absolutley part of the solution. If I didn’t believe this, then I wouldn’t be a teacher. ๐Ÿ™‚

9 thoughts on “Can We Make the Change?

  1. Nuss

    You can’t regulate parents. You can’t regulate students. But guess who you can regulate? That’s all you need to know about education reform.

  2. Pingback: The Rebuttal « The Doc Is In

  3. Clix

    I completely disagree, but I’m going to go read the rebuttal first before commenting further, to make sure I’m not just repeating what that says ;D

  4. Clix

    More of a tangent than a rebuttal, I think… anyway, it just seems awfully arrogant to me for this guy to go, “okay, I know what the research says, but based on my own personal experiences, I think it’s wrong.”


    I think what we need to look at next is the application and hiring process. If excellent teachers really are the most significant factor in student achievement, that means that schools that do better have more of those excellent teachers working there. I think THAT is where environment fits in.

    Teachers are going to be more interested in working where they can teach, rather than just manage; where administration respects and considers their ideas; where parents work with them; where their continued growth is a priority.

  5. drpezz Post author

    I haven’t been convinced that better teachers are the reason why the most affluent district in my state always heads the list of top schools in the state. Meanwhile, the poorest districts in my state are always at the bottom. This factor is too often dismissed in studies and policy.

    Within the school environment I do agree that the teacher is the most critical for the student (and the principal for school culture), and the teacher can help students overcome a lack of support elsewhere; however, I think it’s pretty clear (in my experience) that students with stable, supportive, and involved parents succeed much more often than those who do not.

    Nuss and I have spoken at length about how the new panacea in education is to regulate (i.e. certification requirements) and require more of the teacher (i.e. length of day and year) because it’s the teacher is one area the system can control. Nothing is wrong with that, and we can make a difference. Still, I don’t think that difference is anywhere close to what the home environment can do.

  6. drpezz Post author

    Beyond that, I do think you’re right that many teachers go to areas where they will be able to teach more than manage. I had to move from an easier job in an affluent area because I couldn’t afford to live there, so I am now in a school where the student lives are rougher and the kids struggle more. This makes me work harder. There are definitely days when I wish I was still at that other school. ๐Ÿ™‚


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