Wendy Lecker: The Real Secret of Success in School for Low-Scoring Students

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Eight-year-old Samuel Tefera raised his hand to be called on during his third-grade class Wednesday morning at Birmingham Elementary in Wylie ISD, where STAAR results last year improved or were steady with no ground lost.

Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney and columnist, says that everything the corporate reformers are doing is contrary to science and research. Kids are not helped by closing their schools and firing their teachers.

What matters most is not pressure, incentives, rewards, and sanctions: What matters most is relationships.

Connecting students to mentors and to teachers who care about them makes a huge difference in their attitude towards school.

It stands to reason that school mechanisms promoting a personal connection improve learning as well as social development. Neuroscientists have found that the brain does not recognize a sharp distinction between cognitive, social and motor functions. Consequently, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair key cognitive abilities involved in learning.

Though they require substantial initial investments, educational policies that foster relationships save money in the long run.

Developmentally-appropriate preschool, with an emphasis on play, enables children to acquire the skills necessary to form healthy relationships. There is near universal consensus that quality preschool benefits children, increasing the chance of graduation, higher earnings, and decreasing placement in special education, involvement in the criminal justice system and the need for other social services. It also can save society as much as $16 for every dollar spent on preschool, by avoiding the costs of these later interventions.

Small class size, which fosters closer relationships between children and their teachers, has been proven to provide similar benefits, increasing graduation rates and earning potential, and decreasing the likelihood and cost to society of risky behavior. Research also shows that increasing class size has detrimental and costly long-term effects on at-risk children.

In the next round of reform, when the current era of test-and-measure, rank-and-stigmatize is thrown into the garbage heap, can we focus instead on connecting kids to adults who care about them?

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