Sunday, November 23, 2014
During last week's cold snap an eighth grade child, I will call her Clara, did not show up to school or attend her after school program. Later that night, the coldest night of the new school year, with temperatures dropping into the low 20's and windchills in the single digits, the teacher was giving out free turkeys for Thanksgiving at the school and who shows up? Clara, with her mother and little sister in tow. The teacher asked Clara's mother why Clara was not in school that day, the mother responded in a calm voice "because it was too cold and I kept Clara home".
Here is the problem, Clara is a struggling student and is in danger of not moving up to high school as she is academically behind her peers. The teacher told me that Clara has learning difficulties and instructions must be kept simple and short. Clara has difficulty in completing tasks and cannot do complicated learning assignments. As you might expect, she gets frustrated and exhibits behavioral issues due to her inability to complete or fully understand her assignments.
Clara lives with her grandmother and her mother has given most of the responsibility of raising Clara to the grandmother.. To the teacher's knowledge there is no father or male authority figure in her family. Worse, when the weather is bad, Clara fails to show up to school. What is going to happen when winter is here to stay?
That brings me back to Clara's mother. How can a parent allow their child to miss school simply because its cold? More importantly, why doesn't the City hold this parent responsible for educational neglect? Yet, this parent, when offered a free turkey, took Clara and her little sister on the coldest night of the school year to school so that she can get the turkey. What kind of message is that sending to Clara and her younger sister?
Education reformers like to blame poor student academic achievement on bad teachers and schools. However, when these children are raised by dysfunctional families that lack parental supports and role models, they end up coming to school educationally, emotionally, and physically damaged. Moreover, many of these children experience deep poverty feel unsafe and food insecure, yet that are deliberately ignored by the education reformers. That's why the ex-Chancellor Joel Klein's statement that "poverty is no excuse" rings hallow when faced with the damaging reality of how poverty and the dysfunctional family affects student academic achievement.
No matter how one looks at it, getting families back together and providing them support is the most important factor in improving student academic achievement.