Look at the home environment

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You've heard of the teacher who is in hot water over blogging about her students -- though she named neither the students nor the school district. In essence, the young teacher was alarmed at the cavalier attitude of many students, their lack of effort and their abundant lack of respect.

OK, you've also followed the growing debate in Wisconsin where teachers are on the firing line over massive budget issues. Among the many shots fired in that Wisconsin brouhaha was that many of the protesting teachers came from poorly performing schools.

And finally, perhaps you have heard of the controversial film "Waiting for Superman" which, among other points, said that poorly performing teachers should be removed from schools.

I bring these topics up only to highlight one small nugget thrown into the escalating debate on education.

When the Wisconsin teachers and others have been confronted with the lack of performance in their school districts, they quickly -- and rightfully -- defend themselves by countering that in many of those poor schools, it's often the home environment and the lack of student effort that contribute to the poor performance.

And the teachers are dead-on-the-money correct.

Aside from my personal differences with the teachers' tactics and their impact on the budget, they are most certainly right when they defend their profession with the points they raised.

Student performance is tied closely with teaching enthusiasm, most obviously. But at the core of the performance debate is the most obvious issue that far too many students have no home reinforcement to perform well. And thus they come to school unprepared and with an ample attitude because no one at home is telling them any different.

The union discussion is at the center of the Wisconsin protests, but the issue of student performance looms quietly in the background. And it is often wrong to link student performance with teaching skills.

I have long argued that the problem with our schools starts at home. It's not the textbooks or the technology. It's the home environment.

If there is no premium placed on education in the students' homes, then even the best schools are doomed. That's not to say there are not some lousy teachers. And lousy bankers and journalists and politicians.

But focusing solely on the teachers, this backdoor attempt to equate their performance with the school's achievement is just wrong. It may be a factor, but it pales in comparison to a home environment that fails to stress the importance of education.

And increasingly in today's society, that lack of home support also comes with an attitude that is clearly unacceptable. Far too many parents expect their schools to teach way beyond the basics of education. They expect something that is impossible to deliver.

This is not a discussion on unions nor underachieving schools. This is a much deeper discussion on why students perform poorly and how schools can change the end result.

Look to the home environment long before you look to teachers to solve problems that should be addressed in the home.

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