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Topic: [ncsm-members] Who Is Responsible for Student Achievement?
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Who Is Responsible for Student Achievement?
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 5:47 PM
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From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Wednesday, February 8, 2012, Volume 31, Issue 20, pp. 23-24.

Who Is Responsible for Student Achievement?

By David Cantor

It was good to hear President Barack Obama talk about education in
his recent State of the Union address - SEE
If the United States is going to continue to compete and thrive in
the global economy, there simply is no alternative but to improve
student learning and achievement.

No doubt, even as the president's words fade into memory, there will
once again be great debate over how to accomplish the school
improvements we need. After all, what are the policies and programs
(the silver bullets) that will ensure kids across the country learn
more and stay in school longer?

But there is perhaps an even more important question that fewer
people will address: Who is responsible for making sure students
achieve at a higher level?

I regularly conduct focus groups across the country on a broad range
of education topics, with audiences ranging from teachers and parents
to principals and administrators. Over the last few months, this
question of "who" has come up more and more frequently, and these
discussions have revealed a surprising agreement of sorts. Regardless
of the audience, the answer in some way is universally: Not me.

Early in each focus group, the discussion turns to the basic idea of
President Obama's address-what we need to do to improve the quality
of education. The responses vary widely: smaller class sizes, getting
more resources to the classroom, improving teacher quality, greater
parental involvement, less testing, more testing, and more technology
in the schools.

But after each discussion of how to do it, there is never an answer
for who should be responsible for making things better. Broaching
this issue initially seemed like a straightforward follow-up
question. However, I found respondents' answers to be far more
complex. In each focus group, people mentioned other groups, but not

* Parents, for instance, feel it is teachers and "the system" that
need to fix things.

* Teachers want solutions from the central office, but also feel
parents need to be doing more.

* And principals and administrators talk about greater expectations
for teachers and also more parental engagement.

This really struck home one late night in Los Angeles.

The first group of the night was made up of teachers. When I asked
who could do the most to improve student achievement, they
immediately focused on parents. One teacher said: "I'd like to see
the kids show up to school ready to learn. I don't expect parents to
do everything, but they need to instill in their children a love of
learning. If the kid comes to school with a love of learning, then we
can do our job."
SIDEBAR: "We need to accept that we are asking people throughout the
education system to do more. But in many cases, these are people who
feel they are already putting in extraordinary time and effort."
Two hours later in the same room, a parent was asked how student
achievement could be improved: "Teachers need to instill a love of
learning in the students. If my daughter comes home excited about
learning, it makes it so much easier for me to work with her on her
homework and get her ready for the next day."

So both the parents and the teachers see it as the other's
responsibility to instill a love of learning. At first it seemed like
a classic example of people running from the problem. This isn't my
fault-they need to fix it.

But as the conversations continued, I realized there was a lot more
to these responses. Parents, teachers, principals, and administrators
all see this as their problem. They worry about it and try to address
it every day (often one student at a time).

And they are exhausted and sometimes quite frustrated. They already
feel the weight of this challenge.

In talking about what needed to change, each group expressed the
feeling of being at the breaking point. It's almost as if they were
shouting to policymakers: You can't put anything else on our plate.
If change is going to come, it has to come from someone else. It's
not so much that they were blaming the other groups. Rather, they
felt like they were doing all they could do-and often they felt like
they were largely doing it by themselves.

This sense of exhaustion and frustration has consequences.

As we (hopefully) heed President Obama's call, we need to accept that
we are asking people throughout the education system to do more. But
in many cases, these are people who feel they are already putting in
extraordinary time and effort.

As policymakers, education wonks, education activists, and
politicians once again tackle this question, they need to keep in
mind this sense of frustration that those we depend upon to implement
changes are feeling.

I am not suggesting we as a country ask them to do less. But the
manner in which new ideas are presented to those on the education
front lines is critical. There are ways to build support. And these
people know (in an incredibly personal way) that things need to
change. We can't afford to alienate these crucial stakeholders from
the first announcement if we want real changes that lead to better
outcomes for students.
David Cantor is a managing director with the Glover Park Group, a
strategic-communications firm in Washington. He leads its research
division and works across an array of policy issues, with a focus on
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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