School Work Isn’t Working

28 12 2006

But hey, like Edison trying to invent the light bulb, at least now we know 1,000 or so things that don’t work too well . . .

UPDATE – links break down or evaporate as this Journal-News apparently has done, so I’ve retrieved the piece as published from the parent-directed education discussion of it, for Thinking Parents to ponder:

More Than 1,000 Things Influence Achievement
Original Publication: December 25, 2006

Just about everybody involved with schools is concerned over student achievement, whether looking for ways to raise low test scores, sustain high ones or get a struggling kid from one grade to another.The federal government, through its No Child Left Behind legislation, requires that schools provide children with highly qualified teachers and extra help if needed, both items that have been shown to improve test scores.

Administrators point to other factors that can affect achievement, including parental support, the family’s economic status, and a child’s feeling of safety and security.

Health advocates point to hot breakfasts, exercise and the benefits of fresh air. Arts advocates aver that children whose day includes music, dance and art score better on tests because their brains aren’t stale. People who study feng shui point to room arrangements that can make a difference in how well children perform on tests; architectural studies point to color, natural light and even the width of the hallways as things that affect student performance.

Some schools pipe in music to create a calm building; others provide special meals on test days that are supposed to help children do better. Local schools have introduced knitting as a stress reliever and rewarded children at the end of tests with parties, field trips and other perks in an effort to help students through a school year often interrupted by standardized testing.

Does any of it work? Much of it does, on some level or other, schools have found.

“Every child has a different learning capability,” said parent Angela Canada, who lives in the East Ramapo school district. “It’s hard to say there’s one thing that affects standardized tests. I think there’s some kids that do better when they work with computers than if they write things out. They always say there are children that learn better by doing. It has to be that way with testing, too.”

Jennifer Marraccino, whose children attend Nyack schools, pointed to several things that can affect student achievement, although her children – one in kindergarten one in second grade – haven’t started on the standardized testing regimen, which begins these days in third grade.

“It just seems to me that it would be the big things: parents valuing school and working with you on your homework,” she said. “Most of the people that I know are people who went to college and value school. (Our family) sits down and eats dinner together and talk about school. We’re able to show our kids that we value school, and if they see you value school, they’ll value it.

“My kids both have great teachers, and good teachers, I think, that’s got to be critical.”

Cindy Graham, whose children also attend Nyack schools, included these practicalities that could affect achievement and test scores: “Outside noise has got to be a big one; not having a proper breakfast or maybe the temperature is too cold. And not having enough sleep,” she said.

There have been dozens of studies – some legitimate and some of questionable venue – that point to other things that influence student test scores and achievement.

Here’s an impromptu list of ideas the media have studied and written about in relation to student achievement and things that influence or affect it:

Teacher experience, superintendent tenure, teacher satisfaction, after-school programs, discipline programs, character education programs, Omega-3 levels in food (a study done in south Texas using breakfast tacos), vending machine food, textbooks, morning start time, the school atmosphere and children’s feeling of safety and comfort, artistic outlets like music classes.

Also: school desegregation, which is designed to increase minority students’ test scores, discourage violence and foster tolerance.

Still more: parental involvement in schools, family socioeconomic level, parents’ college attendance, parents’ drug and other substance use or abuse, children’s hunger, student fear (including bullying), student depression, children’s physical illness and allergies, children’s pregnancy, smoking, alcohol and other drug use.

And even more: the Board of Education (policies, politics), weather, the amount of natural light in buildings, square footage per student, classroom seating arrangements, classroom temperature, light and air circulation, carpeting and the glue used to stick it to the floor (is it toxic? will it cause an allergic reaction?) and lead levels in the water.

Think that’s a lot?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress lists more than 1,000 variables that affect student performance and has collected statistics to show exactly how. The Web site is sort of tedious to go through, but the interested can see what’s available by visiting



One response

11 09 2007
Empirical Intersects with Epistemological, You Gotta Get Over to « Cocking A Snook!

[…] my own dissertation back in the last millennium –basically, that it’s a lot easier to discern good from bad quality in education programs, services and resources, without all this tortur…: One of the founders of your country, Benjamin Franklin, suggested to his nephew that when he made […]

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