In the months I’ve been working at my new school, I have tried to determine what factors contribute to poor academic performance. Here, for what it’s worth, are my observations thus far:
- High absenteeism: This shocked me. I added up how many days students have missed since kindergarten. Some have missed over a year, some two. There’s a strong correlation between attendance and achievement, and over time, gaps become chasms.
- Transience: Students move from rental to rental, school to school. Schools need considerable time to get supports in place for vulnerable students—difficult when students are frequently uprooted.
- Biological conditions: Some students have neurological issues that affect learning (Fetal Alcohol (or Drug) Syndrome, malnutrition, lack of medical care). Often, memory and language appear to be most impacted. You can teach—they may not remember.
- Unstable home environments: Highly stressed students have a harder time learning and engaging.
- Lack of home support: When survival is top priority, homework is not.
- Cultural differences: Not all cultures value what “western culture” values.
All the while, I keep thinking about Einstein’s famous quote: “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” My students teach me every day about what cannot be measured: resilience and laughter, the importance of the now, of belonging, connection, and beating the odds.