Monday, February 28, 2011

Influence Driven Education

15 year old Steven (the name has been changed to protect his identity) was the kind of student that used to go to his local library regularly for peace and quiet and the opportunity to read books. He was an engaging young man who was liked by his classmates and teachers. In many ways he represented the majority of students who attend schools in the United States. Tragically, he was killed last Wednesday evening in cold blood as he approached the library he used to frequent.

I have the great honor of serving as the President of the school district where Steven was a student. As the President of this school district, a resident of Steven’s home state and a citizen of the United States, I am calling upon political leaders, educators and my fellow American citizens to completely redesign public education to ensure that students like Steven have the opportunity to get the education they need to become productive citizens. The future of our country depends upon the redesign of education to ensure that all students receive positive educational influences from to .

Our State Department of Education (DOE) recently released the state test scores and once again there is a tragically wide gap in test scores between black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students. As reported by the DOE “60% of the black or African-American 3rd graders failed to achieve proficient scores, compared with 21.4 percent for Asian students and 31 percent for whites.” Sadly, this gap has remained relatively consistent in spite of decades of focus on curriculum revision and targeted school funding. Publicly, educational leaders state that they believe that this gap can be closed. However, privately, many of these leaders know that this gap will never change with an exclusive focus on the education.

As a school board member who has served on public, private and charter school boards I am convinced that the quality of the curriculum and teaching provided students in schools is a vitally important component of their learning. However, as someone who has established and run after-school programs for students and their parents I have learned that the influences in the lives of students outside of school are more important to their academic success.

Unfortunately, current education policy assumes that a student’s classroom experiences account for 100% of the positive influence they need to succeed in school. It is clear that influences outside of school account for at least 50% (and probably more like 75%) of the educational influences in a student’s life since students spend more than 70% of their day outside of a classroom. However, funding does not reflect this fact.

Steven was yet another of the hundreds of thousands of victims of negative community influences. He was not a member of a local gang in his hometown. However, he was killed by a gang member and was clearly a victim of the negative forces in his neighborhood. Tragically, our district has applied for funding from government and nonprofit organizations to create programs for students like Steven that would enable us to provide the positive educational influence from 3pm to 8pm that these students need to succeed in school and stay alive. However, we have not received funding because of the almost exclusive focus of public and foundation dollars on the education of students.

To close this achievement gap public policy must utilize a concept that I call “Intelligent InfluenceTM”. This approach to academic and life success is founded on the belief that the influences in every person’s life blend seamlessly with their personality to determine their actions.

Frequently, the quality of the curriculum and teaching is very often irrelevant to a student’s success. Many students in urban schools with outstanding teachers get excellent grades because they have a mix of positive influences throughout the day and evening that complement their personality in a way that ensures their academic success. Conversely, students in the same class who are struggling in school have an overwhelming number of negative influences after-school and in the evening that blend with their personality to ensure academic failure or even death (as in Steven’s case).

Few people would argue with the fact that students who are influenced by positive mentors to do homework after-school and in the evening will do better academically than students who are influenced by gangs to ignore their school work. However, public policy and funding virtually ignore the need to provide the after-school and evening influence necessary to turn struggling students into exceptional students. To make matters worse, there is very little research on the impact of influences outside of the classroom on the test scores of students.

Some people believe that it is exclusively the parent’s responsibility to provide this positive influence after-school and at home. However, the number of broken or unhealthy homes outnumbers the healthy homes in most poor communities. Far too many parents are incapable (either because of their lack of education or the fact that they are working multiple jobs to feed their family) of providing this critical positive influence on a consistent basis.

If as a society we are serious about closing the achievement gap, reducing crime, minimizing taxes and saving lives we need to support programs that provide the educational influences students need from 3pm to 8pm. This can be done without increasing taxes. As a former senior state government official I can guarantee that a seamless integration of current state funding from the Departments of Education, Human Services, Law and Public Safety and Community Affairs will enable the state to adequately support 3pm to 8pm programs (at current funding levels) that increase high school graduation rates, significantly increase test scores, reduce crime, minize taxes and save lives.

We call the utilization of Intelligent InfluenceTM in public education (i.e. investing in the integration of positive influences into the lives of all students before, during and after-school) “Influence Driven EducationTM” If we do not provide this type of education to students, the gap in test scores will continue to widen and crime will continue to increase because more students will succumb to the temptations of the urban streets. Even more tragically, Steven’s death will have meant nothing to society as a whole.

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