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August 9, 2011 > Education in America

Education in America

Submitted By Beatrice R.D. Hair, M.A.Ed

Every time I hear about how school systems have to cut their budgets, I hear the mantra of "back to basics," how we can cut all the arts and extracurricular programs as long as we get back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

What I rarely hear is how the education itself needs to get back to basics. As we focus on shrinking budgets, lower test scores and falling reading levels, we seem to miss the bigger picture. From the earliest colonial times in this country, education was a partnership between the teacher, the student and the parent. If we're going to talk about education, let's start with that covenant, that three-legged table that has always propped up public education in America.

We are hiring untrained teachers right out of college and at the same time we are firing experienced teachers. As a result, we are seeing much turnover in the teaching field. Exposing a teacher's scores makes the teacher accountable, but also makes him or her resentful. It is not fair outside of the context of simultaneous accountability to parents and students too. Teachers do need accountability, but they need support and fairness as well. How is it fair to judge a teacher on his or her scores, if that teacher had a student with a medical issue that was not resolved all year by the parent? There must be accountability in place for all three - parents, students, and teachers. If an individual setting is not working, which leg of the table needs strengthening? Can this be our new dialogue? If resources are low, how can business, government and administration all work together to re-create a setting that will work. The achievement gap is not about race or money. It is about the three-legged table and whether it is in place or not. Let's take the teachers we have and coach them into how to work the three-legged table. Let's teach them how to ask for help when the student and parent legs are broken and how to engage not only the student, but the parents as well.

Michael Kirstian, emeritus education professor at Stanford, estimates that 6o percent of incoming community college students and 30 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges need remedial reading and math courses. In Charlotte, North Carolina 30 percent of high school freshman drop out before they graduate. This problem needs to be addressed on an individual basis. Do we think these students are dropping out because they're dumb? Or are they losing interest in their education because education has lost interest in them. Standardized testing, budget cuts, growing class sizes, dwindling numbers of teachers all add up to making students feel as if they are being abandoned. We cannot limit ourselves to engaging their minds. We must engage their hearts, ignite their dreams and show them that education is the key to unlocking it all.

Parents in the top range of our achievement gap know how to provide quiet time for homework, have their children to bed on time, provide proper nutrition, hire tutors for customized, individualized programs and set the stage for success at home. Parents in the lower range are often challenged simply to provide any kind of meal, and those in the middle are working as hard as they can but still fall short. However, many parents in the top range volunteer at school, but their time is not used wisely. In this era, it's all hands on deck. These parents should be put to work providing as much one-on-one attention as they can. We know there are parents who do not do their part, but instead of trying to punish them, we can help establish accountability on their parts in return for support for their child in the classroom. Helping to stabilize those children will afford teachers and administrators the ability to show that their kids can succeed with help, and present a contract to their parents about the basics for nutrition, sleep and creating a home environment conducive to learning and homework.

We all have to be committed to doing our part to educate our next generation, and the only way to get back to basics is one child at a time, one parent at a time, one teacher at a time. We need to rebuild this three-legged table so it can support the next generation and beyond.

Beatrice Hair is the author of the new book H3LT: The Hair Three- Legged-Table Solution for Education (

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