Monday, September 25, 2023

High School New Year’s Resolutions


The Voxitatis equilateral triangle hypothesis of school improvement holds that better schools can be achieved through constructive interactions between our students, our communities, and our schools—take out one vertex of the triangle, and you get a flat line.

As 2021 begins, we look to all three vertices of our equilateral triangle to listen, without judgment, to what they have to say.

Our communities

The majority of parents of K-12 students are worried about their kids not being in school, specifically that they are falling behind academically, according to a Pew Research Center survey published in October.

On the other hand, parents whose children are attending school in person said they were mostly satisfied with steps being taken in the school to prevent the spread of Covid-19. They were still concerned, however, about exposure, especially to other adults around their kids and their schools.

They are also concerned about their children’s mental health, according to a survey published last month by Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Caregivers believe the mental health effects will grow worse in the coming months.

Because we lack national guidelines—or, in many cases, firm guidelines even at the school level—and because predictability, a great stabilizing force for children and adolescents, has been disrupted since the Covid-19 outbreak in March, mental health issues rise to the forefront.

Findings from a large review of scientific literature on loneliness and social isolation reveal a possible connection between Covid and young people’s mental health. Researchers suggest that loneliness during extended isolation may even affect the mental health of young people nine years down the road.

Our students

District Administration magazine published a summary of a “Students’ Voices” survey released in December by the National Education Association and the National PTA.

Middle and high schoolers have maintained trust in their teachers and, in fact, want more interaction with educators regardless of whether districts are in-person, hybrid, or remote. Students, particularly Black and Latinx learners and those who live in poverty or rural areas, are struggling with isolation, though, as well as the risk of falling behind academically and family economic upheaval.

“We know that the traumas and disruptions of 2020 will play an enduring role in our students’ lives,” the magazine quoted NEA President Becky Pringle as saying in a webinar. “These students have made it clear that yes, they are struggling, and they’e also making it clear that they have a sense of their own agency. They’ve done a lot to adapt to their current realities.”

But when it comes to high school, students are also saying that the isolation of the pandemic, to which the NEA president refers with such confidence, only adds to the stress. Writes Paige Zadoo in the student newspaper at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas:

From the first day of preschool to about eighth-grade graduation, school is as it should be — teaching you real valuable lessons without draining your mental health and energy away. But once you hit high school, however, it’s a completely different story — and it shouldn’t be.

High school forces you to wake up at the crack of dawn, sit in uncomfortable desks while being lectured for hours on end over trigonometry, conjugations, atoms and elements. Then it’s time for practices, games or any other extracurriculars that drain the small amount of energy you have left. When you wind up at home, you’re left with a pile of untouched Algebra homework, Chemistry labs and English projects that are bound to take hours.

The American high school system is designed for the sole purpose of passing, even if it’s the bare minimum, with the single goal of ending up in college. By the time you graduate, you have no idea how to get a good credit score, how to nail interviews, how to create budgets and save or how to file your taxes — in the end, you leave high school with only one semester of financial literacy and no clue how to succeed in the real world.

Our schools

Data show that students are falling behind, especially in math, but some studies suggest the learning loss from remote and hybrid learning may not be as severe as once feared. Furthermore, some teachers doubt that this is a real problem, suggesting that students have shown great resilience in the face of national adversity and will bounce back better than many doomsayers predict.

Still, the effect of learning loss appears to be worse for minority students and those from low-income families.

  • Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland: 36% of ninth-graders from low-income families failed English this fall, compared to 6% last year.
  • Chicago Public Schools: 44% enrollment drop among Black pre-kindergartners, nearly 30% for Latinx children, both higher than White and Asian Americans. Some students may have fallen off the grid.

But the connection between students and their schools remains strong, however frustrating remote learning may be for our communities all around.

Students acknowledge their own academic decline, according to the Students’ Voices survey: 58% say they were doing well academically before the virus, while only 32% say that now. Younger students and students whose parents did not attend college as well as students in hybrid situations are the most likely to report an academic decline.

Yet, almost nine out of 10 say they trust their teachers to teach them this year, and more than three-fourths believe they are getting a good education, despite the recognition that their teachers lack resources and time.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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