IV. Supporting students -
Kids face more challenges than ever
Who are our
Characteristics of students
attending school in this state
to download and/or print this graph in PDF format.
This year the numbers for the "students who
participate in public schools" was extended to one decimal place, allowing enough
detail to see students who are being home-instructed. As with the rest of the nation, RI's
small number of home-instructed students is rising.
Children's social statistics strain
the teacher/student relationship
The growing rate of poverty among children has received much attention, and we note it now
only to re-emphasize that poverty has a strong negative impact on student performance for
a whole host of reasons. Often low-income parents are too consumed with the challenges of
survival to have the extra time or attention to provide their children with homework help,
getting involved with the school, or clear, consistent, informed discipline strategies.
Schools cannot overcome the stresses of poverty by themselves, and the larger community
needs to pay considerable attention to help students overcome the stresses and
distractions poverty inevitably brings.
Without the same force as poverty, single parent families can also present a hardship to
the child. Of course, many single-parent families are thriving, and their children are not
necessarily hampered by their single-parent status. But we do know that as a group,
children in single-parent families face statistically greater challenges. This is
especially true for single teen mothers. Nationally, the teen pregnancy rate is dropping,
but RI's is coming down at the slowest rate in the country.
According to Kids Count, in 1997 22% of RI's children lived in single parent households.
Thirty-seven percent of the children in the core cities rely on one parent. In general, we
know that roughly half of all children have experienced a divorce or never did live with
both parents. The proportion of children living with one parent has almost doubled since
1970. In 1997, 70% of children living below the poverty line lived with a single mother.
The 2000 Kids Count reports, "Compared with teenagers who grow up with both parents
at home, adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of
their childhood are twice as likely to drop out of school, twice as likely to have a child
before 20, and one and a half times more likely to be out of school and out of work in
their teens and early twenties." (2000 Kids Count, Page 8) School stability and
personalized attention is one way to support children struggling with limited or
inadequate support at home. The struggles some children bring with them from home add
stress to their student/teacher relationships and can depress the efficacy of teaching and
Better community support for children
Selected SALT Survey Findings
here to download and/or print this graph in PDF format.
Parents, communities and schools need to work together to help students use their
out-of-school time to better purpose. On the SALT survey responses, parents tell us that
most of them have at least fifteen minutes a night with which they could help their
children with school-related learning, but they do not know what to do. In general,
parents need more information about what parenting strategies best support a student's
learning. Often schools do not assign useful and challenging homework because their
experience is that it does not get done. Closer partnerships between school and home are
essential for a number of reasons, but promoting the use of out-of-school time to support
learning would substantially enhance a culture of learning among our young people.
The purposes of productive homework are to:
- Reinforce skills learned at school, such as math
computation and spelling conventions;
- Allow children to revise work which has not yet met the
standard of mastery;
- Teach children, with guidance, to complete projects on
their own while learning to budget their time, do independent research and assemble
reports or undertakings (such as inventions or photographic essays);
- Explore the world outside of school for information
resources and instructive experiences (libraries, museums, internet, work places, etc.).
Well-designed homework helps
children meet proficiency standards
The SALT survey reveals that the overwhelming majority of middle and high school students
report spending less than an hour a night doing home work. Indeed, 62% of 6th graders, 61%
of 8th graders and fully 70% of 10th graders do an hour or less of homework on school
nights. Teachers find it very frustrating when portions of the class do their homework and
portions do not. Still, time spent on well-designed, relevant homework is time well-spent
indeed. Over 30% of all of RI students, at all levels watch TV three hours or more before
or after school every week. Another 18% of 4th graders, dropping to 11% of 10th graders
play video or computer games before or after school every school day. Clearly, translating
some of this fruitless time into homework time will support the capacity of the teacher to
introduce new skills and materials and would bolster the students' ability to meet
Schools need to work with the students' homes to communicate clear homework standards and
expectations, provide ways for parents to check to see what is assigned especially
long-range projects and help parents provide appropriate support for their
children. (Parents should never do their children's homework.) Homework is always a
student responsibility first and foremost, but school communities and parents must
cultivate a culture of learning and training to reinforce the expectation and importance
of its completion.
Students who are left unsupervised are at greater risk of teen pregnancy, committing a
crime, drug and alcohol involvement, and smoking cigarettes. Again, communities, parents
and schools need to work together to generate more safe, enriching, interesting sports,
clubs, tutoring opportunities and so on. Students need to be productively engaged during
the after-school hours when parents are often still at work, getting more exercise
physically and mentally. Communities who have created before- and after-school programs
(such as Medicaid-funded after-school care) have often seen dramatic reductions in the
incidence of social ills such as daytime crime and teen pregnancy.
Reading outside classwork
Too few children are reading outside of their classroom assignments. Outside reading drops
precipitously from 4th grade to 10th grade where it levels off to about 20% of high school
students reading beyond assigned classwork. The relatively robust reading habits of RI 4th
graders do not persist over time.
However, there is some good news about
Certainly the most dramatic change in the SALT survey student results from the school year
97-98 to 98-99 was the number of students who reported reading significantly more books.
The percentage of students who reported reading no books zero as part of an
English Language Arts program dropped 30 percentage points in grades 4 through 8, then 20
percentage points in grades 9 and 10, until the 11th and 12th grades when the drops are
more like 10 percentage points. This is good news. Schools have taken to heart getting
their students to read more, and students seem to be responding.
Increased outside reading among students is another example of a "small
improvement" which can, coupled with other small improvements, create a geometrically
growing, positive effect on school climate, and later on student achievement.
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