Education issues start at home

The on-time graduation rate in our school district has risen 4 percentage points the past four years to 76.8 percent. Our district is doing better than most, and I think we’ll reach our goal of 80 percent. However, the overall approach throughout the state will not yield the result that’s needed — 90 percent or more.

12-25 Page 4A.inddThis statewide issue is not fully understood. Only 67 percent of eighth graders in S.C. are at or above grade level in mathematics, and 70 percent are at or above grade level in English. It is not surprising so many students then fail to amass the required 24 high school credits to graduate on time, if at all.

I don’t think the problem is an academic one, though. For years now, I’ve believed the low graduation rate has its roots in the breakdown of the family, and the social, psychological and behavioral issues that spawn from that.

An elementary student not reading at grade level, likely that’s due to his parents not reading with him at home. That has to do with relationship at home — a social issue. Not an academic one at the school.

I recently spoke with students who had dropped out and later enrolled in a GED program. I asked, why did you drop out? Most didn’t see the value in an education or see the merit in following rules like being on time or behaving in class. The reason they dropped out was rooted in their thoughts and perceptions — a psychological obstacle. Not an academic issue.

Too often, unfortunately, the response at the school district level or off in Columbia has been to provide yet another academic solution. This year it’s changing the curriculum yet again, creating another new standardized test and launching a “better” teacher evaluation program. Again, I don’t think the problem is in the academic approach, but rather in the system’s inability to effectively deal with the social, psychological and behavioral issues that are weighing on too many students.

Detailing part of the problem will drive home my point. I recently attended a meeting where the speakers were Sheriff Rick Clark and Solicitor Walt Wilkins. I asked, when you examine the cases you prosecute and prisoners you put in jail, what type of crimes do you see the most?

They responded “80 percent” are related to meth, either making it, selling it, stealing to get the money for it, fighting over it, or individuals just plain high on it and breaking the law.

Those 80 percent likely have children who are being raised in those households or by relatives or being bumped in and out of DSS. None of that is optimal for a child’s development. When little Janie comes into school crying her eyes out because her mother is back on meth, putting a better Promethean Board in Janie’s classroom won’t help her. It’s like trying to turn a Phillips head screw with a crescent wrench. Not a lot of progress will be made.

For a variety of reasons, from volatile marriages to drug abuse, too many developing children are being neglected at home, and some parents are now so consumed with their next text message they overlook their children’s homework or teaching them the valuable lessons of life. All this is contributing to the breakdown of the family, and adversely affecting students. This is revealing itself in our schools and in the low graduation rates in our county, state and nation.

A new approach to education is needed, one that is not just academic, but clinical as well — a cultural change in our school system that addresses relationships at home, how students think and perceive education, how many behave in school, and the way they see their role as students, so when they sit down to begin their day they are ready to accept their academic lesson.

A Pickens resident, Alex Saitta is chairman of the School District of Pickens County board of trustees.