The war on drugs has not been won yet. Walk into any urban, suburban or rural environment and you would probably be amazed at how easy it is to purchase illicit drugs. More than one half of American students will try an illicit drug at least once by the time they graduate from high school. The use of prescription drugs and inhalants are on the rise, and while marijuana holds first place in illicit drug use, prescription drugs and inhalants come in second.
Students are witness to a society where pills are used to fix everything from killing pain, to staying awake. It should not be surprising that students are beginning to use these substances to fix or alter their emotional states as well. Inhalants such as glue, markers, and paint are also commonly used and very easy to obtain. Alcohol and cigarettes are prevalent and have been socially acceptable in American society for generations. For this reason, it is very hard to avoid them and even harder to keep children away from them. Many children see their parents use them, even if it is only in a social context. Once they reach middle school, it is only natural that they want to try these substances themselves, especially when peer pressure is a factor.
Students are also reporting they are able to acquire or buy prescription narcotics from a friend or a relative. Students also easily access alcohol as well. A small but disturbing number of students are able to access alcohol at school. This circumstance is more prevalent among males than females; among senior high school students (i.e., 10th, 11th, and 12th grades); and among students who are performing poorly in school. Any effort to address substance abuse among youth must include an awareness of how and where students access drugs and alcohol.
Why is substance abuse such a problem among teenagers? In short, no one really knows. Possible reasons why children begin using drugs include; stress due to family instability, being the victim of bullying or abuse, the obsession of our culture to succeed, and various other pressures that youth of today feel. Substance abuse among youth and teens is exacerbated in situations where other family members (e.g., parents, siblings) are also using drugs.
A particularly dangerous mix is substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs in babies whose mother’s abuse alcohol during their pregnancy and crack babies are those babies are born to mothers who use crack cocaine during pregnancy. The effects of these drugs on the fetus leave these children with lifelong problems that can severely affect their academic performance. Schools have been trying for decades to curb or stop the use of drugs in schools. Programs that have been used include Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), which is a program that helps youth understand the facts about drugs and deal with peer pressure related to drug use. This program is funded by local police departments and is widely used, but it, along with the “Just Say No” message, has simply not worked.
Another program that falls into the failure category is the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which is a part of the No Child Left Behind Act. While plenty of money is spent with this program, there is no accountability as to how it is being spent. In fact, there is no reputable track record to justify the existence of the program. Given the questionable value of many large programs, many schools have opted to develop their own programs, curricula and policies to stop substance abuse.
How can teachers recognize students who are substance abusers? Students who are abusing drugs tend to exhibit a drop in attendance and academic performance, a deteriorating physical appearance, secretive or suspicious behavior, behavioral problems, a change in personality and or the presence of mood swings, etc. When a teacher suspects that a student is abusing drugs, the first step is to meet with the school counselor, who can tell you how to handle all aspects of the situation. When dealing with a student in this situation, teachers must be consistent in what they say and do. Ideally, the school will have very clear policies on how to handle the situation.
A number of studies over the past two decades have centered on leadership in the school setting. Though the studies varied in scope and focus, their conclusions, for the most part, agree: in the current environment of dramatically shifting educational policies and divisive, competing theories, the role of the school leader is more important than ever. School leaders today must have the tools to respond with alacrity and dexterity to emerging trends and policy changes, and must be trained not only in decision-making, but in effective communication, analysis, and networking.
Prior to 1960, schools in the United States, like most organizations and political institutions, were run on a strictly hierarchical basis, with the principal (usually a European American man) firmly in the driver’s seat, and the teachers and other stakeholders given top-down commands and expected to follow through without questioning authority. Teachers, parents, and the community had little opportunity to express their opinions within the system, and dissatisfaction was rife.
In the last half-century, scholars in fields such as philosophy, psychology, and business management have focused their attention on schools, with dramatic results. While strong leadership is still warranted, most scholars now recommend that school leaders improve communication skills and implement strong bottom-up structures that allow the voices of all stakeholders to be heard.
As minorities and people of color within the U.S. swell in proportion to the European American majority, the ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic complexion of schools is also shifting dramatically. School leaders must take this new plurality into consideration. The presence of diverse voices, languages and cultures, means that the old methods aimed at a homogeneous student population will no longer work. In welcoming a more diverse community and creating a curriculum that appeals to a greater range of American experiences, school leaders must learn to create an expanded vision.
Political changes in the United States have created a shifting climate that is keeping school leaders on their toes. With the renewed emphasis on testing and accountability, school leaders must balance quality instructional time and the value of subjects such as art and music with the need to focus on test results. This is creating tensions and divisions within schools, and school leaders must use their diplomatic skills to deal with angry parents and disgruntled teachers.
The school leaders of tomorrow will, for the reasons outlined above, be very different creatures from those of the previous generation. My latest book project, A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories, aims to present an array of educational leadership styles/methods in a succinct and practical manner, in order to give the potential school leader a solid basis in theory and practical application.
Theoretical background and philosophical discussion are grounded by case studies and vignettes demonstrating the advantages and drawbacks of each method. The various methods are presented positively, and the discussion questions and activities at the end of each chapter provide the reader with an opportunity to explore the ramifications of each method as it pertains to a variety of situations.
A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories provides school leaders, present and future, with a solid background in the history and praxis of school leadership. With an understanding of the various models in current operation, readers will have the tools needed to analyze and implement effective leadership in their own settings. If you are an aspiring or practicing educational leader, I urge you to pick up your copy today.
Recently I viewed the documentary, Waiting for Superman, for the umpteenth time, and I noted that over a year after the film’s September 24, 2010 U. S. première, the American educational system is still not living up to its potential. Sure, education reform was the phrase on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but after a year, most of the fervor and commitment to educational change that was initially exhibited has all but subsided.
The comparisons with other developed countries show that the strongest nation in the world is still falling behind academically. The cost per pupil in the U.S. has soared to five times the level in the 1950s, after adjusting for inflation. With this kind of money being pumped into the system, why are many our school systems of such a low caliber, and further falling behind?
Statistics and common sense born of observation tell us that the biggest crisis in our schools is finding ways to educate students in low-income areas. However, as Waiting for Superman illustrates, our educational problems are not limited to poverty-stricken areas alone. As Lesley Chilcott, producer of the Waiting for Superman put it, “the dirty little secret… is that middle- and upper-class communities are suffering as well. When we talk about U.S. students ranking twenty-fifth in math, we’re not just talking about underserved communities, we’re talking overall.” Yet, despite decades of knowing that these problems exist, little improvements are being made to the system itself. Of course, everyone seemingly wants to improve America’s education system; they just do not seem to know or agree on how to do it.
The American public must believe that educational reform is a top priority issue in these times of severe economic troubles. It is understandable that, in today’s economy, people are primarily concerned about their jobs and putting food on the table. Upgrading education, although important to most, can hold a low priority in the mind of the average American, who is mostly concerned with keeping a roof over their heads. The paradox here is that this is precisely the time to make that investment into education. When times are tough in an economy such as ours, workers need to improve their skills to compete effectively in the local (and global) marketplace. The education system is where people turn to acquire these skills.
Furthermore, enhanced skills and technological talents are going to be desperately needed in the future, as America continues to struggle towards sustaining a dynamic 21st century labor force. Production is not getting easier and simpler – in fact, it is just the opposite. Along the same lines, workers down the road will need to be able to adapt to technologies that are just now being developed. If American students and workers find themselves in an educational system that cannot fulfill these necessary, required functions because it is sub-par, not only will these individuals and their families find little success in an economy that has left them behind; it will cripple America’s competitiveness.
Waiting for Superman has been criticized as being against teacher’s unions, placing the blame too squarely on the shoulders of educators, and misrepresenting educational statistics. Nevertheless, the film shined a bright spotlight on the harsh reality of our educational system, showing the exodus of middle and upper class children from our public schools; the sadness of the lottery system; and the general hopelessness that some express about our educational system and its future.
One segment of Waiting for Superman illustrates American self-confidence through an image of kids doing daredevil bike stunts, and then crashing. This scene shows, in a metaphorical sense, that while our students seem to have confidence, many do not have the skills to actually succeed.
A year later, Waiting for Superman still serves as a stark reminder of just how bad our educational system has become, and just how ineffective most of our efforts at improving it have been. The American educational system has reached a turning point, a time when things seem at their most dire, and yet many appear to simply sit idly by “Waiting for Superman.”
America needs to view this film as a public call to action, where each of us is summoned to be a Superman (or Superwoman, as the case may be), or at least to lend a hand in saving our educational system, perhaps without the flashy heroics and cape. Rather than waiting, we should strive towards getting every educator, educational leader, government official, parent, and citizen to educate themselves about the problems that exist in our educational system, and to work together to fix them.
What is most important is that we understand the deficiencies in our educational system, and strictly forbid placing blame – which rarely serves to encourage cooperation. Rather, we must demonstrate accountability for our situation and fulfill our responsibility to our children. Collectively, we must come together with an understanding that “Superman” is not coming to save our children, and it is up to us to work together to find innovative ways to rise to the challenge of fixing our educational system.
The future must be planned for; now. It certainly will not be an overnight process. However, by taking positive, productive steps, one at a time, an enormous amount of ground can be covered in the coming years. If we simply work together, we can restore the U.S. educational system to its former preeminence, and give our children the bright futures they deserve in our great country and aboard. We must become the Super-citizens that we have been waiting for.
Poverty is a major problem in the United States. The middle class seems to be disappearing and the gap is widening between the upper class and the lower class sectors of society. The socioeconomic status of children and their families has a profound effect on academic achievement, even in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity and fair treatment of all. Socioeconomic status can be determined by one’s level of education, occupation and income. A high socioeconomic status is characterized by a high level of education, and a high status occupation, and a high income. A low socioeconomic status is typified by a lower level of education, a job of low prestige and a low income.
While unemployment is a factor for some, there are many who are employed and still live below the poverty line. The problem is that post World War II, good paying jobs were easy to find in factories and manufacturing. A person who graduated from high school could easily find a good-paying job and support their family. Now things are very different. Many of our manufacturing jobs have been farmed out to countries where cheap labor can be found. A higher level of education is needed for high paying jobs that can support a family. It is difficult to support a family with a minimum wage job, even when working full-time.
Contrary to what many believed possible in the past, education has not been able to eliminate poverty. Schools have not been designed to properly serve poor children. They reflect and promote a middle-class way of life. Educator Ruby Payne has researched and written about poverty and how schools can better support children living in poverty. She discovered the middle class is driven by achievement and work, while the driving force behind the generational poor is survival first, followed by entertainment and relationships. As a result, teachers who attempt to motivate students through work and achievement may have to alter their approach when working with students who live in poverty. Students from poor backgrounds do not understand middle-class rules. Their level of motivation will most likely be influenced by a relationship with the teacher or other adults.
What other challenges do impoverished children experience? They often come from homes that are not adequate in terms of shelter and may be in very dangerous communities. In their neighborhood, they may be exposed to drugs, violent crime and prostitution, and may turn to these types of activities themselves at an early age. Parents of children living in poverty often struggle to provide them with enough quality food and medical coverage.
Children living in poverty often come to school without having had enough sleep, and without having had breakfast. They often experience family violence, abuse, secondhand smoke, neglect, poor clothing and shoes. Even though they have limited experience in the world, they may not be able to pay for field trips and cannot pay for extracurricular activities of any kind which could actually expand their experience base. This is the frightening reality for millions of children, and teachers are very likely to have impoverished students in their class. Teachers need to consider what that means and how they can reach out to these students and help them excel.
For over a decade, I have hoped and prayed that Mississippi's public school system would find its way out of the dark ages and embrace genuine school reform. Why? As a native of Mississippi and a former public school teacher, I am deeply concerned about the future of its education system. As a disclaimer, Mississippi possesses several school districts that have consistently gone above and beyond "the call of duty" to ensure that all of their students succeed, and for that, they should be praised immensely. While it still has many miles to go, Senate Bill 2401, which proposes to expand charter schools in Mississippi, is certainly a step in the right direction.
Senate Bill 2401 would permit students from anywhere in the state to attend a charter school, however, school boards in the state's "star" or "high performing" districts would have the autonomy to decide whether or not to allow charter schools to operate within their borders. Also, charter schools could be established in the states remaining districts, as long as they are approved by a proposed seven-member commission. While the charter school debate is a contentious one all over America, most people agree that something has to be done about our education system.
Many Mississippians believe that charter schools could potentially be used to re-segregate public schools in the state, but sadly that ship has sailed. In the United States, Black and Hispanic students tend to be concentrated in schools where they make up almost the entire student body. Also, the percentage of black students in majority white schools has decreased to a level lower than in any year since 1968. Point blank, Mississippi's schools resegregated a long time ago and we stood by and watched it happen. I agree that charter schools could potentially be used to increase resegregation in Mississippi schools but, how much more segregated can they get? To use this as a reason to keep charter schools out of the state is "reaching" at best. Don't get me wrong, segregation is deplorable, but let's be honest, in Mississippi its business as usual.
Others decry that the proposed law should be amended to give public schools the exact same freedom as charter schools, but Mississippi's public schools have had years to clean up their acts and they have consistently proven that they cannot or will not do it on their own. In the crucial area of education, the Mississippi public school system lags behind many other states in the U. S. Despite its best efforts, the disparity between students from middle and low socioeconomic backgrounds continues to grow. School systems are using more money but have less to show for it. Test results, especially among the children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are dismal. The ramifications of this trend are significant.
Neighboring states such as Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama understand that well-educated workers are crucial for their survival in the competitive global economy. Thus, they are placing enormous emphasis on education, ensuring that their students are given not only foundational reading and math skills, but also that they are able to think creatively and solve problems. Instead, of fighting innovation, I am happy to see that Mississippi is starting to seriously invest in its education system via Senate Bill 2401 and other innovative measures.
My only concern about allowing charter schools in Mississippi is that can potentially be exploited by for-profit educational management organizations, which operate schools using "a business model" and only exist to make money. Education is one of the biggest market opportunities in our country today. For-profit educational management organizations that are given charters in Mississippi should be required to keep open books. If this is done, I have no reservations about Mississippi's Senate Bill 2401.
In my opinion, Senate Bill 2401 is the best chance that Mississippi's children have. The state can stand by and allow its children to attend schools that are incapable of turning out students who are able to compete in today's global marketplace or they can take bold steps to engender school reform and innovation. To choose the former would be to mortgage our children's futures and limit their potential. The future must be planned for now. It certainly will not be an overnight process; however, by taking steps one at a time, an enormous amount of ground can be covered in the coming years.
President John F. Kennedy evoked this when speaking about another challenge: putting an American on the moon. “We do this not because it is easy,” he said, “but because it is hard.” Mississippi’s educational system deserves no less of an effort: not because it is easy, but because it is hard . . . and well worth it.