Sunday's lead article (''Students Being Challenged") presented an all-too-common educational perspective - that students' lack of success is not the responsibility of the schools. Abstract comments, such as "there's no shortage of opportunities" or "more than half of Jamestown's student population lives below the poverty line," did not lead to concrete illustrations of strategies for student success.
There are numerous examples, nationwide and abroad, of systems in which a student's socio-economic status at birth does not determine his or her educational success. Impoverished student populations (75 percent on free or reduced lunch) in the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) attain academic success through extended instructional time, excellent teaching, high expectations, student-parent-teacher contracts, and increasing degrees of student responsibility for learning.
The Achievement First program includes character development and a culture of "Cool to be Smart," along with strategies to help students meet rigorous academic standards. The motto of Carthage Central School District in upstate New York is "All Students Will Learn" (not: "Can Learn" or "Could Learn"). The Carthage district, with teachers' union support, implemented Mastery Learning strategies that would not tolerate failure. This intervention produced high percentages of student success in Regents-level courses before it was required.
Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has led the initiative for global educational standards. Students in 32 countries took a test that measured their readiness for 21st century jobs - jobs that require them to think critically and solve problems, not to retain facts. United States students did not do well, but U.S. officials blamed poor performance on a high percentage of immigrants.
Schleicher noted, "in the U.S., in particular, poverty was destiny, but poor kids in Finland and Canada do far better relative to their more privileged peers, despite their disadvantages."*
Chautauqua County residents provide generous financial support for our schools. Even though numerous students excel, far too many students leave the educational program without marketable skills or knowledge. But they do not leave the area. They are the local, living legacy of an acceptance of failure. Other than "trying to get students to care" or "getting disadvantaged kids to sign up foropportunities," what specific, new, and proven strategies are Chautauqua school districts implementing to serve our children? all children?
*Quote from Amanda Ripley, "The World's Schoolmaster" (The Atlantic, July/August 2011), p. 110.
Janita K. Byars, former Jamestown High School principal, served the Rochester City School District as director of the arts. She retired, as a full professor, from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.