Teaching Students to Be Responsible With PLCs
In a blog post last year called Do PLCs Enable Students to Act Irresponsibly? (February 16, 2010), I presented the premise that schools should do more than hope students act responsibly but rather should put procedures in place to require students to do so. I acknowledged that almost all educators would prefer that students act responsibly because responsible behavior is important to their success in school and in life. I also suggested that regrettably, some of the students who enter our schools do not act responsibly. The question facing educators then is how to respond appropriately when students do not demonstrate the behaviors that we believe are vital to their success.
I argued that a school that allows irresponsible students to elect to fail by not completing assignments or putting forth the effort necessary to learn does not teach students to act responsibly. In fact, it is counter-intuitive to suggest that allowing an irresponsible student to choose to act irresponsibly teaches responsibility, a fact that has been demonstrated for over a century in our schools.
Schools that are committed to providing students with essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions (including work ethic), would put systems in place to hold students accountable for doing what responsible people do—and responsible people do the work. They would provide incentives for completing work on time and consequences for failing to meet deadlines or achieving the acceptable standard of work. What they would not do is absolve the student from the responsibility of doing the work. These schools bombard students with the message, “We will not let you off the hook. We will see to it that you do what is necessary to be successful. We won’t place you in a less rigorous curriculum, nor will we lower our standards for this course or grade level. We will give you the support, time, and structure to help you be successful, but we will not lower the bar.” This approach is the antithesis of enabling.
This blog led rdr72 to weigh in with a series of questions challenging the premise of the article. He presented two basic arguments. First, if we actually insist that students act responsibly in school by requiring them to complete their work, we will not prepare them for higher education or the work force because there will be no system of intervention there requiring them to do the work.
In Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, students are required to demonstrate responsible behavior. If they do so, they earn increasing privileges as they advance through school. If they do not, the school becomes more and more directive, insisting that they complete their work and do what is necessary to succeed in school. As they demonstrate that responsible behavior, the school becomes less directive, and the students earn privileges. Students learn that good grades and responsible behavior are rewarded and that there are meaningful consequences for bad grades and irresponsible behavior. This system helped the school reduce its failure rate from 35% to 1%.
So how have those students fared when they left Stevenson and faced the challenges of higher education? Each year, the school conducts a survey of all seniors as well as a random sampling of its graduates one year after they have left the school and five years after their graduation. The results from the most recent survey are typical:
- 92% of seniors reported that their experience at Stevenson helped them become more responsible for their own learning.
- 99% of students who completed their first year of college plan to return to college for a second year. The national average is 70%.
- 73% felt their academic preparation in high school was superior to the other students in their college, 26% felt it was the same, and 1% felt it was not as good.
- 95% of these college students reported they became more responsible for their own learning as they advanced through high school.
- 86% of the students who had entered college upon graduating had earned a bachelor’s degree within five years. The national average is 39%.
So, to answer the question, does insisting students learn to act responsibly in high school prepare them for college, the answer is an emphatic, “YES.” Rdr72’s premise that we better prepare students for the rigors they will face beyond the K-12 system by supporting their irresponsible behavior is clearly not only flawed but illogical. If he is seriously interested in preparing students for the “real world,” wouldn’t he support a process to teach them one of the most vital skills—acting responsibly—rather than enabling them to continue with irresponsible behavior?
His second argument is the real crux of the matter. He suggests that the purpose of schooling is not to ensure students learn, but merely to give them the opportunity to learn. Apparently, students who choose to live in conditions that are not conducive to learning—high poverty, families unable or unwilling to support their learning, no positive role models—should suffer the consequences of their decision. This premise allows schools to simply serve as a sorting and selecting mechanism. Students without the innate abilities and dispositions can simply be allowed to fail and ultimately, withdraw from the educational system. Of course, those who do will earn 33 cents for every dollar a college graduate makes and 66 cents for every dollar a high school graduate makes, will have a life expectancy that is ten years shorter than a college graduate’s, will have an unemployment rate that is 5 times higher than those with post-high school education, will be far more likely to live in poverty, and will have only a 1 in 17 chance of their own children every attending college. But, hey, that’s their problem for not winning the genetic lottery.
It is ironic to me that someone who purports to be so interested in ensuring students act responsibly defines his job in such a way that it absolves him from any responsibility for seeing to it that his students learn.