The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 10, 2013

Will Keczkemethy, guest columnist: Should the government nurture your children?

By Will Keczkemethy
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — With no escape from globalization, advancing technologies and growing social tensions, our future lies in the effective education of our youth. Of course, there are many ways to improve student learning. Yet, where are we to obtain the biggest bang for the buck? Many would simply declare that it is up to the government to improve education, but is more government the best solution?

Truth be told, an efficient solution shall not be found in any new federal government education plan. Unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind have already led to many setbacks.

State budgets are tight and few legislators fully understand the particular problems of local districts. The actions of boards of education and district administrations are limited by the state and federal governments, yet where improvements can be made they are being made. Principals do not have magic wands that improve learning. To their credit, various administrators have had their shoulders straining at the wheel for some time and continue to do what they can.

One might insist that it is the responsibility of teachers to improve learning. The fact is Joplin teachers have spent the past 10 years doing everything possible to improve student learning. Improved recruitment, ongoing professional training (some say to excess), data analysis, upgraded curriculum, greater use of new technology (again, some say to excess) and advanced pedagogy are all being used to improve student learning. Unfortunately, all this only goes so far.

So, what is the logical solution? In all honesty, the biggest bang for the buck shall come from you, the residents of Joplin. Parents, particularly, can be a powerful force in improving student learning. The reasons for this are straightforward. More than anything else, student learning and success is based on attendance and assignment completion. Neither administrators or teachers have the ability to ensure that students go to school. At the high school level, even when students are in the building, there are ways for them to get out of a particular class. As far as assignments, teachers have no way of ensuring that students complete homework. Even in the classroom, teachers can’t force a student to work on or complete an assignment. However, parents, grandparents and guardians can make a tremendous difference in attendance and assignment completion.

Like other communities, Joplin is made up of families with varying views of public education. Most believe school is an important requirement for success. Others consider school a good habit. A few view school as something that should be attempted, but not all that important. Regardless of our current view of education, each of us should ask ourselves the following three questions:

1. Am I doing everything to encourage my children to attend school every day?

2. How many classes do my children miss because of non-academic activities, and can I reduce such absences?

3. Am I certain of my children’s assignments and due dates, doing everything to encourage my children to complete their assignments, both at home and in class, and making them accountable for completion?

Regardless of where each resident of Joplin stands on education, there could be little doubt that if each of us seriously addressed these three questions  and acted accordingly, there would be significant improvements in student learning. When it comes to education, such community ownership and improvement would be a strong argument for the maintenance of local control.

Unfortunately, if we fail to engage our children and maintain ownership, there are those who would institute greater government control. Think about this: Who would you trust more to improve your child’s learning — you and your family or the government?

Will Keczkemethy teaches at Joplin High School.