It is time to do some heavy lifting to attack the academic achievement gap in our schools. The five-point program outlined here would significantly ameliorate this nagging, persistent problem and put more unfortunate children on a trajectory for a brighter future.
■ Longer school days for some students.
Large numbers of underserved children begin school without the knowledge that most middle-class kids possess. While their peers begin school knowing numbers, letters and even some reading skills, too many poor children begin with a blank slate. Thus, they cannot keep up with those more advanced kids. So many of these youngsters need a different, accelerated "power" curriculum that provides more time in class, technology-driven assistance, daily homework and deep, consistent parental involvement.
It seems that half of incoming kindergartners in 2014-15 in Fayette County were unprepared for school according to Kentucky assessment tests. So it is clear that this problem is pervasive, deep and serious. While traditional six-hour schools are excellent for most middle class children, the majority of poor kids need much more.
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Because so many of our 41,000 school children require additional help, Fayette County needs a dramatic "moon mission" effort for large numbers of needy children. Nibbling around the edges of this problem has not made, and will never make, enough of a difference.
It's time to think really big. There is an immediate need to begin optional 9-and-a-half-hour per day power schools with an emphasis on both academics and behavior, daily homework and a signed, parental commitment to monitor and become intricately involved in the child's education. Parents are hungry for such heroic efforts.
■ More crisis reading recovery teachers are needed for kids who cannot read by the third grade.
Children who cannot read cannot succeed. The most effective reading strategies need to be implemented across the curriculum by sending in advanced reading specialists to help struggling teachers with crisis reading recovery because too many average teachers do not have the skills and experience required. This would produce more returns than fiddling with teeny changes in class size.
■ Better training for principals.
A principal can transform a struggling school to one filled with excitement. The job involves identifying teachers who are doing well and those who are not, diagnosing and directing needed improvements and weeding out teachers who refuse to change. The job involves negotiations among teachers, schedules, duties and creating a family atmosphere. The average teacher is not necessarily born with all of the required attributes, so most need training to become true winners.
Therefore, principals should be required to attend principal-preparedness schools. Good teachers are often promoted to principal without the essential skills to excite teachers, children and parents. All three are necessary partners to success.
■ Urgent help for youngsters with hearing, dental or optical problems.
Some estimates are that half the kids whose deficiencies are detected never receive remediation. While parents are apprised of the need, too often the need remains unmet. We must do better by deriving more effective strategies to insure needed help is provided.
■ Motivational efforts for students and parents.
Sometimes, students or parents do not understand the amazing opportunities a good education can bring and how it can dramatically change their future from dim to bright.
Special programs need to be implemented and reinforced in every school, every single day: academic pep rallies, notes to the home and parents, posters in the classrooms, periodic films and other reminders that education is the gateway to success in America.
Hard work that pays off needs to be celebrated, honored and constantly ingrained in the minds of our kids and their parents.
The good news is that we can significantly moderate the academic achievement gap by implementing these five points.
The bad news is that it will take more money. If Lexington truly wants this problem addressed adequately, the school board and the public will have to step up to the plate. It cannot be done on the cheap.