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Fear Facts

Many educational scientists believe affluence is a strong indicator of

academic success. Students coming from wealthier, two-parent households

typically perform better on standardized tests when compared to students from low

socioeconomic status backgrounds, which is a fancy way of saying students from

poverty. At least that was until the Black Plague of our generation, the coronavirus,

leveled the playing field. Many school districts, poor and wealthy, are learning that

zip codes no longer determine the quality of education students receive; the school

culture inside every address, however, does.

Virginia’s Fairfax County’s average household income is $122,000 a year,

which is about $46,000 more than the average household income for the state of

Virginia (https://datausa.io/profile/geo/fairfax-county-va). The average home

costs about $608,000, and the county is also a great place to live

(https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/va/fairfax/crime). These statistics are

typically predictors for academic success, but a recent report from the first quarter

of the 2020 - 2021 school year has shown otherwise. Grades of F’s have increased in

some areas at alarming rates (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article). This

isn’t an indictment or attack on students, but is an obvious reflection of society.

Parents can’t expect academic success for their child without behavior management

and teachers cannot manage academic behaviors online; parents have to.

The coronavirus created a social experiment with immediate results.

Virginia boasted a 91.6% high school graduation rate in the 2017-2018 school year,

a 91.5% graduation rate in the 2018 – 2019 school year, and a 92.3% graduation

rate for the 2019 – 2020 academic year

(https://www.doe.virginia.gov/statistics_reports/graduation_completion).

Comparatively its neighbor to the north, Maryland, had a high school graduation

rate of 86.9% in the 2018-2019 school year

(https://www.baltimoresun.com/education/bs-md-graduation-rate-decline), and

its neighbor to the south, North Carolina, yielded a graduation rate of 86.5% that

same academic year (https://www.dpi.nc.gov/news/press-

releases/2020/09/02/nc-graduation-rate). It’s safe to say Virginia as a state has an

exemplary graduation rate.

So how does an affluent school district in that very same state, succumb to so

many F’s the first quarter of distance learning? The removal of the physical school

environment has simultaneously removed behavioral accountability from teachers

and placed it on individual homes. I won’t hyperlink you to death, but there are

articles written on student’s poor attendance, students signing in for Zoom links but

not paying attention to lessons being taught, and students not working. A daunting

task teachers navigate is grading incomplete assignments, or assignments

completed with such little effort it’s insulting to the person who prepared the lesson.

There are consequences for students who skip class and get caught. What are the

consequences for a student who decides to sleep a little later and has the viable

excuse to tell teachers, “I was having connectivity issues and couldn’t log on during

attendance?” There are consequences for students who are not paying attention to

a lesson while its being taught in the school’s physical classroom. What are the

consequences for a student who is on Zoom, but also has several other tabs opened

on their web browser? Teachers have lost behavioral control due to the pandemic

and are strictly lesson delivery. The Domino’s delivery person doesn’t come into

your home and tell you to sit at the table and eat as a family. He or she simply

delivers the pizza. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess detention, suspension,

and expulsion rates have plummeted. Some of the unwanted behaviors that would

garner disciplinary actions in a school building haven’t disappeared during virtual

learning; they’re just out of the school’s control. How do you maintain a true school

culture with such compromised student accountability? Behaviorally, we all know

kids will be kids, and if you’re a parent, the discipline you received or didn’t receive

helped make you who you are.

Everyone loves bacon, but no one really wants to see how it’s made. Parents

love good grades, but with the removal of the physical school building, they’re faced

with the exact reason their teenager is or isn’t academically successful. Lesson

delivery, grades, and emailed conversations are all time stamped. Parents have

more access than they’ve ever had knowing exactly what’s going on in a classroom.

Grades shouldn’t be surprising to parents because progress reports precede report

cards by weeks. There is no substitute for physical presence. Without adults

actively making sure students are academically behaving (turning in assignments on

time, attentive to lessons, participating in lessons, etc.), we’re essentially expecting

teenagers to display the maturity needed for online college courses. And we all

know college students are not the most mature humans walking the planet. A

teacher’s “look” or proximity in a physical classroom can encourage a student to try

when they would rather daydream about playing videogames at home. Without the

physical classroom, those daydreams are now reality if someone is not home to

satisfy that student’s need for a physical presence. An “A” can have the exact same

intrinsic value as an “F” to a student if parents don’t champion the difference

between the two.

We hear rhetoric about teachers partnering with parents to ensure student

success from schools all the time. Those cliché phrases could not be anymore true

than they are during distance learning. Parents should get comfortable emailing

their son or daughter’s teacher to find out what’s going on in real time. “Pop-ups”

that use to require trips to a school building are now at your fingertips. Parents

should have access to their teenagers email address to see communication from

their teacher. Parents should have a means of accessing assignments and seeing,

with their own eyes, if their son or daughter completed assignments in a manner

reflecting their expectations. Yes, it is more time consuming. However, the son or

daughter you either gave birth to or helped create should be your number one

investment. As with any investment, if you don’t monitor them, they will grow in a

direction you may not want them to grow.

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