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Why Students Fail in School

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To expand on the feedback we received from students in our Education Survey, United Way of Stanislaus County recently spoke to 8 teachers and more than 15 education experts on why they think students fail in school in Stanislaus County. We wanted to identify the most needed service we could provide through our Education Initiative scheduled to be implemented in July, 2013.

There have been lots of studies showing why students fail in college related to lack of Math/English skills and the use of social networking sites. However, little research exists about why students fail in high school in Stanislaus County. This meant we had to conduct our own research.

The teachers we spoke to represented elementary, middle school, and high school levels throughout Stanislaus County. The experts we spoke to represented school districts and local non-profits that focus on the development of youth. Based on our conversations with these experts and teachers, we were able to discover some important reasons that students fail in school.

3 Reasons Students Fail in School

1. External Support and Internal Assets
Teachers and experts agree that a student needs external support, from parents or another adult, to be successful in school. When asked how struggling students get back on track to success, the majority of participants stated that engagement and support by an adult is essential. A supportive adult is critical because communication with school increases, and students are able to build the internal assets (resiliency, empowerment, perseverance, etc.) needed to overcome barriers and graduate from school.

To build these characteristics, participants noted that adults need to have a meaningful relationship to be able to connect and have a good rapport with the students. This type of relationship:

  • develops internal assets
  • helps to motivate the student
  • sets an expectation of success

This is critical when the expectation is not set by parents.

Experts agree, personal characteristics can be nurtured by instilling and developing the value of education in families and communities.

2. Student Engagement
Teachers often stated that one of the reasons students fail in school is engagement in the classroom. According to teachers and experts, when students aren’t engaged they aren’t motivated to do well in class. One of the reasons students aren’t engaged is because students cannot relate lessons to real life; a factor also stated by students.

Teachers indicated that students would benefit from apprenticeship programs where they can learn work skills and have a mentor. Though schools have elective classes such as woodshop, auto shop, and music, they do not offer as many as they used to due to funding shortages. Providing these opportunities will not only engage students, but also provide them a mentor.

Another suggestion to engage students is to assign more in class assignments and less take home work. Teachers acknowledged that some of their students found it difficult to complete homework due to two factors:

  • family instability
  • parent’s inability to provide the skills to help

This was also reported as a factor by students. Having in-class work engages more than lecturing and students receive more immediate corrective feedback by teachers.

3. Family Needs
Family needs (stable homes, fulfillment of basic needs, etc.) were cited by teachers and experts as being an underlying factor to a student’s success in school. Although experts stated that economic status was not the determining factor in a student’s success in school, it was a factor that can increase the chances of struggles in school.

When a student lives in a home that is struggling to meet its basic needs and/or is unstable, students have difficulty:

  • concentrating on homework
  • don’t have the support at home they need
  • don’t have the structure at home to thrive in school

For example, one student shared with us that she “had to pay rent and work, school wasn’t a priority.”

To address these issues, teachers recommended to develop a center that provides educational services (i.e. tutoring, mentoring, etc.) and family resources located near or at a school. This “center” would greatly help students be more successful in school because they would have a safe and stable place to go after school, and receive the services they need for themselves and their family.

On July 1, 2013 we begin a $200,000 pledge to begin funding “graduation coaches” in local 7th grade schools. Please help us provide these graduation coaches’ services to teenagers by making a donation today to support our work. You can give via credit card here, or you can send a check to United Way of Stanislaus County, 422 McHenry Ave., Modesto, CA 95354.

Question: Why do you believe students fail in school?