How can education reform address high school students who lack motivation to learn?

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Answered by: Deborah, An Expert in the Matters in Education Category
I feel a little bit of validation whenever I see student disrespectfulness as a reason for teachers leaving their jobs. It’s usually not as substantial a reason as poor salaries, administrative hassles or other issues, but it’s there. Certainly my exhaustion over run-in’s with students was part of my decision to leave.

Most of my problem students were lacking motivation. Either because of that or in addition to that, they were always at odds with the expectations for them in a classroom setting. And these were rather straightforward expectations: stop talking when others are speaking, do your major assignments, aim to pass the class, have good attendance, respect the teacher. Stuff you would think high schoolers would know after several years in the system.

Yet so many of them didn’t -- I hate to use the word -- conform ... and we clashed.

So Education Reform Idea Number Two: Move problem students into a setting better suited to their needs.

I cringe to think how many of my former high school students lacked motivation and thus didn’t experience the full joy of learning, simply because they were distracted by the “icky kids,” as a colleague once called them. I would grant that many miscreants outgrow their problems and are eventually fine in a regular classroom. But even if their disrespectfulness and disregard for toeing the line -- at least a little bit -- goes on for just a few months, that’s too long. It’s time to consider alternatives.

Online learning seems to work OK at my former school. Kids who fail a class -- sometimes it’s a chronic illness reason, not lack of motivation -- have a chance for “credit recovery” by taking a core course online while a facilitator is in the room. It’s basically just the student and the computer; readings, discussion questions, quizzes and culminating tests are all online. Students can work at their own pace, listen to music with headphones, sneak in a computer game, surf the web. But the novelty of their independence soon wears off, and students turn to the coursework. The session in the online learning lab is part of their daily routine, before or after they go off to elective classes or core classes they can handle.

Are there disadvantages, such as less socialization and lack of interaction with a teacher? Sure, but this is the answer for a lot of high school kids who aren’t succeeding in a regular classroom. Online learning as part of a regular school day seems like a good compromise versus online learning at home. The students who don’t fit in during classroom time can still have collegial time with friends the rest of the day.

At-home schooling is an alternative I have to respect, especially for younger kids and parents who have the patience. I also see merit in back-to-basics charter schools, but many of them don’t hire qualified administrators and teachers. I would be interested to know whether charter schools “interview” students as to their motivation and work ethic before admitting them.

Alternative primary and secondary education continues to be in the news. Districts are looking at online learning as a cost-saving measure; some critics say it hurts the quality of education. This New York Times article looks at the pros and cons:

I don’t mean to belittle or dismiss the problems of high school students dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence. I’m just saying that if high school or middle school isn’t working for them, there are plenty of alternatives.

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