Education and Disappearing Fathers

My family lives in the Fairfield school district. Fairfield may not be the strongest district in the region, but I have to personally applaud them for supporting our kids to the extent possible, and for being straight up with families and parents when they cannot.

A number of years ago, while my oldest daughter attended 1st grade at a Fairfield elementary school, the district sent us a letter that said she was doing well. In that same letter the district also let us know that no funding for programs existed to help us challenge her or augment her education. So my wife and I decided to un-enroll our daughter and educate her at home. And my wife has been doing so for all my daughters for the last eight years.

What I appreciate about Fairfield is that they have been so supportive of the decision and have proactively reached out to us as a family to make mandatory state reporting easy for us to accomplish.

For me to showcase the positive aspects of the Fairfield school administration means a lot. Generally, I don’t have a high opinion of the public education system. With goals of assembly line production of a product able to enter the workforce, and even more so with the current implementation of No Child Left Behind (or No Child Gets Ahead), an education is no more than a blueprint for getting a job – working for someone else. Big business guides curriculum in order to produce the kind of output that will benefit them with skills for today’s workforce, government regulates what can be taught, and all students nationwide line up to take the test that shows the extent that each one knows the subject matter.

For years I’ve been frustrated knowing that our teachers’ salaries and positions are a function of politics rather than performance. I’ve had personal conversations with more than one fantastic teacher that, after years in the system, contemplates changing professions as there is no reward for being a great teacher. Then I was both excited and saddened by editorials in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

The first highlighted Teach for America where 3,700 young men and women are selected from 25,000 applicants to spend two years in America’s roughest public schools. What I gather from the piece is that these are not formally trained teachers. In fact, participants receive five weeks of training before entering the classroom. Did I tell you newly minted teachers earn between $25,000 and $44,000. Oh, and 11% of Yale’s senior class, 9% of Harvard’s, and 10% of Georgetown’s applied for the program. Not too shabby.

The outcome?

“On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors.”


TFA has “‘a selection model we’ve refined over the years.’ The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. ‘It’s mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities.'”

Hmmm…sounds like a performance rather than a regulated, union mandated model.

Then the heartbreaker. I’m not a huge fan of Juan Williams, NPR’s political analyst, but I’m also not a priori opposed to his opinions as he’s generally balanced and understanding of many perspectives as he reports. His Saturday piece on “The Tragedy of America’s Disappearing Fathers” left me hanging my head as I thought about all my middle-class friends who’s families have suffered the ravages of divorce. Williams’ piece took this one more step.

“It is now common to meet young people in our big city schools, foster care homes and juvenile centers who do not know their dads. Most of those children have come fact-to-face with their father at some point; but most have little regular contact with the man, or have any faith that he loves or cares about them.”

Backed up by statistics that the nation’s out-of-wedlock birth rate is 28% for white children, 50% for Hispanic children, and a holy-cow 71% for black children, it’s no wonder these kids feel like “throwaway people” because “they don’t have a father to push them, discipline them, and they give up trying to succeed…they don’t see themselves as wanted.” In fact, 22% of white children, 31% of Hispanic children, and 56% of black children do not have a male influence in the home.

At these rates, it’s also clear the fatherless problem is not specific to the poor, although “having a dad at home is almost a certain ticket out of poverty; because about 40% of single-mother families are in poverty.”

So, dads, augment you’re kids’ schooling. Whether your kids are in public or private school, or they are home schooled, get involved. Be your own personal Teach for America influence on your kids and help them perform at a level “nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience.” Then, after you’ve taken care of your own, reach out to the single moms in our world and help them support their own children. These are just a couple of the infinite ways to make a difference in our world.



~ by Andy on June 16, 2008.

One Response to “Education and Disappearing Fathers”

  1. The ‘normal family dynamic” certainly is anything but ‘normal’, and is a nebulous entity. Statistically leading the pack are, as you touched upon, are single mother homes, with an average of two children. Fathers turned “mystery men”, leaving it up to others to provide leadership, and invest time/energy for positive impact.

    Teachers all too often are left being pseudo social workers/parents/baby sitters, while managing their own challenges with avoiding the elephant in the community of being “riffed” (laid off, usually due to budget challenges – speak with some Cincinnati Public School employees, or even my girlfriend who is a passionate/energetic/accomplished/respected/inspiring as a teaching professional – not biased opinion, but from parent letters/co teachers, and others, who has been laid off 4 times due to budget challenges, won’t mention the district, and has a MEd + principals license).

    I agree, the pay for performance vs. general assessments could improve the system a bit, and would like to hear how you would go about implementing that ‘business-like strategy’ in that traditional system? Also, connecting fathers to their families, any ideas there? What a couple of enormous challenges that are roots of developing our youth/future leaders. Great subjects bud! Also, thought you would like to know, this blog highly recommends you!

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