Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns


Growing Toledo’s culture of learning

Education can change the world, and it can change our community. A community that learns is a community that prospers.

Our society must cut through the cultural clutter that distracts youth, to create and grow a culture of learning that sets clear horizons to which we all can aspire.

As a community of learning, we can take the initiative to ensure that education gets the attention it deserves. Our community is full of talented people, invested families, civic-minded employers and businesses, and dedicated community and religious groups.

Every member of our community must play a role in advancing education. But how do we ensure that families and community members know what they can do to help our children learn?

The educational success of our community depends on setting clear goals. We should challenge ourselves to establish specific expectations and guideposts, for all our stakeholders to endorse and promote. Then we all can champion a culture of learning.

At a minimum, every child in our community should be expected to be prepared to attend kindergarten and, eventually, to graduate from high school.

How can we encourage parents to read to their children before they enroll in kindergarten? What books should children read, or have read to them, each year?

How long do we allow our children to sit in front of the television or computer each day? What after-school programs and story hours do we want to make certain our children can attend? These questions are not just for the school system to address.

The Blade’s recent series “Education Matters: The Transformation of Toledo Public Schools” highlighted the many difficulties that students face. One is the challenge of educating students who frequently change schools.

An article in the series outlined the academic journey of a child who attended four elementary schools by the time he reached third grade. Amid the constant turnover, he failed that year. His difficult experience represents the reality that faces at-risk learners in our community and around the country.

The Blade reported that 40 percent of students who attend Toledo schools in “academic emergency” had changed schools in the past year. This constant upheaval is an enormous impediment to learning. It creates sometimes irreversible disruptions in students’ lives.

Young students, like saplings, are fragile. They need strong roots in solid ground to grow sturdy. Constant uprooting is stressful and damaging.

Several years ago, when I learned of the difficulties presented by student mobility, I commissioned the U.S. Government Accountability Office to research how changing schools affects student performance. That report was updated last year.

The GAO found that students who change schools frequently perform far below their peers in math and reading. They are four times as likely to drop out. They are almost twice as likely to be low achievers, and more than twice as likely to repeat a grade.

Mobile students are largely minority students and overwhelmingly poor. Even when socioeconomic factors are taken into account, the differences are plain: The academic difficulties experienced by children who move often are largely caused by their families’ lack of stable housing and living situations.

To address the issues of student mobility, I worked with others to create a program to teach housing skills to parents. The Partners in Education program was established to promote improved student performance.

We have worked with the Local Initiative Support Corp., Eisenhower Foundation, YMCA, and Boys and Girls Clubs to support family stability and student achievement. We urged the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority to allow bus transfers to students’ home schools. We asked the Toledo Board of Education to call on the broader community to set educational guideposts.

The housing crisis has burdened families and undermined stability even more. With foreclosures all too common, keeping a roof over the head of loved ones can take precedence over educational concerns.

We must work together to create a stable environment for our children, and to establish clear standards to achieve a culture of learning that will change our community for the better. I urge adults and institutions interested in joining me in this effort to make learning the top priority for the next generation.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) represents Ohio’s 9th Congressional District.

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