Numbers Don’t Lie: The Jay-Z Philosophy and School Reform

By - Nigel Walker On Dec 11, 2013

Numbers Don’t Lie: The Jay-Z Philosophy and School Reform

News about the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) —an international survey used to rank the top 65 global economies in science, math, and reading—has been released and the U.S. is ranked #36. Jay-Z quotes, “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.” If numbers don’t lie, then what we are doing is not only unsuccessful, but it has been that way for years. When do we allow someone else to take over with creating solutions?

Our ship seems to have the Titanic approach although we have strived for changes in standards for years. I believe in policies like No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top—in concept only; that concept being that we can reach all students when it comes to achievement. However, the execution doesn’t seem to hit the mark. We are approaching the matter from the wrong angle. If we look at education as a product, we have to start with consumer interest before the bells and whistles. We must start from an inner perspective of value from students and home and then work our way out to standards and accountability. In clinical terms, is there any home accountability?

Right now, there seems to be a very hands-off approach in education on the home front. The perspective from teachers is that we must magically make students achieve even though they may do nothing outside of school to reinforce what is done at school. Parent involvement is sought, but not in the form of excuses to rationalize bad behavior or lack of effort; instead, actively working with the teacher and child to make sure there is reinforcement at home.

School reform needs to begin with a look at belief in capabilities, because it seems that a defeated attitude is the first hurdle. Homes are filled with the “I can’t” attitude from both parent and child that leads to apathy and avoidance. So I want to start with a quiz for parents to dispel the misconceptions about student potential to achieve. Do you think your child is capable of meeting the standards set at school?

Here are 10 questions that can determine if a student is capable of meeting achievement standards:

  1. Does your child know the lyrics to songs?
  2. Has your child ever mastered multiple levels on a video game?
  3. Can your child play any sports at least at an average level?
  4. Has your child ever constructed a structure out of any material (recycled, blocks, paper, etc.)?
  5. Can your child effectively operate electronics (smart phones, tablets, etc.)?
  6. Does your child hold normal conversations with friends, family, or social media?
  7. Has your child ever convincingly lied to you or made excuses for any issue that sounded credible?
  8. Has your child ever cheated on anything, serious or fun (games, activities, etc.)?
  9. Has your child ever successfully carried out a transaction involving money without your help?
  10. Can your child carry out independent routines on a consistent basis (brushing teeth, getting dressea, chores, etc.)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child does have the capacity to learn and achieve. Simply put, it is a function of information processing and performance; learning the steps or important details through information, and using it to carry out a task.

The fact of the matter is that we have taught our children that it’s all about them, but have never included the facet that they are still children and must succumb to boundaries and expectations set for them; hence the “entitlement,” factor we all talk about. We do this by making any excuse to make them feel good about themselves and their present state of progress or maturity however large or small. We do not teach them to hone in on the potential and use it as the driving force to achievement.

In the recent article about the latest release of PISA scores, the author comments on how the top- ranking students from Shanghai, China have the drive and confidence to fulfill their potential. They don’t shy away from hard work, and they believe that if they try hard, the teachers help them become successful. Their culture is built around the value of high achievement. There are many arguments that are made about the relentlessness of their expectations and procedures, but the fact still remains that they are motivated to meet those requirements. They accept the challenge.

The issue that I see locally is that our standards are markedly different and our students aren’t challenged to meet our standards. Our culture is not basea on academic achievement. Though some may argue that point, I offer this explanation. Culture is worn on the sleeves of our everyday lives and interactions. You see and hear elements of culture in normal situations. How often is the topic of conversation with our students, their peers, even consistent conversation of families, or portrayal in popular culture really glorifying high academic achievement? I see quite the opposite. If we want change in education, we need to change the culture. No money necessary for that type of reform. Students should be taught to want it, not taught that it should be handed to them. For all of the other drastic pushes for rigor, changing standards, teacher accountability and merit, answer this. How has that worked out for us?

Want is a part of human nature. We are drawn towards what we want and away from what we don’t. It is obvious that if a child does not want any part of an education, they are not going to help a teacher get a raise by passing a standardized test. Students will go as far as to refuse to comply to anything that their parents don’t enforce at home, so how do reach that particular student? We must reach the parent, the home, the culture, and really make education a priority.

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