Poor student motivation: What can be done?

We’ve got a problem with schools. Now what are we going to do about it? First, just how stagnant is American education? Robert Samuelson lays down some numbers:

  • In 1971,  the average score on the NAEP for high school students taking the reading test was, on a scale of 0-500, 285. In 2008, it was … 286.
  • In 1973, the average math score was 304. In 2008, it was … 306.

Not much “progress” was evident in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. What have we done to improve education?

Between 1970 and 2008, the number of students nationwide increased 8 percent. The number of teachers increased 61 percent. So much for simply adding more employees to school systems.

Samuelson then adds, “The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If the students aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail.”

I’d say that’s certainly not unmentionable. Go to any article about school performance published on the Internet by a major newspaper and you’ll find lots of people claiming that it’s all the kids’ fault.

When does this become “blaming the victim?”

Now, I don’t want to let students off the hook. There are certainly societal trends at work that don’t favor student performance: Minority students who apply themselves in school are sometimes derided for “acting white,” some parents don’t care enough about their children’s education, the rights revolution has undermined the authority of teachers in the classroom, and so on.

But if some kids don’t apply themselves in school, might in some cases the reason be that there’s something wrong in the classroom?

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