School Issues That Negatively Impact Student Learning

Student resting head on desk in classroom
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Schools face several issues daily that negatively impact student learning. Administrators and teachers work hard to overcome these challenges, but it is often difficult. Regardless of the strategies schools implement, there are some factors that will likely never be eliminated. However, schools must do their best to minimize the impact these issues have while maximizing student learning. Educating students is a difficult challenge because there are so many natural obstacles that hinder learning. 

Not every school will face all of the challenges discussed, though the majority of schools across the country face more than one of these issues. The overall makeup of the community surrounding the school has a significant impact on the school itself. Schools facing a large portion of these issues will not see significant internal changes until external issues are addressed and changed within the community. Many of these issues can be deemed as societal issues, which can be nearly impossible for schools to overcome.

Bad Teachers

The vast majority of teachers are effective at their job, sandwiched in between the great teachers and the bad teachers. While bad teachers represent a small percentage of educators, they are often the ones who generate the most publicity. For the majority of teachers, this is frustrating because most work hard every day to ensure that their students receive a quality education with little fanfare.

A bad teacher can set a student or group of students back considerably. They can create significant learning gaps making the next teacher’s job that much harder. A bad teacher can foster an atmosphere full of discipline issues and chaos establishing a pattern that is extremely difficult to break. Finally and perhaps most devastatingly, they can shatter a student’s confidence and overall morale. The effects can be disastrous and nearly impossible to reverse.

This is the reason that administrators must ensure that they make smart hiring decisions. These decisions must not be taken lightly. Of equal importance is the teacher evaluation process. Administrators must use the evaluation system to make informed decisions when retaining teachers year after year. They cannot be afraid to put in the necessary work required to dismiss a bad teacher who will damage students in the district.

Discipline Issues

Discipline issues cause distractions, and distractions add up and limit learning time. Every time a teacher has to handle a discipline issue, she loses valuable instructional time. In addition, each time a student is sent to the office on a discipline referral that student loses valuable instruction time. Any discipline issue will result in the loss of instruction time, which limits a student’s learning potential.

Teachers and administrators must be able to minimize these disruptions. Teachers can do this by providing a structured learning environment and engaging students in exciting, dynamic lessons that captivate them and keep them from being bored. Administrators must create well-written policies that hold students accountable. They should educate parents and students on these policies. Administrators must be firm, fair, and consistent when dealing with any student discipline issue.

Lack of Funding

Funding has a significant impact on student performance. A lack of funding typically leads to larger class sizes and less technology and curriculum materials, and the more students a teacher has, the less attention he can pay to individual students. This can become significant when you have a class full of 30 to 40 students at varying academic levels.

Teachers must be equipped with engaging tools covering the standards they are required to teach. Technology is a tremendous academic tool, but it is also pricey to purchase, maintain, and upgrade. The curriculum in general continuously changes and needs to be updated, but most states curriculum adoption runs in five-year cycles. At the end of each five-year cycle, the curriculum is totally outdated and physically worn out.

Lack of Student Motivation

Many students simply do not care about attending school or putting in the effort necessary to maintain their grades. It is extremely frustrating to have a pool of students who are only there because they have to be. An unmotivated student may initially be on grade level, but she will fall behind only to wake up one day and realize it is too late to catch up.

A teacher or administrator can only do so much to motivate a student: Ultimately, it is up to the student as to whether she decides to change. Unfortunately, there are many students in schools nationally with tremendous potential who choose not to live up to that standard.

Over Mandating

Federal and state mandates are taking their tolls on school districts across the country. There are so many new requirements each year that schools do not have the time or resources to implement and maintain them all successfully. Most of the mandates are passed with good intentions, but the spacing of these mandates puts schools in a bind. They are often underfunded or unfunded and require a lot of extra time that could be spent in other critical areas. Schools do not have enough time and resources to fulfill many of these new mandates.

Poor Attendance

Students can't learn if they aren't at school. Missing just 10 days of school each year from kindergarten to 12th grade adds up to missing almost an entire school year by the time they graduate. Some students have the ability to overcome poor attendance, but many who have a chronic attendance problem fall behind and stay behind.

Schools must hold students and parents accountable for consistent excessive absences and should have a solid attendance policy in place that specifically addresses excessive absences. Teachers cannot do their jobs if students are not required to show up every day.

Poor Parental Support

Parents are typically the most influential people in every aspect of a child’s life. This is especially true when it comes to education. Typically, if the parents value education, their children will be academically successful. Parental involvement is essential to educational success. Parents who provide their children with a solid foundation before school begins and stay involved throughout the school year will reap the benefits as their children become successful.

By contrast, parents who are minimally involved with their child’s education have a significant negative impact. This can be extremely frustrating for teachers and makes for a continuous uphill battle. Many times, these students are behind when they start school due to a lack of exposure, and it is extremely difficult for them to catch up. These parents believe it is the school’s job to educate and not theirs when in actuality there needs to be a dual partnership for the child to be successful

Poverty

Poverty has a significant impact on student learning. There has been much research to support this premise. Students living in affluent, well-educated homes and communities are far more academically successful, while those living in poverty are typically behind academically.

Poverty is a difficult obstacle to overcome. It follows generation after generation and becomes the accepted norm, which makes it almost impossible to break. Though education is a significant part of breaking the grip of poverty, most of these students are so far behind academically that they will never get that opportunity.

Shift in Instructional Focus

When schools fail, administrators and teachers almost always take the brunt of the blame. This is somewhat understandable, but the responsibility of educating should not fall solely on the school. This deferred shift in educational responsibility is one of the greatest reasons for a perceived decline in public schools across the United States.

Teachers are doing a far superior job of educating their students today than they ever have been. However, the time spent teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic has been significantly decreased due to increased demands and responsibilities to teach many things that used to be taught at home.

Any time you add new instructional requirements you take away time spent on something else. The time spent in school has rarely increased, yet the burden has fallen to schools to add courses such as sex education and personal financial literacy into their daily schedule without an increase in time to do so. As a result, schools have been forced to sacrifice critical time in the core subjects to ensure that their students are being exposed to these other life skills.