Students Fail: Who is to Blame?

studying student

At South Side School in Chicago almost 60% of students in the eighth grade failed English this year! Out of 77 students, 44 of them will not pass the eighth grade. This staggering statistic raises the age-old question as to who is to take responsibility for this kind of failure, especially when the numbers are so high.


As a former teacher I am aware of both sides of this argument all too well. When a student fails, there are those who tend to look to place blame on teachers. And, in some cases, there is good reason for that. We’ve all read in the news about teachers who are doing other things besides actually teaching in the classroom. As a former teacher, I have seen some of it first hand; teachers using their classrooms as a break room to read books, the newspaper, chat with other teachers and leave the students to fend for themselves. Of course, we’ve also heard about teachers who don’t belong anywhere near children because they abuse and take advantage of the innocents in their classroom. Then, another group of problem teachers is composed of teachers who try to teach but do a miserable job communicating, explaining, and making their subject matter relevant. There are more categories of teachers, but these groups will suffice in the understanding of our discussion on why students fail.

On the other hand, there is no discounting the impact good (or bad) parenting can have on students. There is no doubt that what happens — and what does not happen — in the home is the single most significant factor in a child’s behavior and learning. I saw this time and time again in my classroom. One time I called a parent to discuss her daughter’s consistent tardiness only to have the parent call turn into a counseling session with the parent for her own issues. My student’s mother proceeded to ask me for suggestions because she (the mother) could never wake up on time. It turns out that because mom consistently overslept, the responsibility of getting the youngest child to her elementary school fell on my high school junior student. So my student’s tardiness was, in this case, completely a result of her mother’s irresponsibility. That’s not to say anything of parents spending real, quality time with their children, helping them with their school work and simply being available for them. None of us is intended to do life on our own, much less children!

At the end of the day, we have to look at each case on its own merits. In the case of South Side School, there are too many students who have failed to not ask both questions. What is happening in the classroom? And, if there are parents involved in their children’s lives, this would not be the first time they became aware of a problem at school, if that’s the situation. If teachers have written off the students or are failing to teach, I would hope that parents have already showed up to help fix the problem throughout the school year and not just now when report cards are due.

It would be nice to get a clean-cut answer. But, as with most things, there are too many factors involved to make it clean cut. What do you think? With so many students failing, what are your thoughts about the cause of this mass failure?

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