The education reform movement is focused on the idea of student success, and a lot of time, energy, and resources are put into defining what success looks like and how to measure it. There is talk of who is to “blame” when students and schools are not successful, and how to increase student achievement. These conversations generally focus on three things: teacher quality, curriculum, and testing. The most important component of student success—the student—is rarely a consideration. If students are not the focus of increasing student success—and they are not responsible and they do not own their own achievement, then who does?
In the past few years, teachers have been saddled with the sole responsibility of student success—and this trend doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. While it’s true that teachers are the strongest external influence on a student’s learning, they are still an external influence. Teachers have many legitimate concerns about “owning” student success. After all, they are one of many external influences acting upon a child on any given day, and on any given day, one of those external influences is more important to the student than what the teacher is saying or doing.
Parents certainly feel ownership in their child’s success. Parents are, generally speaking, more involved in schools and their children’s education than other time—sometimes to the detriment of the student and their learning. Nonetheless, parents love their children, want the best for them, and have a vested interest in their success. Parents have a critical role in student success; when they communicate a value for education and personal growth, support schools and learning, and involve themselves in school community events, they have the potential to create significant impact on their student’s achievement and success. But do they own that success?
The roles of schools and school districts in the educational development of students are obvious. Schools and school districts are ranked based on students’ achievement, which impacts future funding and enrollments—thus, they have some “ownership” in student success. However, are schools and districts worried about each individual kid, as teachers and parents are? Probably not, unless that one or two or handful of kids are pulling the scores down.
Even states and the federal government claim some ownership—every year, states’ public education systems are ranked based on graduation rates, test scores, etc., and the states want to do better. After all, federal funding is critical to the states, and they need to show they are performing. And the federal government is concerned with how American students compare to their counterparts from other countries, so it, too, has an interest.
So whose success is it? Despite the fact that responsibility and ownership of student success is foisted upon teachers, usurped by parents, adopted by schools and districts, and claimed by state and federal governments, the exciting, nerve-wracking, frustrating, beautiful truth is that each student owns his or her success. Each outcome impacts that child’s life and future. Teachers can provide growth opportunities and help, parents can provide encouragement and motivation, schools and districts can provide materials and facilities, and state and federal governments can provide funding and guidelines, but ultimately, every child’s success is his or her own.