While I’m passionate about K-12 education, the fact that I’ve never been an educator no doubt allows me a different perspective than someone with years of on-the-ground education experience.

For one thing, a broader view is possible. In other words, you can see the forest without the trees getting in the way.

Which is why I’ve often wondered why we expect schools and teachers to solve ills they have no control over? It’s like blaming his math teacher that little Johnny can’t swim.

Some have suggested that we need to use “rithmetic” more often. So I did and here’s what I learned.

There are 8,760 hours in one year. In Alabama we require a student spend 1,080 of those hours in school. That’s only 12 percent of their time in school.

This is what I call LEE’S LAW OF 88 DASH 12.

Here’s how it works. Anyone can see I need to lose weight. So you tell me that you’ve learned how to cook really nutritious and weight conscious meals and I agree that I will let you cook for me and will pay you $100 for every pound I lose.

But I’m only going to eat 2 ½ meals (12 percent) a week with you. Will you get much of my money?

This is what we’re doing with education–forgetting about the 88 percent and all that goes with it.

Which is why I found the book, Beyond the Classroom, Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do, of great interest.

Written by Dr. Laurence Steinberg of Temple University, this book is a recap of a research project that collected data from 20,000 high school students. While the majority of students completed questionnaires, researchers did 600 interviews with students and 500 with parents. Students attended nine different high schools in Wisconsin and California. Researchers took great care to sample a range of different socioeconomic brackets, ethnic backgrounds and family structures.

Purpose of the research was to try and figure out why so many teenagers–and their parents–are disengaged from the education process.

As stated in chapter one: Given the vast amount of previous research that had already been conducted on effective schools and classrooms—and the absence of any consistently encouraging findings showing that reforming schools or classrooms makes much of a difference in student performance—it made little sense to conduct yet another study of teachers, classrooms, or schools. 

As I read I repeatedly grabbed a pen and underlined passages, something most books don’t move me to do. For example:

In response to suggestions for educational reform, government institutions and private foundations have spent massive amounts of money on research designed to transform America’s schools. In one blue-ribbon report after another, the American public has been told that if we change how we organize our schools, change how and what we teach in our classrooms, and change how we select, train, and compensate our teachers, we will see improvements in our children’s educational performance. 

Our research indicates that a profitable discussion about the declining achievement of American youngsters should begin by examining students’ lives outside of school. 

But our study also shows that school is only one of the many influences—and probably, when all is said and done, not even the most important one—that affect what students learn and how well they perform on tests of achievement. It seems only fair to acknowledge, based on studies of school quality and its relations to student performance, as well as disappointing evaluations of many, many different types of school reform, that, although schools matter, they probably account for less variation in student achievement than we believe—or than we hope—they do.  

Thus, we come to a clearer understanding not only of what schools need to do to engage apathetic students, but of why students come to school with such low levels of interest and enthusiasm in the first place. In order to do this, and accordingly, in order to reengage students in school, we must focus our attention not on the classroom, not on the principal’s office, not on the school district’s administration, but on the students themselves. No degree of school reform, no matter how carefully planned, will be successful in solving the achievement problem unless we first face and resolve the engagement problem. 

Sounds like some others have discovered LEE’S LAW OF 88 DASH 12.