• Uncategorized

Getting to the Root Cause of Underperforming Schools

Gettingto the Root Cause of Underperforming Schools

Gettingto the Root Cause of Underperforming Schools

Theoutcomes of education contrast dramatically across the learninginstitutions of the United States. While some schools showcase highperformance among its trainees, others are always confronted byunderperformances, a situation that has culminated in heatedcontentions within the education fraternity as to whether suchlearning sites should be closed or otherwise. However, such a move isnot likely before one thing becomes certain to the educationstakeholders: what could be attributing factors to the current stateof underperforming schools? Indeed, the setting in of the 21stcentury has plunged the United States (U.S) and the rest of theworld’s education system into a new era of failure.

Earnestly,the population of students has become culturally diverse, theeconomic statuses of households differ, politics has become part ofevery organization, technology has entered another level, anddesigning of pedagogies has become challenging to most educationpractitioners. These are very complex mix of factors that if notproperly handled by schools, then the outcome would probably below-level performance. Fortunately, many theoretical perspectiveshave been brought forth to act as a guide in ensuring that the abovesituations are dealt with soundly. Mainly, the paradigms ofbehaviorism, cognitivism, humanism, and the 21st-century skills havebeen conceived to help solve the dilemma. Hence, concepts such aschild development theories, media and technology theories, identitytheories, and constructivist, social, and situational theories, amongothers, are currently in place for utilization by the learningpractitioners to boost student performance. Therefore, this researchpaper aims to determine the root causes of underperforming schoolsit uses a number of the education theories as a baseline for betterconceptualization of the situation. Specifically, the paper usesseveral works of literature and case studies related to the areas ofresearch to meet its purpose.



Theaverage achievement standings of students vary patently acrossnations and as well, within a country’s respective schools.According to Woessmann (2016), the latest international achievementtests of science and math revealed that the average students aged 15in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong performs betterthan their peer groups in the U.S. Furthermore, the Canadian traineesare 1/3rdof a standard deviation forwards, and the case of Finland and Estoniareflected a 40% standard deviation atop the U.S learners. Althoughthe country’s performance is above those noted in countries such asPeru and Indonesia (1.1 standard deviation ahead), the recent trendsshould not be overwritten because they predict decreased educationoutcomes in the future. Based on these discrepancies, Woessmann(2016) argued that the main driving forces are related to distinctorganizations and systems of governance. Hence, learners inhigh-performing nations such as Canada are subjected to externalassessment at the termination of high school. Moreover, manyeducation institutions in such countries, for example in the UnitedKingdom, have explicit criteria of what course programs to offer, andthe most competent tutors to hire to ensure that the goals oflearning are achievable. Are these approaches applied within theeducation fraternity of the United States?

Arguably,the U.S schools showcase a scenario in which some institutionsunderperform while others are yielding promising results every year.Consequently, the policymakers and analysts in the field of educationhave expressed the need for legislation reforms to counteract thesituation and ensure that all the learning institutions displayhigh-level performances. The relatively low performance among someschools in the U.S are depicting a trend reminiscent of that in thedeveloping countries, while in the actual sense, the United Statessurpassed the mark of third world country ranking many decades ago.The schools that perform best within the region are the traditional(face-to-face), and the autonomous schools (e.g. most of the learninginstitutions in Boston). However, with the introduction oftechnology, especially the internet, some schools have inclined tooffer online courses, and the results have often been dismal when itcomes to technical areas of math and science. Moreover, the risingimmigration led to the admission of culturally diverse groups ofstudents in some schools (Olivos &amp Mendoza, 2010). Hence, thechallenge of training native and non-native English speakers hasbecome real in such institutions, and coupled with racial tension,the level of performance has often remained low. In tandem with that,expansive urban states of Baltimore, New York, Denver, and LosAngeles are increasingly reporting low performances within the U.S.

Forexample, in the year 2014, Menken &amp Solorza (2014) observed thatonly 35.8% of students in the New York (NY) state show proficiencywith math tests, and the state was ranked 32nd regarding the 4th and8th math scores. Specifically, about 17 school districts in NYinhabit priority or failing schools, which totals to 178 educationcenters. Of the 178 entities, 77 have been registering low-levelperformance for the past 10 years, and over 250,000 trainees passedthrough the failing systems over that period. In other words, a totalof 250,000 graduates have been released to work their ways into theemployment sector while in reality, their competence levels arequestionable due to the low quality of education they were offered.In the entire education system of the U.S, the underperformances aremore severe in schools with more entries of blacks and Hispanics, aswell as those located in the remote areas. The education stakeholdersand policymakers are increasingly lamenting that the present statusquo is unacceptable and worth consideration, that is, if the U.Sexpects to have qualified managers and workforce in the future.Before any interventions of the kind, however, it is imperative tounleash the causative factors that propagate underperformance in someschools within the region.


Factorsthat operate within the education systems to bring about high-levelperformances or failures are multifaceted and very complex.Therefore, the input of education theories as the guiding principlesof quality education cannot be downplayed. According to Olson (2015),several education theories have been formulated to give coursedesigners with approved strategies and techniques for enhancinglearning as well as the foundation for the selection of intelligenttactics. Hence, the paradigms of behaviorism, cognitivism, and the21st-century skills have been conceived in the field of education.

Regardingbehaviorism, theories here provide explicit expositions for certainkinds of learning orientation and achievements based on actions ortasks rather than building a student’s intellectual structure orcomprehension. For example, operant conditioning theory is utilizedto explain the rote gaining of information, mental and physicalskills knowledge acquisition, and the advancement of behaviorsfavorable to a dynamic classroom (Schunk, Meece &amp Pintrich,2012). In other words, the framework calls for an effective classroommanagement or leadership in which learners are given an active roleto participate in most of the course work so that they acquire skillsthrough task completion rather than having to listen to theinstructors’ lectures and conclusions all the time. Particularly,Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning is decisive incomprehending how and why students react emotionally to a wide arrayof stimuli and circumstances. The students may develop anger orhatred towards peer learners or teachers, phobia to a certain courseor school, or infatuation with another individual. Another usefulperspective in this paradigm is the social learning theory, whichclarifies that people learn by observing others, and developing aself-directed belief that they are capable of executing the task.Such knowledge acquisition process may manifest in a class thatacknowledges group discussions and assignment presentations (Olson,2015). Therefore, in the model of behaviorism, the pedagogies, andthe school environment must be modeled in such a way that all theemotional reactions of the students are positive and supportive ofhigh-level performance.

Second,cognitivism paradigm comprises education theories which stress onmental activities and the comprehension of complex information.Rather than the stimulus-based behavioral learning, Schunk et al.(2012) asserted that cognitivism operates on the basis ofinformation-processing metaphor in which skill acquisition isperceived to happen from within the learner to the outside. Hence,the issues of the awareness of students to their learning, ability toreflect, and the capacity to supervise and manage their learningindependently are vital. Hence, the introduction of online educationunder the umbrella of the cognitive theory of multimedia learning hastaken central stage in the 21st century. Other conceptual frameworksof cognitivism include the attribution, expertise, elaborate, andfunctional context theories.

Anotherparadigm is the constructivism, which anchors the social andsituational theories. As the world plunged into a rather complexlearning environment composed of cultural diversity, there was apressing need to include both the social and material dimension inthe curricula. That’s because the world came to terms with the factthat learning process shares a distribution of several people, orenvironmental affordances (computers, textbooks, and calculators),and situated within a community of practice (i.e. a blended group oflearners with differing backgrounds). For instance, as much as thelearner may be able to use a calculator (material) to solve a mathproblem, the inclusion of another student in that process, i.e.social consideration, will facilitate the learning procedure (Olson,2015). Therefore, constructivism theories direct the educationpractitioners to create an environment of social or cultural balanceand material use, and to ensure that there is sound collaborationbetween the students for high-level performance. Included under thisparadigm are social development, communities of practice,problem-based learning, and the situated learning theories amongothers.

Finally,the 21st-century skills paradigm clusters the U.S concepts regardingexperiences to be mastered by the students so as to keep pace withthe rapid technological advances of the digital age. Hence, traineesare required to get in touch with digital literacy, contentknowledge, innovation skills, and media literacy. Specifically, aconcise list of skill areas to be observed by the educationpractitioners are massed under the areas mentioned above and detailedas follow. First, Olson (2015) noted that technology/mediaexperiences include information and media literacy. Second, coresubjects under this paradigm include language arts (English), math,science, humanities, and arts. Third, career skills recognized areleadership/responsibility, adaptability/flexibility,social/cross-cultural experience, productivity/accountability, andinitiative/self-direction. Finally, the skills of innovation arecritical thinking, communication, problem-solving, creativity, andcollaboration. All the districts and the teaching fraternity aredirected to observe the above competence areas in the U.S as capturedin the P2 framework in order to ensure high-level school performances(Olson, 2015). However, as it is, some schools are stillunderperforming in the U.S regardless of the above theories, and alot more uncovered. The question, therefore, is, “what are thecauses of underperforming schools in the United States?

Causesof Underperforming Schools

Thereasons why schools underperform in the U.S are complex,multifaceted, and interrelated, and that has exacerbated andcompounded the challenge in the country. Hence, many initiativesmeant to avert the problem on the assumption that teachers were lesscompetent have reported acute failure. As much as there is polarizeddebate regarding the side to blame for this state, it is undeniablethat both the schools and the society have contributed fair doses ofinput as far as the underperformance is concerned. The schoolfraternity, with their hiked tuition charges and mismatchedpedagogies, alongside the society’s social and racial inequality(i.e. socio-economic disparities), will continue to affect theeducation outcomes of the U.S negatively. These situations areexplicitly discussed in the ensuing subthemes:


Thesocial and economic characteristics of the student are decisive inbuilding their cognitive and behavioral outcomes, yet the educationstakeholders in the U.S seem to disregard these non-school factors incausing underperformances. More often, the policymakers concentrateon better schools and the recruitment of competent trainers to closethe achievement disparity, which has in many cases, proved less thancounterproductive. However, the one inevitable reality is thatsocio-economic backgrounds of students continue to dictate howschools perform in this culturally diverse country, and these areasare discussed under the following subtitles:

Parentalpractices:Some practices by the parents have been identified as mainimpediments to the intellectual and behavioral growth of children inthe United States. First, Ladd (2012) argued that lower-social-classparents are withdrawn from most activities that support learning,such as reading aloud or engaging in games that stimulate cognitivedevelopment. Moreover, such parents are more authoritative to theextent that the school-age children are spared fewer choicesregarding their routine associations, and that affects how preparedthe children become in fulfilling the critical thinking necessity inthe P2 framework of the U.S pedagogy. In the year 2011, a survey bythe Department of Education for Early Childhood research on race andsocial class discrepancy and parenting practices provideddisheartening results. According to Ayoub etal.(2009), the study indicated that the white (who are actually mediumto high-income earners) provide an average of 112 books to supportchild education, while the black parents make only an average of 44such provisions. Moreover, it was determined that the white parentslead their black counterparts with a margin of 36% in sparing time toread books to their developing children, and three times extra timesocializing with them. In terms of socioeconomic status, the whitesare way ahead of the African Americans, and can afford to spend timeand resources on their children. Consequently, children developdistinct numeric and language skills, and by the time they areenrolled in schools, the consequences of social learning (at home)manifest, which the children of the whites showing better skills invocabulary and interaction. So, in states with large populations ofthe people of color such as NY, schools will continue to performdismally until the government finds a way to close the social andeconomic gap among the diverse races of the U.S.

Incapabilityto Access Health Care, Security, and Education Services:Children from poor households, and those with parents with loweducation levels as well as the minority individuals, are not in aposition to benefit from health care services as required.Consequently, they suffer from constant absenteeism related tofrequent illnesses that could otherwise be prevented if the familywas financially stable. Unfortunately, Ladd (2012) observed that mostof the casualties to this service inequality are the Blacks and theHispanics as allied to their poverty-stricken status quo. Worsestill, they are socially isolated and placed in schools mostlydominated by the people of color, and such schools often registerlow-quality education on an annual basis.

Statistically,the proportions between whites and the blacks concerning access tohealth care are significantly different. The whites atop the blackswith 95% access, leading their colleagues by 6 percent margin, andthe same trend is noted in terms of household security, where thewhites lead the African Americans by 5%, with a privilege of 93percent safety (Ayoub etal.,2009). Furthermore, regarding parental education background, anaverage of 11 percent more white individuals attend schools to thelevel of colleges compared to the people of color. These dichotomoushave severe manifestations in the performance of some schools in theU.S, especially those dominated by the bilingual none-native Englishspeakers. In Chicago, for example, children aged four years missed 7%of their courses in the year 2011 due to illness as compared to 3% ofthe white peer category (Ayoub etal.,2009). That impacted the scores of several schools in the Stateduring the national assessment tests at the end of the years, inwhich several learning institutions were dotted as underperformers.Just like different diseases like asthma can adversely affect theperformance of learners even if they attend lessons, so can thesecurity status of the household and education levels of parents. Itis unlikely that children who feel insecure and uncared for willemotionally collaborate in the coursework, hence the reportedfailures in schools such as those in the NY where cultural diversityhas taken central stage.

SingleParenting:The mostly reported single mothers in the U.S are low-income earners,less educated, and African-American in nature. The children theyraise normally record dismal test scores, report increased incidencesof dropping out of schools, and have tangible emotional andbehavioral constraints characterized by considerable juveniledelinquency. According to Menken &amp Solorza (2014), the 2013census indicated that out of the 24% of children living with singlemothers, 51% constituted the blacks, while the whites only made up aproportion of 18%. With respect to cognition, it has been indicatedthat 30% of teenagers under single-parenthood households repeatgrades, end up with frustrations related to low performance, and maydrop out of schools. That is because this group of parents cannotafford study materials to help reinforce the specifications of thetheories of constructivism which calls for the provision of materialsand collaboration as key factors of academic success. Such materialsunlikely to be provided include the computers, attire, and books.Additionally, there is little supervision for children raised bysingle mothers, and that reduces the possibility of social learningthrough conditioned response. The stresses that confront singleparents (economic and prejudice) do not place them in a betterposition to train their children. Moreover, children also facebullying from their peers, and that thwarts the chances ofcollaboration or teamwork in a classroom setting (Ladd, 2012). Hence,schools that register more children from single-parent familiesautomatically under-perform because the emotional status and materialposition of such young individuals do not favor them to meet therequirements of the curricula.

Pedagogicaland Technology

Inthe wake of the 21st century, the world has plunged into a phase ofcharacteristic technology innovation, with such complex devices ascomputers already in place to enhance communication and data storageand analysis. With the creation of the internet platform, mostAmerican schools are transforming and reorienting to include onlineeducation as their major pedagogical or curriculum tool.Traditionally, the face to face learning has reigned for manydecades, and in which students interacted one-on-one with theirtutors, engaged in discussion forums meant to build confidence andskills, sat assessments which were under thorough supervision, andcompleted homework within a specified time-frame. However, mostinstitutions in the U.S are shifting away from this paradigm to theweb-based one, where learners work at their own leisure and fromhome, take course instructions online, and so their tests the sameway (Daymont, Blau &amp Campbell, 2011). As much as the new modelseems to work to the convenience of the students and impartingtechnology skills, it has been a major cause of underperformance inschools owing to a number of reasons:

ReducedInterpersonal Skills Development:The success of the traditional learning paradigm in impartinginterpersonal skills of confidence, literacy, and numeracy cannot beoverwritten. Often, discussion forums and collaborations present thelearners with the opportunity to speak and enhance their languageskills and to engage other individuals in practicing and solvingtechnical issues related to math and science. However, in thetechnologically-oriented paradigm of the 21st century adopted by theU.S, Howley, Wood &amp Hough (2011) observed that the internet-basedstudents do not interact one-on-one with their colleagues andtrainers. They are directed to obtain assignments online, completethe tasks at their own pace, and submit through the same platform.While the idea of leisure has sounded very appealing to themodern-day trainees, who are also familiar with the technology, itruins the chances of trainees to acquire the interpersonal skillsstated above. Hence, even if they successfully graduate and join thejob market, their competence levels remain below average, and thatresults in the ranking of the schools from which they trained as lowperforming (Daymont etal.,2011). Notwithstanding, most of the underperforming learninginstitutions in the U.S are those that have redefined theirstructures and strategies to offer online courses strictly. Suchweb-based schools, however, lack the appropriate technologicalexpertise aimed to shift from the constructivism model to theinstructivist type the low-level performances will, therefore, bewitnessed in the future if no corrective responses are brought forth.

Lackof Student Motivation:Motivation is a prerequisite to knowledge acquisition and growth. Itis highly exploited in the traditional model whereby students tackletheir assignments, do presentations, and receive positive criticismmeant to correct their errors or weaknesses. Moreover, there is abond that establishes between the learners and trainers, and thathelps in creating an atmosphere of excellence in which either of theparties is willing to disappoint the other. However, with theadoption of the P2 framework, Daymont etal.(2011) clarified that it is feared that the U.S schools’performance levels are likely to deteriorate because the ratheronline directed approach places the learners to supervise theiracademic growth and complete tasks on the website independently. Withthis kind of strategy in place, such schools are criticized forgenerating a pool of graduates who are not capable of completingduties within schedule, and that can affect their employmentefficacies. Due to low job performances, the schools that constantlytrain such individuals are calibrated as dismal performers, and ofwhich the majority are those that are deeply rooted in offeringonline study programs.

Lackof Memory and Learning Development:The face-to-face model is pedagogy is characterized by a focusedgroup of trainees who thoroughly concentrate on and internalize thecontents of the course in fear of failing if they do otherwise, andthat is because tight supervisions are in place to prevent cheating.Besides, the concepts of numeric and literary learning are wellsupported in the traditional curricula, and students acquire math,science, and language skills, and also score high in these subjects.Physical materials such as the dictionary and flashcards areavailable, and are properly and collaboratively utilized by studentsto gain impeccable content memory or cognition at the end of training(Howley etal.,2011). On the other hand, the current era technology pedagogies inthe U.S are overturning the situation. The learners, often excitedwith the fact that their physical presences are not required, becomesluggish in the way they treat the course materials. Moreover, theyenjoy an open freedom of no supervision during the assessment(Daymont etal.,2011). That in itself has propagated a culture of less commitment inthe proliferating technology-based online institutions, and the morethey are established in the U.S (without a proper strategy forsuccess), the higher the incidences of low-level performances to beregistered in the country’s learning organizations.

Expensive:In traditional settings, the students are not required to own suchcomplex devices as computers, or to purchase many textbooks often,there is a library that houses all these materials, and meant to beused by the poor and well-off trainees without prejudice. However,the current online learning calls for the possession of a computer byevery trainee when in actuality, the issue of socio-economicimbalances in the U.S. does not enable some students to purchase thedevice (Daymont etal.,2011). That is how discriminating the web-based learning has provento be for the minority and low-income earners who, if enrolled insuch programs, are likely to score dismally in the assessments.Additionally, Howley etal.(2011) concluded that the privilege of a trainee consulting theprofessor whenever the course material presents a challenge (as longas one is in the school environment) is not part of internet-basedlearning, and that impedes the academic excellence in online schools.That trend is projected to continue with the low-level scores if nointerventions are urgently conceived and adopted to ensure that thesystem operates on quality pedagogical designs that meet all theknowledge acquisition needs of the students.

PoorTeacher Training

Apartfrom the issues of online versus traditional education andtechnology, the United States’ learning fraternity has alsoreported high incidences of students enrolling for teacher educationprograms in the Universities and colleges usually have poor scores onACT and SAT assessments. According to Hargreaves&amp Fullan (2012), surveysby the Educational Testing Service (ETS) regarding SATs indicate thatthe high school trainees aiming to major in education in the U.S.have lower mean results compared to their peer students with arts andscience ambitions. These low scores follow the teachers undertraining in college, and some of them graduate with the incompetenceto handle students as reflected in individual performances.Unfortunately, it is thought that the traditional certificationsupports the recruitment of a majority of the academically low-gradetutors because its focus is to meet the requirement of courses inpedagogy, not the educational content. Once they are employed, theunions and tenure defend their rights, and it is challenging to laythem off. Consequently, all the schools in which such teachersoperate record low-level performance that is observed in the countrytoday.


Fromthe above considerations, it is patent concluded that the U.S is amidstruggles to create a balance between academic excellence,technology, and socio-economic disparities. Consequently, theoutcomes of education contrast dramatically across the learninginstitutions of the United States. Whereas some schools registerhigh-level performances in the national tests scores, decades ofunderperformance confronts others. The reasons for such lowperformances are complex, multifaceted, and interrelated, and thathas exacerbated and compounded the challenge in the country. Twoleading drivers of dismal results are categorized into society andschools factors. Regarding society, the serious socio-economicdifferences brought about by race and income imbalances has played anincisive role in the failure of schools. Hence, single parents cannotmeet the education needs of their children, low-income households donot support literacy and numeric skill development through sociallearning at home, and the lack of healthcare has resulted in elevatedlevels of absenteeism. Finally, the advent of technology has seenmost of the schools in the U.S shift to the paradigm of onlinelearning. However, the absence of clear strategies to change from theconstructivism approach in the face-to-face learning to theinstructivist web-based education has plunged the country into asystem of failure.


Indeed,underperformance in the U.S schools has become an area of seriouscontention of the last decade as much as it has become real. It is,therefore, the responsibility of the tripartite education players(teachers, parents, and the government) to unite in formulatingpolicies that will help turn the situation around. The following arekey areas of exploit for such endeavors:

1.The government should continue with its programs to over medicalcover to low-income families until a state of equilibrium is attainedregarding the accessibility of health care among the poor and thewealthy. That will help solve the high school absenteeism incidencesrecorded among the African American single parents and financiallychallenged households.

2.The government should closely supervise workplace institutions toensure that there is compliance with the provisions of AffirmativeAction or Employment Equity otherwise, the minority group and thepeople of color will continue to attract rewards that cannot supporttheir children’s learning and development programs.

3.Online education requires properly developed exploratory anddialogical pedagogy models to meet the cognitive, numeric, andliterary skill development. Unless schools are able to work in thesekey areas, the quality of education will remain low in most of thestates that offer web-based programs.

4.Finally, parents should be made aware of the need to engagejuveniles and school-age children in socialization, loud reading,games, toy modeling these are some of the key areas that wouldenhance their future vocabulary and numeric skills.


Ayoub,C., O’Connor, E., Rappolt-Schlictmann, G., Vallotton, C., Raikes,H., &amp Chazan-Cohen, R. (2009). Cognitive skill performance amongyoung children living in poverty: Risk, change, and the promotiveeffects of Early Head Start.&nbspEarlyChildhood Research Quarterly,&nbsp24(3),289-305.

Daymont,T., Blau, G., &amp Campbell, D. (2011). Deciding between traditionaland online formats: Exploring the role of learning advantages,flexibility, and compensatory adaptation.&nbspJournalof Behavioral and Applied Management,&nbsp12(2),156.

Hargreaves,A., &amp Fullan, M. (2012).&nbspProfessionalcapital: Transforming teaching in every school.New York, U.S.: Teachers College Press.

Howley,A., Wood, L., &amp Hough, B. (2011). Rural elementary schoolteachers` technology integration.&nbspJournalof Research in Rural Education (Online),&nbsp26(9),1.

Ladd,H. F. (2012). Education and poverty: Confronting theevidence.&nbspJournalof Policy Analysis and Management,&nbsp31(2),203-227.

Menken,K., &amp Solorza, C. (2014). No child left bilingual accountabilityand the elimination of bilingual education programs in New York Cityschools.&nbspEducationalPolicy,&nbsp28(1),96-125.

Olson,M. H. (2015).&nbspAnintroduction to theories of learning.Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Schunk,D. H., Meece, J. R., &amp Pintrich, P. R. (2012).&nbspMotivationin education: Theory, research, and applications.New York, U.S: Pearson Higher Ed.

Sleeter,C. E. (2012). Confronting the marginalization of culturallyresponsive pedagogy.&nbspUrbanEducation,&nbsp47(3),562-584.

Woessmann,L. (2016). The importance of school systems: Evidence frominternational differences in student achievement.&nbspTheJournal of Economic Perspectives,&nbsp30(3),3-31.