Striking a balance

There's a lot to be said for the virtues of hard work. There's also much to be said against the dangers of over work. What is being lost in the conversation about falling performances in failing schools is: what is the responsibility of the student in all this?
In answering this question there are two different models to choose from. There is South Korea where students study so hard for so many hours each day, 7 days a week, that they have the highest level of depression in the OECD countries. Then there is Finland where the only studying is done in school, the only school work is done in school, and the children have the highest level of happiness among the OECD countries.
Somehow, students in the United States are neither happy, nor successful in their educational pursuits . What can we take from both systems to create a functional whole that will work in the United States with such a disparate and heterogeneous population?
South Korea offers us a lesson regarding what can be accomplished if you put the national nose to the grindstone. Maybe we don't have to go as far as South Koreans who attend after-schools up to 10pm at night, these academies are not like the new york tutoring academies that charge up to $400/hour. Here in the United States, there has been talk of lengthening the school day but not much has been done in that direction. And are we sure that simply lengthening the school day will make the sort of impact that we are looking for? And are we sure that the lessons from the Finnish school system when translated here in the United States will actually make an impact?
Educational scholars when quizzed about transplanting the Finnish system to the United States often respond that there are issues that the United States has that Finland just doesn't have. For example, the issue of child poverty. In Finland the social welfare system does a fantastic job of almost eradicating child poverty, so when students go to class they have only to worry about their school work and not other issues such as food, money, or safety. This is something that we are unable to replicate in the US.
Certain children have very real security concerns also in their neighborhoods. Some also within their very homes. There are even issues of violence within the schools, such that metal detectors have been in use frequently in neighborhoods that play host to a large proportion of criminal teenagers. What sort of pedagogy can account for that?
No matter what level of design goes into reforming the school system, it is always important to keep at the forefront the challenges that the students face on a daily basis. These challenges are unlike any faced by student in South Korea or by students in Finland.
Because crime and poverty are just not easily dealt with by the state, the responsibility for performance falls on the Family nevertheless.
Many parents do the best they can by attempting to check their children's work in the evening or by attempting to maintain communication with the teachers. Unfortunately, parents have a heavy workload some working two jobs or some just don't have the wherewithal to communicate in a way that is effective to ensure an increase in scholastic performance by their young students. Some who have means are able to afford expensive tutoring in new york.
New York City has implemented a new office called Parent Teacher coordinators. Each public school is assigned a parent teacher coordinator, who is meant to be a liaison between parents and teachers. But in order for parents to be made aware of this new post, and advantage of its existence, parents must be made to understand that they must take on a bigger role as concerns the educational development of their children. They cannot think that school is a magic box where they send their children, and they come out magically educated as is the case in Finland.

This proactive behavior must begin as early as possible - it cannot start when the student has already reached dire straits. There must be a culture of learning in the home that is nurtured well before the student is of school age. Certainly, families below a certain income have a difficult time setting aside opportunities to implement a strategy like this because it takes time and money. Time that they don't have since some are working multiple jobs, and money is earmarked for paying for necessities such as household bills and groceries.
Some may see this idea of reeducating parents is a long shot but there are numerous stories of nations successfully putting this idea through. South Korea only 60 years ago was practically an illiterate country until its leadership began the educational ramp up. Finland was just 40 years ago a simple agrarian economy until it borrowed its school structure from the Swedes, then added a lineup of theoretical educational innovations from the US. These same Ideas were ideas that american education never bothered to implement.
Even in the case of free education as is available in Finland, the US system cannot match up. In Finland, school is free and the schools are top quality. In South Korea, the public schools are the same quality as the private schools - meaning both are high quality. In the US, public schools in small pockets of affluent districts tend to perform on the level of private schools, but that's as good as it gets. Charter schools are starting to make a little bit of a positive impact in the public sector.