Intervene on Struggling Students With Precision

Intervene on Struggling Students With Precision

In 1965, NASA began using two crawler-transporters to bring rockets to the launch pad. They each weigh six million pounds, and carry up to twelve million pounds. The crawler-transporter is still the largest self-powered land vehicle in the world. If you are reading from a list of solutions looking to transport something very heavy, without giving much thought it would be very easy to favor something like these. If anything can be transported by land, these vehicles can do it. Imagine people saying they want to spare no expenses in providing the best, and advocating something like this.

But the problem is...

  1. They cost $14 million each back in 1965.
  2. It burns 125.7 gallons of diesel fuel every mile.
  3. The max speed is just below 1 mph when carrying a shuttle.
  4. The thing needs a crew of nearly 30 highly skilled workers to operate.
On top of all of that, they also need infrastructure designed around them to fit their enormous width and weight, using two 40 foot wide lanes filled with river rocks and a 50 foot median between them.

It is obvious that certain capabilities like these come with enormous associated costs. It would be unthinkable to use these for all transportation needs considering how unnecessarily slow, expensive, and demanding on infrastructure and crew they are compared to the other options. Instead of using one of these for a project, people could use something more like 1,000 dump trucks with similar or even less resources. If they need to launch a rocket, the crawler-transporter system is still there in Cape Canaveral operating as it was.

In education, it is often insisted upon that we spare no expense in providing the best but usually as a consequence the reach is limited, and many times what looks good to people, being the most complicated, hardest to train, highest tech, taking the longest time… is not even the method for the job. The top of the line crawler-transporter for instance would fail if it had to quickly transport a load across a long distance, let alone to take a budget and achieve that goal thousands of times over. Spend a trillion dollars and the crawler-transporters still won’t accomplish what some trucks can do.

Why is it that this consideration of precision and purpose does not make it to more emotionally charged topics like the education of children? Children’s success in education is sometimes a lot harder to pinpoint and be held accountable toward than something as purely quantitative as moving a pile of dirt. That does not mean it cannot be measured, and indeed quantitative measurement is of the utmost importance. When solving a problem is both more complicated and more emotionally charged, the notion of efficiency sometimes goes up in smoke because the idea of “cutting corners” would be a moral betrayal of the children. Wishing for it, however, does not make much more money come in, and even in rare cases with nearly unlimited resources, that data-insensitive set of motivations would still lead to avoidable failures. Successful results depend even more on approach than they do on resources.

Of course cheap solutions can sometimes fail to reach what is needed even more often than expensive options. But how do people determine if they are wastefully and slowly moving common truckloads with crawler-transporters or if they really have a rocket and actually need one? That requires the frequent collection of data in the classroom, and an appropriate plan in response. Many students in our experience begin with very poor reading skills and would certainly test deficient and struggle in school, but become remediated at a rapid pace when they are given the Great Leaps reading intervention. For this tragically large and easily preventable population of students, more intensive instructional methods designed for severely dyslexic students would demand more highly trained school resources than exist, and only slow their progress. Often the limitation of options considered leads to many struggling students receiving no one-on-one reading intervention at all, when it could be done in minutes with volunteers or paraprofessionals!

Why is it that there is a shamefully large population of non-readers who are quickly remediated when given a relatively cheap intervention?

School systems are lacking in precision and it is the resources they already have which are not being utilized appropriately. Willing volunteers fill the communities. Education paraprofessionals sometimes fill the copy rooms or wait around looking at their phones, and other times may be occupied with tasks which do not translate to student results. Students fall through the cracks. It was with heavy consideration of what resources are already available that Great Leaps was created. Students can be pulled individually from their regular or special ed classes and only miss 15 minutes of instruction, and the program is proven to be effective with quickly trained paraprofessionals and volunteers. The cost is small compared to what schools are already spending, or what neglect will cost our students themselves down the road, and it pays off quickly when students regain confidence as they reach the skills necessary to actually keep up with and benefit from their normal classes.

In the larger scheme of things Great Leaps is a solution for a very common and terrible problem, but not the solution for everybody or everything, and it is an entire change of mindset necessary for our school systems to be able to precisely target all of the different problems faced. A concerned parent with considerable wealth could afford their child expert private tutoring for any and all subjects, but few people have this wealth and the school system certainly does not have that funding or depth of highly trained staff available for everyone. We could sit around wishing for or even demanding a crawler-transporter type solution for all students, or we could measure and look at data, identify specific problems, and advocate flexible solutions using the resources available. Children are falling through the cracks and we need to act now.

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