I heard of a great win-win-win

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

By Francis Koster, Ph.D

For the Salisbury Post

Our kids go to public schools where the state legislature has provided annual funding per student of only $10,800 per student per year — a shocking 30 percent below the national average of $15,500. This has North Carolina ranked 48th in the for public K-12 student funding. 

Many people blame the teachers or the school administrators when the school system scores low in North Carolina Statewide Rankings. In most cases they are as much a victim as the kids, taking blame for circumstances they did not cause, and cannot solve.

There are many reasons that kids have difficulty learning — and a surprising number have to do with health issues like obesity, vision problems or poor hearing. We can fix this, but without adequate state funding it is very hard.

North Carolina has over one and a third million kids in our K-12 schools. Of those, around one-in-five has unrecognized and untreated hearing loss that lower learning. 

Grandpa, am I right when I say that that hearing loss is a continuing process? Sorry, Grandpa, I will speak louder. Am I right when I say that hearing loss is a continuing process?

Hearing loss starts earlier in life that most people realize, and often gets worse when the child approaches puberty. As they lose hearing, they lose some ability to learn.

This goes unrecognized unless a teacher notices the child leaning to hear classmates speak or sees a frequent confused look. If the teacher spots a potential issue, they can send the child to the school nurse — if there is one.

Our state has a goal of one school nurse for every 750 students, but for a number of reasons, including poor funding, we only have one nurse for every 833 students. 

Most states require that schools examine children’s hearing at least 5 times between kindergarten and graduation — but linked to our poor K-12 school funding, North Carolina does not. In North Carolina, schools are required only to routinely test kids when they enroll in public school for the first time. Unless they move to another school, that is the last time routine hearing testing is done.

In states where regular repeat testing of students hearing is required, the academic performance of the students go up, causing a rise in the ranking of the schools, and a powerful rise in the value the homes in that school district.

So how do we (you and I) solve this problem?

Along with the explosion of kid-oriented computers, online learning and kids with their own cell phones and laptop computers, there has been some new computer-based simple ways to survey for children’s hearing issues and spot them so the child can be sent to a real hearing specialist for professional care.

I am trying to set up a project for later this summer where some location like a children’s camp, church summer school, county fair or similar would be used to hold a survey of a large group of youngsters using these new electronic devices. My hope is that we can get some adult volunteers, including hearing professionals, (DID YOU HEAR ME?) to help us identify the best surveying tools, recruit volunteer older teenagers and adults to sit with the school-aged child, collect the hearing survey results and get the necessary paperwork from the parents so the results can be confidentially shared with them. 

If we can figure out how to do this (as other parts of America have), and we do a few small-scale projects later this summer, maybe we can get to work with parents and do more projects during next school year. The kids will be healthier, be more relaxed and easier to manage, learn more and fewer teachers will quit because of frustration with the issues caused by the low funding of schools.