Fix Education Now!

Every time I hear the President say something like "The goal of the administration is to assure that every child has access to a complete and comprehensive education, from the day they are born to the day they begin their career" (State of the Union, 2009), I wonder why it's taking so long. 

Later (March 2010), Obama expanded on his theme:

In pockets of excellence across this country we're seeing what children from all walks of life can and will achieve when we set high standards[.] ... [But] politics and ideology have too often trumped our progress.

Obama blames the Democrats for opposing extra pay for teaching excellence and the Republicans for opposing funding for early childhood education.  He honestly believes that if our education dollars are spent how he chooses to spend them, then the problem will be solved.

While these solutions might be worth trying once the major problem is addressed, as solutions of first choice, they fail miserably.  Obama seems to understand this; in his 2011 State of the Union, he said this:

[A]s many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. ... And so the question is whether all of us -- as citizens, and as parents -- are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child.

Bottom line: if Obama's proposals fail, it's the parents' fault.

When it comes to education, this administration, along with education elites, is ignoring the elephant in the room: the absence of classroom discipline.  Teachers lack adequate authority to establish and maintain an orderly atmosphere where learning can happen.  The result is that too often, students are not being provided "access to a complete and comprehensive education."

Let's shine a light on two "pockets of excellence" where our children are receiving exceptional educations.

The first story was shared by a friend, Sue (not her real name), who had two children in school in a relatively poor section of Tacoma, Washington, where 77 percent of the children were from families receiving government assistance.  Sue was concerned about her son, who was having difficulty learning to read.  She volunteered as a teaching assistant in a variety of the school's classes.

Sue moved to a different neighborhood the next year, where 48 percent of the children were on public assistance.  The major difference in the demographics of the two neighborhoods was that the initial school had 40 percent minorities, while the new school had only 10 percent.

After Sue's children had been in the new school for about a year, I called to see how things were going, especially regarding her son's reading.

He's doing great[.] ... What made the difference was the amount of classroom time a teacher has to spend on discipline. Previously the time spent on discipline was, conservatively, at least 70 percent. In their new school, not one minute of class time is ever spent on discipline. And that has made all the difference in the world.

The children in Sue's new school are getting three times the education just because discipline is under control.

What might be the result if total discipline was established in a class of low-performing minority students from families subsisting on government assistance?

That question was answered when my "adopted" grandson, Adnan Barqawi, was offered the opportunity to spend two years in the "Teach for America" program.

Adnan is an extraordinary young man, a Palestinian Arab who immigrated to the U.S. at seventeen to attend Virginia Tech, joined the Corps of Cadets, and then rose to be regimental commander of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (the first Muslim ever to lead a university ROTC program).  After graduating with honors and many awards, Adnan received his U.S. citizenship and gave the keynote address at the 2009 Virginia Republican Convention.  He aspires to become a U.S. senator from Virginia.

Adnan was sent to a school in Marianna, Arkansas, where over 90 percent of the students in his fifth-grade class are from families on government assistance.  His first impression upon entering the classroom was one of complete chaos.  He struggled with a solution and finally decided to install the same discipline that he had learned in the Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets.  Everyone was expected to say, "Good Morning, Mr. Barqawi" when they arrived and have their homework completed by class time.  If they didn't, they had to sit on the floor; desks were reserved for students who had completed their work.  Adnan accepted no excuses.  Discipline in his classroom was maintained, period.

That first fifth-grade class started out at a second-grade reading level, scoring in the low 30th percentile for fifth grades statewide.  When the 2009 fall semester was completed, the class average was in the 90th percentile, and all of the students were reading close to grade level or above.  This was a phenomenal accomplishment, to be overshadowed only by the achievement of Adnan's fall 2010 fifth-grade class.

This class started out with the same issues as the previous class.  However, this time around, Adnan was limited to teaching science and math subjects.  In Arkansas, all fifth-grade students take a state-administrated science proficiency exam.  Adnan's class average score for this statewide exam was 97.5 percent, the top fifth-grade class in the entire state.

This does not happen by accident.  It demands everything President Obama mentioned: "high standards," "high expectations," and providing every student with a "complete and comprehensive education."  However, Adnan will tell you, none of this is possible until discipline is established.

Why do we, as a nation, allow this situation to continue?  The main problem lies with the education elites, who are too focused on their "ideology" and not on the reality of what goes on in many classrooms across America.

Adnan's solution is simple but firm.  Initially, the students are hesitant to go up against their new teacher, and it is at this time that Adnan lays down the rules for being a student in his classroom.  He is very careful to explain that it is to the students' advantage and for the sake of their future that he demands their commitment to this level of discipline.  Within a week or two, the students are already seeing results and have accepted fully that Adnan is committed to their success.

In two years and three classes, Adnan has not run into a child he couldn't reach.  Every one of his students has come around and ended up excelling, including one student who held a loaded gun to Adnan's head the first day of class.  But that's a story for another time.

Solving the educational crisis in America involves a paradigm shift in the thinking of the administration and the educational elites.  Until they acknowledge this elephant in the room and deal with it, our classrooms can never be the conducive environments for learning that our children need to excel.  Let's give back to our teachers the authority to establish and maintain discipline in the classroom.  Let's fix education now!

Contact Brad Fregger, or visit his website.
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