This morning's news is interesting: at the same time they are talking about the Obama's announcement of the big anti-bullying summit in September, hearings are underway that reveal up to 82% of our schools would be considered "Failing" under No Child Left Behind.
But, the reality is that they are related because both issues stem from a common cause.
This is one of the things I point out in my presentations on education reform that I am frequently called to do. In "Overcoming Failure to Educate," I show how there is one root cause for nearly every problem in education today. The types of things we're talking about are classroom size, teacher recruitment and retention, the achievement gap, bullying and other anti-social behavior, and even academic achievement.
You might be thinking that this "common cause" is "money," and you'd be wrong. None of this has to do with money...
As a matter of fact, if we dealt with the real root cause, we'd have plenty of money to do the things we needed to do in the classroom because we're bleeding money right and left. You see, the common cause we're talking about here is the problem with our kids social skills, character and behavior. Over the past 40 years, discipline in the classroom has been decreasing at steady and alarming rates. At the same time, we've been investing increasingly larger sums of money trying to educate our kids. Ordinary "disruptive" students in the class whose behavior isn't checked can become the same students who don't care about how they are hurting and taunting fellow classmates. Teachers who can't deal with the discipline problems anymore bail out of the education system, regardless of what you pay them. Students that come from low-income, minority or non-native cultures may not know what they need to in the way of interpersonal skills to be able to participate equally with the mainstream in the classroom, and they then are unable to compete equally in the job market.
When repeated studies show that teachers are losing 20/30/40% or more of productive classroom time due to unruly and disruptive students, that ruins the learning environment for all students. It costs the school system hundreds of billions of dollars annually, not to mention the related side-effects.
Yet, what do we typically do? We go to the end-result. If students aren't achieving, it must mean they need better curriculum, different assessments, longer school days or school year, or better teachers. All of this will most certainly require more money. To stop bullying we need better Zero Tolerance policies, more money for anti-bullying programs, or even tougher legislation. Can you see the dollar signs?
However, improving classroom productivity by improving students' social skills does not require more money because the money is already there...it's just "lost" right now due to waste. And, as the recent research from the University of Chicago showed, implementing social skills education directly results in higher academic achievement as well as improvements in student behavior and reductions in discipline problems.
We've seen these results with SocialSmarts so I have first-hand experience with this. It's not an anomaly either; results are consistent across a wide-variety of demographics, geographical regions, and types of schools. Our kids just have lost the ability to understand why school is a place where you sit still, are quiet as appropriate, pay attention and be respectful. As I've been quoted in the past, "Johnny will never learn to read if Johnny won't sit down, hush up, and pay attention."
I just don't see too many people talking about the issue at the root cause level and I wonder why. If we dealt with things where they start, we'd find we get a lot more done, more efficiently, and with better overall results. Yes, we'll have exceptions, but then we have the ability to deal with them as exceptions instead of the norm. I know governments aren't know for their efficiency -- that's like saying "jumbo shrimp" -- but these are our tax dollars and our children, for crying out loud.
Mr. Secretary of Education, I would love to take 1/2 an hour of your time, share what I have to say, and have you explain to me why I don't have a valid point. But, the good news is I have more than a point...I have a solution. I'm willing to let you in on it so maybe this administration can be successful in its education plans, instead of another one we look back on as a failure.