Building a strong education foundation

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I was honored this past week to participate in a panel discussion of sorts designed to explore ways to improve a community in all aspects from jobs to health care delivery to education and crime.

Among the takeaways from that lively give-and-take was the universal agreement that a solid educational foundation was the key element to a community's success.

But education today faces a host of challenges both old and new. The general agreement was that there are underachievers and overachievers within public education and the challenge is exactly how to tailor learning to address both levels of student achievement.

Put simply, there are no pat answers yet that is the challenge teachers face daily.

Three elementary schools in St. Louis, primarily in low-income districts, have instituted a new approach for younger students that bans out-of-school suspensions for disruptive behaviors in pre-school through the third grade.

There has been a national push for the past three decades to suspend disruptive students to give the remaining children an improved learning environment.

All of those home suspensions - and there have been thousands - are for behavior that is either violent or sufficiently disruptive to make learning for the remaining students virtually impossible.

So now, these three schools are employing in-school suspensions for disruptive students.

Statistics are clear on the subject. Suspended students have a much greater chance of failing to complete their education and many more than the general student population end up within the criminal justice system.

There is a major movement nationally as well as in Missouri to greatly expand early childhood education in an attempt to address these problems earlier in the child's development.

But Missouri voters last month soundly defeated a cigarette tax that would have funded more early childhood education programs.

I am lackluster on this push for expanded early childhood programs because I'm uncertain if educators should replace parents at this early age.

But like everyone else, I'm also receptive to any alternative that will boost student achievement especially among this growing problem student population.

What is woefully missing in this entire argument is the role of parents in their child's education.

We too often talk about the failures of the public education system while we largely ignore the home environment that fosters this behavior.

Educators in Missouri will closely monitor this St. Louis experiment for unruly students in the hope this in-school suspension program is effective.

But eventually, society must face the reality that the foundation for school achievement starts in the home and not in the classroom.

Until we accept that stark reality, we'll continue to put a bandage on a wound that requires alternative solutions founded on personal responsibility and accountability in the home.

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