Forum: Too many kids aren’t ready to learn, to the harm of all

When parents send kids to school to have teachers ‘fix’ them, it drags education down for all.

By Ron Friesen / Herald Forum

If we were doing 70 mph down the freeway, but unbeknownst to us, there was a wall blocking the road a mile ahead, what would we do? Once we became aware, wouldn’t we use every skill and resource at our disposal to avoid a horrific crash? News flash! Wall approaching!

We still have a choice, but not for long.

I volunteer in one of Marysville School District’s middle schools. The staff is incredibly dedicated, highly competent and basically having to work with one hand tied behind their backs, and sometimes even both hands. There is a single, massive problem which is easy to define, but incredibly hard to fix. It has nothing to do with curriculum, teacher experience or shabby buildings. The reading and math scores which evaluate schools only show the results of this problem without identifying the causes.

The problem? Too many students come to school to deliberately not learn. Yes. Deliberately.

In a theoretical class size of only 25, it was not unusual to have one, or maybe two students struggling to pay attention and follow directions. Reports now from teachers everywhere in our region is they now feel “lucky” if there are only five students with problems. It is not unusual for there to be eight or 10. Per class. How can the other students learn effectively?

The best staff with best buildings, best curriculum, and best administration in the world cannot raise student scores if they are unable to even get a student’s attention. When students totally disengage from the learning process and revert to attention-getting behavior, learning for all the other students stops. Students actually trying to learn are defeated. Test scores go down.

Parents are sending record numbers of dysfunctional students to school for schools to ”fix.” When schools can’t, and when it is difficult to engage the parents in problem-solving solutions, schools get the blame. Where are the parents? Where is the state? Where are all the counselors and paraprofessionals needed to help? Where are our incredibly unhelpful legislators? Not available.

These students are just as learning disabled as those diagnosed for special education services. But there is nothing to address these students’ severe needs in a comprehensive way. And even if there were, our state’s funding system doesn’t even fully support existing special education needs. Only wealthy districts who pass large tax levies can afford to fund all their students’ needs. The rest of the “regular” districts are out in the cold in total defiance of our state’s constitutional mandate for equal education opportunity. Post-pandemic, the needs have skyrocketed. Say “hello” to the imminent crash.

Our schools are well prepared to teach students who are ready to learn. We can identify students who because of a disability have difficulty learning, and schools have made a lot of progress despite poor state funding. But students who come to school with the deliberate intention to not learn anything, including how to work with and cooperate with others, are overwhelming classes, teachers, counselors, the main office, the school, and the district. We keep trying to use bandages to fix broken legs.

So where does this leave us? Our social services, our streets, and our jails will soon be overwhelmed by dysfunctional people when they leave school, without graduating. We could wait 10 years for a solution after we hit the wall. Or, we could see the wall, hit the brakes, help our schools now, and watch test scores skyrocket. Seems pretty clear. Pay now for win-win, or pay later, big time, for a lose-lose. It’s a choice, and it’s our responsibility.

Our schools say everything about who our community is. Believe what you see and don’t expect someone else to wave a magic wand. Ignoring the problem just makes the crash more certain. Buckle up.

Ron Friesen is a longtime Marysville resident, a retired music teacher and community and church musician and is committed to community improvement.

Herald Forum

The Herald Forum invites community members to submit essays on topics of importance and interest to them. Essays typically are between 400 and 600 words in length, although exceptions for longer pieces can be made. To submit essays or for more information about the Herald Forum, write Herald Opinion editor Jon Bauer at jon.bauer@heraldnet.com or call him at 425-339-3466.

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