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The Washington Times
June 11, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed — Discipline Matters

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Is your child distracted easily? For most parents of school-age children, the answer is an emphatic "yes."

It's well-known that children have shorter attention spans than adults. They like to jump from one thing to the next, and most have yet to learn the importance of self-discipline and time management.

Some parents have chosen homeschooling because their children have been unable to concentrate in traditional classrooms. There are just too many distractions.

Homeschooling provides a more focused environment where a child who wants to learn can learn. Most people accept that it can be difficult to learn in a public school environment, and a new study by a non-partisan public advocacy group, Common Good, backs this assertion. The study, titled "Teaching Interrupted: Do Discipline Policies in Today's Public Schools Foster the Common Good?" found that distractions and discipline problems in public school classrooms have a serious impact on the ability of teachers to teach and, by extension, the amount children learn.

There was considerable agreement among parents and teachers. Eighty-five percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents said they agreed "strongly" or "somewhat" that a few disruptive students caused most students to suffer. Teachers spent a significant amount of time dealing with troublemakers, which cuts into time focusing on the needs of students who want to learn.

Faced with a disruptive student, most people would resort to some form of discipline to restore the classroom to a place where learning can occur. Unfortunately, the study found that many teachers were afraid to enforce sensible disciplinary measures because children were quick to remind them of their rights and say their parents might sue. Fear of lawsuits has forced most school districts to impose extensive paperwork burdens on teachers to protect the school district from lawsuits.

The teachers and parents were well aware of the problems, and there also was consensus on the where solutions could be found. Disruptive students need to be removed from classrooms, parents need to be held accountable for the behavior of their children, school administrators need to back teachers in their discipline decisions, and the capacity of parents to file lawsuits needs to be curtailed.

Regrettably, the issue of poor discipline in public school has been with us for many years. The situation isn't improving, and though there is a consensus among parents and teachers, very little progress has been made. Despite the obvious problems, the extensive public school bureaucracy is either unable or unwilling to respond. This shouldn't surprise anyone because subsidized monopolies don't have to change. They can keep moving along the path of least resistance because, particularly in the case of schools, they will always stay in business.

Parents do have a choice, however. They can wait for sufficient public pressure to build on the school district until minor reforms are implemented, or they can send their children to private schools or homeschool.

In the face of a slow moving public system, more and more parents are unwilling to wait. They are making the decision to homeschool.

The homeschool environment is radically different from a public school classroom. The average child can, of course, be distracted in the home, but the parent and the child are in an environment where they can better focus on education.

Homeschool results speak for themselves. The average homeschool student scores 20 to 30 percentile points above the average public school student on standardized tests.

Typically, homeschooling parents constantly encourage their children and spur them on to greater learning. Many troublemakers in public schools spend their time terrorizing other students. Children who want to learn are sidelined.

Homeschooling provides a constructive alternative to the discipline problems that plague public schools. The conditions inside public schools eventually may change, but it appears that many more parents are unwilling to wait. Homeschooling is the ticket to a better education.