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How Are Our Schools Doing? Jack Schneider Reports They are Doing MUCH Better Than Most People Believe!

October 21, 2018

Both Valerie Strauss and Diane Ravitch cross posted a recent article by UMass professor Jack Schneider that describes how America’s public schools are REALLY doing…. and the answer is that they are doing surprisingly well.

Mr. Schneider offers an analysis of polls on public schools and NAEP test scores and comes to the conclusion that the American public’s perception of public schools in general has taken a hit because of national policy, not because of any substantial decline in overall performance as measured by standardized tests. He writes:

It seems, then, that abstract perceptions of schools — the nation’s schools — have suffered, while satisfaction with actual schools remains fairly constant. Today, roughly one-third of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the nation’s public schools — a massive falloff from the early 1970s, when nearly two-thirds expressed such positive views. Meanwhile, nothing appears to have changed for the worse…

it seems that national reform rhetoric has driven the decline in perceptions of school quality.For the past several decades, Americans have been inundated with messages about a crisis in public education. In 1983, the authors of “A Nation at Risk” claimed: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Signing NCLB into law in 2002, President George W. Bush spoke of a need to “free families from failure in public education.” And in a recent address, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lamented the fact that, according to results from the Program for International Student Assessment, “the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math.”

Politicians are not alone. Policy advocates and philanthropists routinely decry the state of American public education, generally as a prelude to their prescribed reforms. The XQ “Super School” project, for instance — a venture funded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs — explained its objective by making the case that we need to “scrap the blueprint and revolutionize this dangerously broken system.” One can’t even open a book about education without being told how bad things are. A quick search on the Google Books Ngram Viewer indicates that the likelihood of encountering the phrase “failing schools” was 100 times greater in 2008 than it was in 1975.

Given the fact that there is no evidence that school performance has declined overall since 1975,  Mr. Schneider is skeptical that a wholesale shake-up of schools is needed. Instead, he sees that the schools who struggle the most today are the same schools that struggled in the past and they need something more than a structural change:

…sweeping, large-scale reform is hardly the remedy for what ails our most vulnerable schools — the schools where our poorest and least advantaged students are all so often concentrated together. Disruption, which is so highly lauded in the private sector, is exactly what those schools don’t need. Instead, what they need is courageous policy addressing issues like school integration and compensatory funding.

But integration and higher taxes are not on either party’s radar, nor are they issues that the public at large values. Mr. Schneider concludes his article with this indictment of our country’s moral failings:

But America’s schools don’t merely reflect our nation’s material prosperity. They also reflect our moral poverty. Our schools are simultaneously an embrace and a refusal, revealing exactly who is included and who isn’t. Most of us can say our children are getting a great education. Yet whose children are “ours”? What do they look like? Where do they rest their heads at night?

Reform rhetoric about the failures of America’s schools is both overheated and off the mark. Our schools haven’t failed. Most are as good as the schools anyplace else in the world. And in schools where that isn’t the case, the problem isn’t unions or bureaucracies or an absence of choice. The problem is us. The problem is the limit of our embrace.

Perhaps, then, a reset is in order. Instead of telling a largely untrue story about a system in decline — a story that absolves us of any personal responsibility — we might begin telling a different story: about a system that works. It works to deliver a high-quality education to those we collectively embrace. And it works in a different way for those we have collectively refused. When a school fails, it is because we have failed.

We HAVE failed the children raised in poverty, especially those children of color and those children who are not from our country even though they are of our country. And when democracy fails to provide for ALL of its citizens, it cannot succeed in the long run. Mr. Schneider is right: The problem is us. The problem is the limit of our embrace.

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