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What’s Right With Our Schools?

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Politicians and the collective media like to point out the horror stories and slides of public education. After all, bad news makes for more readers/viewers. In the case of schools, not all publicity is good publicity. Really, all bad school news does is make people (including [especially?] media-people) make blanket statements about the condition of the whole educational system based on single incidents (much like this sentence).

And I’m not saying that the bad attention isn’t warranted. There are problems in the American education system, like rubber rooms in NYC, teachers betraying community’s trust and having illicit or inappropriate relationships with students, and teachers not doing their jobs. And the bad news is somehow even worse when it’s a teacher (or clergy or police), someone who’s supposed to protect. People not doing their jobs or taking advantage of underage kids don’t often make headlines when their job is in banking or marketing or computer programming or construction or even politics (heck, some of these people even get re-elected).

Fortunately, these terrible scandals are not the norm for most schools, public or private. And in terms of academics, most of these scandals aren’t applicable.

There must be something right with today’s education system, too.

According to the CIA Worldbook, 99% of Americans over the age of 15 are literate. That’s a pretty positive statistic. Reading is, obviously, not the end goal of all education and won’t make kids able to inherently function in modern society, but it’s a good start.

Okay, so we (by the way, who’s “we” anyway?) need to change our education because someone has deemed it to be not-working. Let’s figure out just how not-working our kids are… which means they should take some sort of test. Here’s an old (2010?) article from the NEA, but I really like the cartoon. I mean, how does testing actually boost school achievement? Here’s how the failing rate of schools looked in 2011:


As the Atlantic article also notes, this chart tells us nothing about how “failing” was calculated, nor what to do about it. Very different solutions are needed for schools that failed because of teacher incompetence versus lack of textbooks versus high-poverty area kids focusing on lunch rather than tests. And really, check out those numbers again. Nearly half of our schools across the country are failing? And in just six school years, the failure rate increased from 29% to 48%? How realistic is that? Maybe it’s the tests that aren’t accurately measuring our students’ successes.

One solution for avoiding public schools is to, well… avoid them. Getting rid of public schools (otherwise known as charter schools or voucher programs for private schools or computer installations), however, isn’t a proven solution at all. This article from Salon talks about the failure of “reform” tactics in public schools.

Our public schools do a lot of things correctly. If we, as a society, chose to celebrate the fabulous things they do and support all of the kids and teachers, and even administrators in there, I think we’d find a more invested society in the positive outcomes of the systems, rather than the unfortunate detractors that occasionally occur. Here‘s a nice list, based on research, of ways that parents and others in the community can reach out (reach into?) schools to provide kids with positive support.

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