"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Myth of the Failing Public Schools

This morning Diane Ravitch posted A Frightening Vision of the Future, in which she commented about a post by David Warlick from last June.

Warlick's article posed some disturbing projections about not only the privatization of public education, but the concentration of power over public education into relatively few corporate pockets.

One interesting aspect of his article is the discussion of myths regarding the failure of public education in America which have been accepted by the general public. He wrote...
We’re being convinced that:
  • The U.S. is falling behind other nations in education – that our schools are failing.
  • The success of schools and education can be precisely measured and quantified by a corporate testing industry and the constant testing of our children.
  • Teachers, protected by labor unions, do not know what they’re doing.
  • Business can do it better.
Warlick went on to say that...
Each of these are so easily debunked.
Warlick ends his article without debunking the myths which prompts a commenter, Paul, to ask him...
June 22nd, 2012 @ 9:22 am

I am interested in how you can easily debunk the 4 points. Schools appear to be failing. College has to re-mediate most incoming freshman, and businesses need to re mediate most incoming employees. Not to mention what is happening in the poor districts near me.

Public schools dumb down the masses and create compliant “acceptors” of whatever is put in front of them. Perhaps corporations will try to create innovative creative, thinkers. I am sure that is who they would rather hire.Or, are you subconsciously just protecting your job?
Warlick replied...and it is in his response that the important information from this article appears.
David Warlick reply on June 23rd, 2012:

@Paul, I’m glad that you’ve challenged me on this, because it gives me a chance to dig deeper into my own research and thinking.

First, and perhaps the most continually touted and thoroughly debunked rant, is that the U.S. embarrassingly trails behind other industrial nations in education, most often pointing at 2009 PISA scores. The fact is that in Math, the U.S., number 17, actually reported identical scores as Poland and Iceland, 15 and 16 — making us tied for 15th. If we might consider some small margin of error, say 2 points, then we also tie with Norway, Estonia and Switzerland, for position 12. Other countries within that margin of error are New Zealand and Japan, and Netherlands and Belgium, putting us in position 10. Like Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies! Damn lies! ..and statistics.”

If this sort of measure really were important, then we might dig deeper, comparing U.S. schools with specific poverty rates with other countries reporting similar rates. Then U.S. schools climb to or near number one in every range. Schools in the U.S. with fewer than 10% of their students living in or near poverty scored 551 on the PISA math test, second only to Shanghai, China. U.S. schools with between 10 and 25 percent in or near poverty scored 527, higher than Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, etc.

I agree that in many ways our schools are failing. But I do not acknowledge claims of failure based on measures from standardized tests. There are too many innovative, passionate and inspiring leaders around us, who did not pass tests in school. There is too much evidence of curricula that’s become too wide and too shallow, because of these tests, for me to believe anything other than, we must end them –– if we are to save education.

In fact, it is partly this belief that success can be measured with multiple-choice tests and their demand for regimented (and life-sucking) schools that prevents success. ‘nough said.

Certainly there are poor teachers – as there are poor engineers, electricians, farmers and bankers. But during a conversation I had recently with a group education leaders, all of whom had been principals at one time (in union states), they all agreed that firing a bad teacher is easy. It’s keeping the good ones that’s hard. I looked hard for a breakdown of individual states performance on the PISA and could not find any. I did find one report that correlated scores of another test with comparable PISA scores and Massachusetts and Vermont moved into positions 5 and 7, topped only by Shanghai, Korea, Finland Hong Kong and Singapore. Both states require collective bargaining. Of the five U.S. states that prohibit collective bargaining, only one showed up in the listing, North Carolina, dead last.

Teachers do need to be better prepared, with more study and more time in classrooms with good master teachers before they are given their own classrooms — and they need on-going and on-demand professional development. Teachers also need to be empowered as teacher-philosophers, not held accountable as teacher-technicians. In Finland, they do not talk about teacher accountability. Their conversation is about teacher responsibility.

Finally, business. Why should they be able to do it better? Does business not make mistakes. Does business not waste resources? Why should they know the answers any better than professional educators. In my consulting days, I worked with businesses in the education market, and they were just as clueless as everyone else. We do not need better run schools resulting in students who outscore the Chinese. We need different schools that are retooled to address a dramatically new environment. There’s no guarantee that Educators are much more qualified to accomplish this. But it’s where my money is.

(Emphasis added)
Debunked indeed.

[Two other commenters replied to @Paul, Mano Talaiver and Diane Ravitch. You can read their responses in the comments following the article.]

The truth must be told and told again. American public education is not failing...the vast majority of teachers are hard-working, dedicated professionals...teachers unions do not harm students and prevent bad teachers from being fired and the people who gave us the financial collapse of the last 4 years are not better at running schools that education professionals!

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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