"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.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, December 21, 2017

It's Those Other Schools

How good are the public schools in your community? If you're a parent/guardian of a school child, or a teacher in the local schools, chances are you think your schools are pretty good.

If you don't work in a local school, or don't have children who attend local schools, how do you judge the quality of your local schools? Should you rely on news media reports? How about state test scores, or state A-F grades?


LOCAL SCHOOLS GOOD, NATIONAL SCHOOLS BAD

In the annual PDK Poll of the Public's Attitudes Towards Public Schools, published last September, seventy-one percent, almost three-fourths of public school children's parents/guardians, gave their local schools a grade of A or B. Parents of children who attend public schools are among the people who know the schools the best.

Local parents know that their children are more than test scores. They know the teachers, administrators, and staff. Their neighbors work in the cafeteria or on the custodial staff. They appreciate the hard work of school employees.

Why, then, do they ignore the same concepts when it comes to the quality of schools nationally? Only 24% give the nation's schools a grade of A or B. Those same parents who understand that the news media, or test-based school grades don't tell the whole story when it comes to their local community's school, believe the opposite when it comes to schools nationally.

EDUCATORS AGREE

Earlier this month, another survey was published. In this survey it was educators who were asked about the quality of public schools. The results were reported in Education Week's Educator Political Perceptions: A National Survey.

And, surprise! The educators responses were nearly identical to those of parents and guardians of public school students. American educators gave their local schools, the ones they worked in and knew the best, high grades, but nationally, not so much. Seventy-two percent gave their own school systems an A or B. Only 35% graded the nation's schools as an A or B.

From Education Week
Across the board, educators give the public schools in their district better grades than those in the nation as a whole. While 25 percent assign A’s to public schools in their districts, just 3 percent allot that grade to schools in the nation as whole. Clinton and Trump voters assign similar grades both to their own schools and the nation’s schools. Compared to teachers and school-based leaders, district leaders are slightly easier graders of both their districts’ schools and schools in the nation as whole. For example, 34 percent of district leaders assign their districts’ schools an A as compared to 24 percent of teachers and school-based leaders.
In other words, the folks who have the closest contact with schools, either as parents or professionals, grade their local schools high, but their opinions about schools nationally are much lower.

Mathematically, of course, this doesn't make sense. How can the majority of parents and educators "know" that the nation's schools are poor, when that same majority "knows" that their local schools are excellent? Where are all the "failing" schools if not in local communities nationwide? Where are all the "excellent" schools, if not in other people's local communities as well as ours?

There is, of course, a logical answer. People hear about all the "failing" public schools across the nation from the news media, pundits, and politicians. At the same time, they experience relief that their own public schools aren't anything like "those other schools."

Those people whose children attend public schools and those who work in local public schools know more about how the schools are run. They see the work that goes into them. They are the stakeholders. They realize that schools are not perfect – no human institution is – but they understand that schools are more than the sum of their parts.
  • children are more than test scores
  • teachers are more than their students' test scores
  • local schools are more than state grades
But, thanks to politicians, pundits, and policy makers, that understanding doesn't seem to extend to the public schools of the nation, as a whole.

WHO TO BELIEVE

My own local schools, for example, are excellent. I know this is true because my children and grandchildren have attended them...and I have worked in them. I know the teachers, administrators, families, and children. I know that the teachers who work there spend more than just their contracted working hours in order to make the schools responsive to the needs of the children who attend them.

But you might live on the other side of the county (or state, or country)...and you might see that my local schools are not perfect. Sure, this school in the district received a grade of A from the state, and that one got a B, but there's one on the other side of the district which got an F...and one with a D [and you might also notice that the school grades correspond to the neighborhood economic status!]. There are students who struggle, teachers and administrators who fail in their responsibilities, and administrators who have been out of the classroom too long. You might see my local schools' A-F grades and conclude that, at least some of them, are failures.

If these were your local schools, what criteria would you use to determine their quality? Would you listen to the parents and teachers who know what goes on in the school? Or would you rely on the test scores and state A-F grades?

How do we really know how the nation's schools are performing? Are student test scores the most reliable criterion upon which to judge a school?


Further Reading:

For a good discussion of the political perceptions in the Education Week Survey, see Curmudgucation's The Teacher in the Next Room

Are America's public schools "failing?" – The Myth of America's Failing Public Schools

The Myth of America's Failing Public Schools, Part 2

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