School Success: Are our schools really failing? 2012.04.18

Written by David Green.

There’s something odd about our perception of American schools. The overriding sentiment is that they’re failing and our students are falling behind. Yet, when someone is asked about their own local school, the opinion is generally that things are mostly all right.

But if most everyone’s local school is doing well for the most part, then the American education system must be doing all right, also. One follows the other. People know their local school by their own experience; they know about the national crisis only when national media tells them that it exists.

Reporter Paul Fahri of the Washington Post decided to take a closer look at the “failing schools” concept that’s so prevalent in the U.S. media. Fahri wondered if our nation’s schools have truly worsened or if media coverage only makes it appear that way.

The concept of “failing schools” is nothing new, Fahri says. It’s been a repetitive theme in publications for decades. In fact, he says, you could look back 200 years and find writings about the inadequacies of U.S. education. One hundred years ago, there were complaints about how schools were failing to produce citizens capable of filling factory jobs. There’s always a crisis in education.

Fahri isn’t about to suggest that all schools are doing well or that all teachers are skilled educators, but he isn’t finding large-scale failure. In fact, on average things are getting better rather than worse in many measures.

Of course there are children who are failing, and they’re often from families that are poor and broken up. Many have learning deficits and physical challenges. The poverty rate of children in America is 22 percent—one in five students—and that’s going to lead to certain educational outcomes.

That’s not a notion that people want to hear, Fahri says, because that goes way beyond the school system and points to the inequities of our society. Poverty and class, he says, are the greatest variable in educational achievement, and economic disparity continues to grow.

Certainly there’s room for improvement in every school, but that doesn’t lead to the conclusion of a failing educational system that continues to fall behind. Reform and merit pay and more charter schools aren’t the answer to what ails our local schools. A simple lack of funding is what’s leading to more and more cuts and a repetitive reduction in services.

Poorer students often have the deck stacked against them when it comes to success in school. Perhaps the same could be said about the school itself. As funding falls to such low levels, many districts are forced to trim far too much. Morenci, for example, is to pare down an additional $600,000 in costs next week, following enormous cuts over recent recent years.

If there’s a crisis in education, it’s not because teachers are failing; it’s because there’s no longer enough money to hire an adequate teaching staff.

  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
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    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
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    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
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    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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