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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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