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.

  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.rock Study
    ROCKHOUNDS—From the left, Joseph McCullough, Sean Pagett and Jonathan McCullough peer through hand lenses to study rocks. The project is part of Morenci Elementary School’s summer camp that continues into August.

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