School Success: Are our schools really failing? 2012.04.18

Written by David Green. Posted in Editorials

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.

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