The State of Public Education=New Orleans?
This is my second post in a row that I'm piggybacking on a Education Wonks post. This Wonks post was about the public schools in New Orleans a year after Katrina, but it wasn't the post itself that got me. It was a couple of the comments. I found them infuriating because they are so typical of attacks made on public education by our critics.
Ed Wonk closed his post by saying this:
In pre-Katrina New Orleans, few of the affluent or upper middle-class sent their children to public schools, which were notorious for their crime, violence, and underachievement.KDeRosa responded with this comment:
After speaking with relatives of ours who live in the New Orleans area, I don't think that's likely to change in the foreseeable future as those who have the financial means continue to re-enroll their offspring in private and parochial institutions.
And as long those folks with plenty of cash continue to "opt-out" of their own school system, I'm not optimistic that positive systemic change will occur in New Orleans' public schools.
When an informed customer evaluates the product from one provider, determines that they are inferior, and then selects the product of another provider, presumably because they are superior, you would not typically blame the consumer for selecting the better product. You blame the service provider for offering an inferior product that the consumer doesn't want.
It is especially noteworthy when the consumer picks the alternate product even though he has to pay for the inferior product whether he uses the product or not. Such is the woeful satte (his spelling) in education.It is the last sentence of this comment that really gets me: "Such is the woeful state (I assume that's the word that he meant to use) in education." This distortion is typical of people who are critical of public education. To take a place like New Orleans, with all of its problems, and to portray that as "the state in education" is either stupid or dishonest. There are thousands of public schools with millions of students around the nation where any student who wants a good education can get one. Critics of public education completely ignore them when they talk about public schools, however, and focus totally on schools like those in New Orleans, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington D.C..
Do we have problems in some urban areas? You bet! And those problems have to be addressed. If someone wants to argue for vouchers in places like those, people like me have to listen. (Notice, however, that those who want vouchers for "competition" never, ever suggest that public schools be given the same powers private schools have in dealing with their violent, disruptive, and apathetic students.) But declaring the problems in our worst schools to be "the state of public education" is like declaring the frustrations of the 2006 Kansas City Royals to be representative of the state of major league baseball.
And that wasn't the end. Henry Cate made this comment:
First of all, there is no evidence to back up Cate's guess that things have gotten worse since 1983. Even Jay Greene, who is no defender of public education, concedes that. Cate is probably confused because the critics of public education have become louder and louder. And once again, according to Cate, it's not just certain places that have problems, it's the whole system.
Thousands and tens of thousands of people have been trying to improve the public school system for decades. I think it has only gotten worse since the 1983 report. I am afraid the system can not be fixed by working within the system. We need a major change, something like vouchers, to really shake up the system.
I'm sure that people like Cate and KDeRosa love the term failing schools--another concept that infuriates me. They probably picture teachers and administrators just sitting around with their feet up drinking coffee, making no effort whatsoever, and just waiting to collect their paychecks. They have no idea how hard some of the people in those "failing schools" work, and how competent many of them are. I believe that people like Cate and KDerosa are clueless about what actually goes on in public schools and what the problems really are.
What makes all this even more frustrating is that NCLB is designed to declare more and more public schools to be "failing" until they've gotten nearly all of us by 2014--the year when 100 percent of our students are supposed to be "proficient." I'm sure that some of our critics will have a wonderful time running around saying "I told you so," as more and more of us are labeled failing.
I can't blame concerned parents for sending their kids to private schools if they believe that's necessary for their kids to get a good education. As the number schools labeled as "failing" increases, I'm sure more and more parents will do that, even though the term will be inappropriate for many of those schools . And as public schools lose many of our best students--students we need to have a good learning environment in our classrooms, it's entirely possible that some of our critics will get their wish. Public schools around the nation might just become as bad as they say.