Rosy Rhetoric From a Pro-Public Ed. Person
Our adversary is at it again. KDeRosa had this post over at D-ed Reckoning in which he relays an account of a teacher about where the seventh graders he will be working with are at educationally. Among other things, the teacher says this about his students:
1. 20% of my students earned a zero percent on my parts of speech diagnostic
(Ex: write the definition of a noun; which of the following is a verb, etc.)
2. 35% of students earned below ten percent on a writing
diagnostic assessing specific writing skills that, according to a Board of
Trustees presentation I recently attended, are being taught in classrooms across
the District. 100% earned a D or below.
3. The average independent reading
level is 2.5 -- that's second grade, fifth month, for those scoring at home.
I could go on, but it doesn't get any better.
KDeRosa responded by saying this:
"My understanding is that many of these kids have been in the public school
system since K. Let's see six years of elementary school--years when these
kids were easily controlled and could be motivated to learn if properly
taught.In 2006, there is absolutely no reason for kids to know so little after
seven years of schooling. All of you pro-public education people need to
reconcile this abysmal performance with your rosy rhetoric before I can take you
I would guess that one of those pro-public education people that KDeRosa was referring to was me, so here is a little rosy rhetoric.
First of all, although KDeRosa does provide a link to the post he's talking about, he doesn't point out in his own post that this teacher works with special education and ELL students. That being said, I have to admit that this all sounds pretty bad. It's possible that the people who have worked with these kids can defend what has happened, but I can't.
We all know that there are some bad public schools. KDeRosa insists that schools are bad because of their teaching methods, but I don't claim to know the reason. Maybe he's right. But then again, maybe it's because of the neighborhoods they're in, or maybe it's some other reason. Regardless of why, when a school really is bad, I cannot argue against doing whatever is necessary to give parents who want their kids to get a good education the means to do just that. If that means vouchers in those areas, so be it.
My disagreement with KDeRosa is about the state of public education overall. He thinks it's terrible. I think most public schools do a good job. He bases his assertion on test scores. I base mine on the people that we are producing. While I want to improve those test scores that he is so concerned about, our primary purpose is not to beat the scores of students foreign countries; it is to help students to grow up to become productive citizens. There are thousands of public schools around the nation that are doing that.
Although many people believe that the scores of American students have been dropping and continue to do so, even Jay P. Greene argues that that is a myth. They have held constant and even increased slightly since the late 1960s. During the last fifty years, we've heard over and over again that our education system is in crisis and that it is putting our nation in danger. After Sputnik was launched in 1957, experts made it clear that our education system was inferior to that of the Soviet Union's, and this would cause us to lose the space race and the Cold War. After all, their test scores were higher than ours. But we put a man on the moon twelve years later, the Soviets never made it, and by 1991, their empire had collapsed. Then in the early 1990s the experts made it clear that our education system was inferior to that of the Japanese, and that they were about to take over our country economically. After all, their test scores were higher than ours. But their economy collapsed, and our economy became the envy of the world for the rest of the decade. I think just about everyone would agree that our nation has consistently produced amazing entrepreneurs, and our work force is now viewed as the most productive in the world. All of this has happened over the last fifty years with a population made up largely of people who attended our public schools--schools that were supposedly constantly in crisis.
Minnesota has a better than average reputation when it comes to education, but within the state, my school--at least according to test scores (please pause while I genuflect)--is probably about average. We are a working class community, and a majority of our parents work in the plants at Marvin Windows in Warroad, or Polaris in Roseau. We are definitely not the picture of suburbia. Yet, year after year I see the kids who want to go to college graduating from our school and going to colleges and being successful there. I see the kids who want to go to vo-techs going to them and being successful. I have three sons who have graduated from college, and two of them definitely did not resemble rocket scientists while they were in high school. These were average kids from an average public school, just like many of their friends who have done just as well as they have. Two of my sons are now in technical fields, and they are making much more money than I am. KDeRosa has criticized me in the past for using anecdotes like these, but THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE. And I write about this because the picture he paints of public schools does not come anywhere near fitting with my experience in the two school districts I've taught in during the last thirty-two years.
I agree with KDeRosa that public schools must find ways to improve. I have made proposals for that purpose, and I even promoted one of his ideas in my last post. I also agree that there are horror stories involving public education--too many of them. But there are horror stories in every profession, and there are horror stories in every area of American life. KDeRosa has provided a dandy horror story in his post, and he presents this as the norm for public education. I firmly believe that my "anecdotes" are much better representations of the job that public schools have been doing and continue to do.