Public education IS NOT GETTING WORSE!
I just got back from Oregon, and when I checked Joanne Jacobs site last night, I ran in to this "opinion piece" from Victor Davis Hanson:
Last week I went shopping in our small rural hometown, where my family has attended the same public schools since 1896. Without exception, all six generations of us — whether farmers, housewives, day laborers, business people, writers, lawyers or educators — were given a good, competitive K-12 education.
But after a haircut, I noticed that the 20-something cashier could not count out change. The next day, at the electronic outlet store, another young clerk could not read — much less explain — the basic English of the buyer's warranty. At the food market, I listened as a young couple argued over the price of a cut of tri-tip — unable to calculate the meat's real value from its price per pound. As another school year is set to get under way, it's worth pondering where this epidemic of ignorance came from.
Our presidential candidates sense the danger of this dumbing down of American society and are arguing over the dismal status of contemporary education: poor graduation rates, weak test scores and suspect literacy among the general population. Politicians warn that America's edge in global research and productivity will disappear, and with it our high standard of living.
Obviously, Hanson's point is that public education has gotten a lot worse than it used to be in "the good old days." He then goes on to tell us how we can fix our problems. There are a couple of things that he says that I actually agree with, but it's hard to take him seriously when his basic point is so clearly wrong.
It's hard enough to read and hear things by public education bashers who twist facts and statistics to portray our schools in the worst possible light. But it's downright agonizing to read a clever little opinion piece based on something that is widely believed, but demonstrably false.
Even Jay Greene, who has published studies and books bashing public education, concedes that public education has not gotten worse. In his book, Education Myths, Green seems to dig out any statistic or study he can to show that public schools are doing a horrible job. But he also traces NAEP scores, SAT scores, and graduation rates all the way back to 1971 to demonstrate that the idea that our public schools are in decline is a myth. Greene tries to turn this around by arguing that public schools have never been any good, but this is a guy who argues against more funding for schools, against higher teacher salaries, against smaller class sizes, and for vouchers. Does anyone familiar with Greene's work think that if he could have demonstrated that public schools are getting worse, he wouldn't have been delighted to do so?
Public education clearly isn't getting worse. ACT scores improving for four straight years despite the fact that more and more kids are taking the test is evidence that it's getting better. Although that piece of news was publicized widely enough so that anyone concerned with education issues should have been aware of it, Victor Davis Hanson completely ignored it. I guess it wouldn't have fit very well into his clever little piece.