Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The public's view of public schools

I love Joanne Jacobs blog, and she had another interesting post yesterday. Joanne's post was on a study by the Hoover Institute's Education Next, and she focused on the point that a majority of people favor "No Child Left Behind." I was more interested in the part of the study that dealt with the public's view of their schools.

I thought the way Education Next presented the information in their article on the study was interesting.

The poll also shows that the public pulls no punches when grading the quality of its schools. Most give the nation’s public schools only mediocre marks--the majority give them no better than a C. Specifically, 43 percent give the schools in their own community an A or a B, 38 percent give them a C, and 18 percent give a D or F.

Wait a minute, here! It looks to me like the largest group gave their schools As and Bs and the smallest group gave them Ds and Fs. It seems to me that if you wanted to, you could present this information by saying that 81 percent of the public believe their schools are doing at least an adequate job. Since the Hoover Institute, which puts out Education Next is a conservative think tank--and we all know how those conservatives just love public schools--I guess it should come as no surprise that they would present their figures in the most negative light possible.

Considering the constant bashing of public schools that has taken place over the last few decades, I think it's surprising that the results of this poll aren't a lot worse. As Joanne reports in her post, the public's view of American schools in general is significantly worse than their view of their own schools:

When asked about public schools around the nation, these grades drop. Just 22 percent give public schools in general an A or B, 55 percent, a C, and 24 percent, a D or F.


If people are told over and over again that American public schools are failing, it's going to have an effect, and you can see it here. And that certainly isn't going to give them a more optimistic view of their own schools. In fact, since a lot of people gave their own schools higher ratings than schools in general, some of those who gave their own schools Cs must have seen them as better than average.

Despite the positive spin I'm trying to put on this survey, it does seem to me that this survey portrays a lower rating for public schools than surveys I've seen in the past. There are many public school bashers who will be happy about that. They think the public should "wake up" and demand "reform." I am a teacher, and I have to admit that I don't see it that way. In fact it makes me angry for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it makes me angry because the more parents who see public schools as lousy, the more parents there are going to be who are unwilling to cooperate with me--and believe it or not, I want to help their kids be successful. When students do poorly, there are going to be more parents who are going to be tempted to place the blame on teachers and schools, rather than encouraging their child to work harder. I don't see that as a positive development for anyone.

It also makes me angrier at any teachers who are not working as hard as they can and doing the very best job they can, because they give ammunition to the public school bashers of America. I think most teachers work very hard, but let's face it: some don't. And those teachers are doing great damage to those of who are doing our best, to our students, and to public education in general.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The poll also shows that the public pulls no punches when grading the quality of its schools. Most give the nation’s public schools only mediocre marks--the majority give them no better than a C. Specifically, 43 percent give the schools in their own community an A or a B, 38 percent give them a C, and 18 percent give a D or F."

I think that this is one where the public schools can't win. If the number of As and Bs go up a lot, then the obvious problem is that the parents are engaging in a form of grade inflation :-) We don't all live in Lake Woebegone, after all, so a massive number of As and Bs indicates that the parent's aren't being realistic.

So ... 40% of the schools are rated A or B and another 40% rated C (or "average") is presented as a problem. But ... most schools *are* going to be average or close to it ... anything else is suspect (and this doesn't say anything about what "average" means in quantitative terms, either). That is what happens when you have a large number of independent values making up a sample.

-Sigh.

-Mark Roulo

8/02/2007 12:29 PM  

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