Thinking Less of Our Schools

This week, Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University released their second annual survey on public education.  There is a lot of interesting data here (

For years, we have subscribed to the notion that we believe our own schools are doing a great job, even if we think public schools nationally are struggling.  What does the data say?  Nationally, only 9% of those surveyed would give their own schools an A (still a huge improvement from the 2% who give us an A nationally).  More than half of those surveyed said their own schools scored a C or worse, while more than three-quarters of adults gave a C or poorer to our schools nationally.

By comparison, 19% give our local police force an A.  Heck, 22% give the post office an A.

But we are schizophrenic on our views of our schools.  Three quarters of adults rate the schools average (C) or worse, yet 56% believe our schools are heading in the right direction (with two of three teachers surveyed seeing an upward trend).

The right direction must be because of NCLB, right?  Wrong.  Half of adults say NCLB should either be overhauled or not renewed at all.  With teachers, three-quarters of educators give it a thumbs down.

Huh?  How can that be?  We are headed in the right direction, but we need to dramatically change or reject the path we’ve been taking for the past six years?  It just doesn’t make sense.

Education Next does deserve credit for its definition of NCLB.  Over the past five years, survey after survey has tried to capture similar data, with varied results.  And it often comes down to the questions posed.  For this survey, NCLB is defined simply:  “the No Child Left Behind Act requires states to set standards in math and reading and to test students each year to determine whether schools are making adequate progress, and to intervene when they are not.”
On the plus side, 69% of adults want national education standards, and want standards defined as “one test and standard for all students.”  (A majority of teachers, 54%, support a single national standard.)

What does all this tell us?  Unfortunately, we’re back to a familiar refrain from Eduflack.  We must do a better job of promoting the progress, the successes, and the good works of our local schools.  For the past few years, we have dwelled on the negatives and the negatives only.  Failing students.  Over-their-head teachers.  Overworked administrators.  Unconcerned parents.  Is it any wonder we don’t see any A schools out there, either nationally or in our own communities?

Reforming schools is about improving schools.  We can put in the right curriculum.  Train and support the right teachers.  Demonstrate improved student achievement.  It is all for naught if we aren’t “selling” reform and educating stakeholders on what’s really happening in our classrooms.  If this data is any indication, effective marketing and PR for our schools may be almost as important instruction.

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