Published in the Center City Concerned Citizens Review April 2017
By Joseph Batory
… charter schools provide convincing evidence that there are better ways to educate students….And yet, most traditional school districts either ignore or actively resist innovation…..Few public educators can imagine, let alone undertake, such dramatic change.
It is hard to believe that the propagandistic excerpt above appeared in a recent edition of Education Week, America’s most reputable publication about schooling. That’s because nothing in this excerpt is true. And the generalization about the incompetence of all public school educators is wildly absurd.
Paul Thomas of Furman University totally rejects this Education Week pontification: “When we peel back the post-truth rhetoric, evidence fails to support claims of charter school success, and five minutes in a public school reveal that teachers are more than capable of imagining dramatic change…… relentless education reform has resulted in creating public schools and teachers trapped in mandates and then politicians criticizing them for not being innovative….Spitting in the face of public school teachers is the worst of post-truth journalism.”
Martin Carnoy, a professor at Stanford University, has reviewed all of the longest-running voucher programs and finds little evidence that they improve student achievement. Here is Carnoy’s summary: “Studies of voucher programs in several U.S. cities as well as the states of Florida, Indiana, Louisiana find limited improvements at best in student achievement…”
Carnoy’s report suggests that meaningful “choice” might be better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven programs, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training to more freedom for teachers to innovate, and improved student health and nutrition programs. Carnoy’s point is that such enhancements in public schools would yield much higher returns than vouchers.
David Berliner, one of the clearest thinkers in America about politics and education, offers this summary: “In using standardized achievement test scores to judge the quality of the education received by the students, family income strongly and significantly influences the mean scores obtained. Students attending public schools in our nation that serve the wealthy are competitive with any schools in the world. Since that is the case, why would anyone think our public schools are failing?”
Unfortunately, there are tremendous inequities among the thousands of public schools in the USA, some having unlimited resources and many drastically underfunded and lacking in what promotes quality education. This is hardly the fault of the schools.
Berliner’s key premise is that poverty influences education: In the schools in which low-income students do not achieve well, we find the common correlates of poverty: low birth weight in the neighborhood, higher-than-average rates of teen and single parenthood, residential mobility, lack of community resources, absenteeism, crime, and students in need of special education and English language instruction.”
Berliner argues that schools in the USA are layered by social class, and often segregated by race and ethnicity. In essence, government is throwing a blind eye to the fact that it is American society which is separate and unequal.
Politicians and other ideologues focused on “fixing” the schools need a dose of reality. True reform must recognize that public schools reflect a society which needs to be fixed, not the schools.
In summary, the Dallas Morning News offered this recent headline: “Private School Vouchers are the Fool’s Gold of Better Education.” (Fool’s gold. Pyrite. A worthless material that is just shiny enough to trick the uninformed into believing that it has value.)
Joseph Batory has been widely published on politics and education.