WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

SUMMARY: Every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. Many children who are educated in public schools in the US are very successful. There are, however, two problems that face US public school systems overall:

  • Our public school systems vary tremendously in their quality and funding.
  • Students arrive at school with significant variation in their school readiness.

These two problems negatively reinforce each other. As a result, many of our public schools in low socio-economic status (SES) communities are failing to adequately serve children from low SES families. Our society, not just our schools, is failing these low SES families; we frequently do not provide them with the support and services parents need to be able to nurture and support their children. As a result, their children often are not ready to learn and succeed when they enter school.

It is not the teachers who are to blame for the failure of these children. Teachers in schools and early care and education (ECE) care tremendously about their students, work extremely hard, and do everything in their power to help their students succeed. To overcome the disadvantages and learning delays many children from low SES families have, not only would they need to be great teachers, they would also need the resources and supports any professional requires to do his or her job successfully in a challenging environment. Unfortunately, many of the schools and ECE programs they work in are in low SES communities and lack the good physical facilities and learning environment that are required.

The forces pushing charter schools say that US public schools are failing and it’s because teachers are performing poorly. Neither assertion is true.

FULL POST: Every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. We all know that this does not occur for every child in our public schools. So what’s the problem?

Many children who are educated in public schools in the US are very successful. They graduate from high school and go on to selective and rigorous higher education and then to highly successful lives and careers. This is true for most children who attend public schools in communities where parents are well educated, have good jobs, and good incomes. In other words, children in communities and families with high socio-economic status (SES) are well served by our public education system. They do well in comparisons with students from around the world.

There are, however, two problems that face US public school systems overall:

  • Our public school systems vary tremendously in their quality and funding. Because they are locally based and largely locally funded, schools in high SES communities tend to have much better quality and resources than schools in low SES communities.
  • Students arrive at school with significant variation in their school readiness. Children from low SES communities and families are typically significantly behind their better-off peers.

These two problems negatively reinforce each other because children who arrive at school behind in their school readiness, often arrive at schools that are low in quality and resources. As a result, many of these children never catch up to their better-off peers. And when the US public schools are viewed as a whole, these children drag down the US averages so that our public education system appears to generate mediocre results when international comparisons are done.

Many of our public schools in low SES communities are failing to adequately serve children from low SES families. Moreover, our society, not just our schools, is failing these low SES families. We frequently do not provide them with the support and services parents need to be able to nurture and support their children. As a result, their children are often not ready to learn and succeed when they enter school; they do not have appropriate cognitive skills in early literacy and numeracy nor the social-emotional skills for working in groups and controlling emotions, and the often have health issues (e.g., asthma, obesity) or nutritional issues (e.g., they are hungry, undernourished, or have unhealthy diets). As a result, they are unable to succeed when they enter school and that failure typically continues throughout their school years.

It is not the teachers who are to blame for the failure of these children. The great, great majority of teachers, including those in low quality schools in low SES communities, care tremendously about their students, work extremely hard, and do everything in their power to help their students succeed. (In the interests of full disclosure, I attended high quality public schools in high SES communities from kindergarten through high school and taught in private schools for three years in the 1970s when I was just out of undergraduate school. My wife recently taught for ten years in the Boston Public School system.)

The same can be said for the teachers in our early care and education (ECE) system that serves children from birth until school entry. They work hard and often make heroic efforts to nurture children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether they are in private ECE centers or home-based child care programs, or in Head Start programs (which are for children from families living in poverty), or in public school pre-kindergarten programs. And these early childhood teachers are poorly paid – often making under $25,000 per year – and typically with few if any benefits (e.g., health insurance, paid sick time, vacation time, retirement plan).

To overcome the disadvantages and learning delays many children from low SES families have, teachers in schools and early care and education would not only need to be great teachers, they would also need the resources and supports any professional requires to do his or her job successfully in a challenging environment. Unfortunately, many of the schools and ECE programs they work in are in low SES communities and lack the good physical facilities and learning environment that are required – and that schools and programs in high SES communities typically have.

These teachers also need the support of colleagues to help them respond to the challenges and stress they experience, and to maintain high morale. My guess is that an average teacher with great morale is a more effective teacher than a great teacher with low morale because the stress and challenges can be overwhelming in the absence of a supportive, highly qualified supervisor, supportive peers, and a positive working environment.

The forces pushing charter schools say that US public schools are failing and it’s because teachers are performing poorly. Neither assertion true. Most of the failure in our public schools is because the schools are attempting to educate students who arrive at school not ready to learn. And neither the schools nor the children’s families have the special resources needed to make up this deficit. The proof that our public schools and teachers aren’t the problem is the fact that the charter advocates aren’t pushing charter schools in high SES communities and there isn’t much demand for them from parents in these communities either. Our schools and teachers are doing fine with these students.

In my next post on our education system, I will discuss real solutions to these problem.

Advertisements

Comments and discussion are encouraged

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: