Many would be shocked to learn that they have been misled by so-called "educational reformers," mistakenly told that American public schools are in crisis.
They've been told that schools are failing because of poor teaching. And they have been given misleading proof of this malaise because the U.S. does not rank at the top or near the top in international competition and that the academic achievement gap between poor and middle class kids is evidence of failure.
None of this is true. But why would these reformers keep bashing our public schools?
Well, some of them are free-market libertarians who would like to convert public schools into private schools. Some people want to start charter schools and pay themselves six-figure salaries. And some companies make millions in providing testing services and consultants to fix the problems. And our schools have bought into the hype.
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Our public schools have invested billions of dollars in miracle cures. Everything from high-stakes testing in an attempt to embarrass teachers, to raising standards every couple of years, to converting "failing schools" to private schools, to giving each child a laptop or iPad. Guess what? None of this has made a difference.
The reason is that our public schools are already among the best in the world. How can that be with all the gloom and doom? Because the gloom and doom is manufactured.
Take for example the fact that U.S. children do not rank at or near the top in international comparisons. International comparisons only show the average scores of all of the children taking the test.
But the top-scoring nations have child-poverty rates in the 5 percent range whereas the rate in the U.S. is nearly 20 percent. So if you would take all U.S. children in schools where the poverty rate is 10 percent or less, we would score above all other nations.
The U.S. public school system is among the best in the world for middle class children; but for kids from poverty, there is a problem. The problem is that most children from poverty suffer almost insurmountable hurdles.
While middle-class children generally start school knowing letters and numbers, even words and some arithmetic, far too many from poverty have none of these skills. They are often from single-parent families and have inadequate vision, hearing and medical care. Words spoken in the house are only a fraction of the vocabulary in middle-class families. They start school so far behind that most can never catch up. And while both middle-class and poor children progress in school, the gap persists.
Yet, help is possible.
In order to better deal with the academic achievement gap, each school district could create one or more optional "power schools" where the neediest kids could receive 9.5 hours of schooling daily, extra homework nightly, extra schooling during Saturdays and summers with a required contract with parents for strong parental commitment.
Parents who desire to help their kids from poverty could apply to enroll their children in these schools if they commit to the requirements of providing daily parental encouragement and support.
The California model might be adopted, in which schools with more than 55 percent of poor children can receive a 50 percent increase in per-pupil funding so that extra, more intensive instruction can be provided.
Failing schools are said to be those with consistently low average student test scores. Reformers have decided that poor teaching is the problem when nothing could be further from the truth. In every state and in virtually every school district, schools with high percentages of poor children invariably exhibit low test scores.
You can predict a school's test scores with a high degree of accuracy simply by the percentage of poor children enrolled. While power schools might be able to greatly improve the situation the academic achievement gap will never be totally erased as long as poverty exists in America.