Posted in poverty, Privatization, Public Ed, teacher morale

Fighting Myths with Facts

BACK TO SCHOOL

In the next few weeks the vast majority of America’s school-aged children will return to their public schools ready to start a new school year under the guidance of their public school teachers, who, for the most part, begin the year with the same mixture of excitement and anticipation that the students do.

Unfortunately, during the past 3 decades the declining morale of public school teachers has made the beginning of the school year much more difficult. Valerie Strauss, reporting on the 9th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher wrote

Half of America’s public school teachers say they feel great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has dropped 23 percentage points since 2008 and is at its lowest in 25 years, according to an annual survey of educators.

Morale is likely lower in some public school locations — Chicago and Philadelphia, for example — than others, but throughout the country teachers feel the pressure from years of attacks, blame and test-and-punish policies. This is the real status quo of public education.

The so-called “reformers” whose reform consists of a barely veiled attempt to privatize public education through the perpetuation of myths, favoritism towards private and privately owned schools, public sector union busting, anti-worker legislation, the demonization of professional educators and using billionaires, billionaires, billionairesbillionaires and taxpayers to foot the bill, have perpetuated myths about public education.

DISPELLING THE MYTHS

The myths that public schools are failing, that teachers are the problem, and that privatization will solve all our problems are coupled with billions of dollars in political pocket-stuffing, private school investments and media blitz campaigns designed to mislead the American public. Parents are, by a large majority, happy with the public schools their children attend. 77% grade their own child’s public schools an A or a B. The largest percentage in 20 years…

Yet, most of what we hear from the daily news and commentary is that American schools are failing, teachers are greedy, and private/charter schools are the only hope for the future of our nation.

So, just in time for the start of a new school year, it’s time (yet again) to dispel some of the myths that the “reformers” have foisted on the American people…and there are many. I’ve only chosen a few and instead of providing references for each myth response, I’ve provided a bibliography (a “baker’s dozen” research and opinion articles) at the end. The information is widely available, yet rarely discussed.

Myth #1) American Schools are failing.

False: American students from low poverty schools score at the top of the world. The problem with our average scores is that we have many more students living in poverty than most advanced nations and there is a direct correlation between achievement and poverty.

Myth #2) Bad, lazy teachers abound and are the cause of school failure. Good teachers can overcome the effects of poverty. Teachers unions protect bad teachers and tenure means that a teacher can never be fired. Teachers are only in it for the money.

False: Most American public school teachers are well-trained professionals, but even the best teacher in the world can’t overcome the effects of hunger, violence, lack of health care, lack of access to reading materials, and other effects of poverty. Children must be well cared for, safe, and healthy to achieve.

States with strong teachers unions do not perform worse than states without strong teachers unions, and in fact are often better. Tenure, which is more correctly defined as “due-process” for K-12 teachers does not protect bad teachers. It simply means that schools must provide a legitimate reason for firing a teacher.

American educators spend more time in actual teaching than those in other advanced nations.

Instead of blaming educated and licensed teachers with average salaries of between $50 and $60,000 a year, ask the following people why they, and others like them, are meddling in public education without any credentials or experience: Bill Gates (Net Worth $72.7 billion), Eli Broad ($6.3 billion), Michael Bloomberg ($19.5 billion), Rupert Murdoch ($11.2 billion), and Alice Walton ($26.3 billion).

Instead of blaming trained educators for what amounts to a national epidemic of poverty, ask the following people where they got their education experience and/or expertise: Arne Duncan (B.A. Sociology), Michelle Rhee (B.A. Government, Masters of Public Policy), Jeb Bush (B.A. Latin American Studies), Rahm Emanuel (B.A. Liberal Arts, M.A. Speech and Communication), Eli Broad (Accounting), Bill Gates (No college degree), Michael Bloomberg (B.S. Electrical Engineering, MBA), and Alice Walton (B.A. Economics and Finance).

Money doesn’t make you an expert.

Myth #3) Charter schools are better than public schools.

False: According to the latest studies, charter schools are improving, but the differences are insignificant. Some charters do better than traditional public schools. Others do worse.

Myth #4) Poverty is just an excuse.

False: Poverty matters.

“Thousands of studies have linked poverty to academic achievement. The relationship is every bit as strong as the connection between cigarettes and cancer.” —- David Berliner, Our Impoverished View of Ed. Reform, Aug. 2005

Myth #5) We spend more money on education than anyone else in the world and our results are worse. Our kids can’t read. Our teachers can’t teach.

False: The amount we spend on education, as a percentage of our GDP, varies, but overall, we’re about average for advanced nations.

As a percentage of GDP, public and private spending on education in the U.S. is slightly below the OECD average for early childhood education (U.S. 0.4%; OECD 0.5%), significantly above average for primary and lower secondary education (U.S. 3.2%; OECD 2.6%), and below average for upper secondary education (U.S. 1.1%, OECD 1.3%). …

However, more money in the US comes from private sources. In other words, we are not spending the same amount of public money as other nations.

For all levels of education combined, public sources account for 72% of all expenditures on education in the U.S., while private sources account for 28%. By comparison, across all OECD countries, 84% of education expenditures are from public sources, and 16% of expenditures are from private sources.

Where do the private sources of money go? Does it go to schools with the most pressing academic needs? Our low poverty public schools generally get more money than our high poverty public schools.

How much of our money is spent on testing? In the US our costs for education are slightly higher than Finland’s, for example, but we spend billions on testing. The Finns, who have among the highest scores in the world, don’t subject their students to constant standardized testing. Money goes to the schools…not to test publishers.

Our results aren’t worse. Our students from low poverty schools score higher than any most other students in the world.

HEART OF THE COUNTRY

In 1999 public school champion Frosty Troy wrote

Name one other institution that flings open itself to all comers — a perfect microcosm of our nation. Every autumn the miracle of America takes place when the doors of those 87,000 schools are thrown open, welcoming the genius and slow learner, rich and poor, average and developmentally disabled. Among them are the loved and unloved, the washed and unwashed.

Those who savage the public schools tear at the heart of this country. Everything America is or ever hopes to be depends upon what happens to those 46.3 million students in public school classrooms.

His article, The Myth Of Our Failed Public School System (yes…the same lies are still alive) included a simple and effective tool for debunking myths.

Fight back with facts. Challenge the mistaken, the misinformed and the outright prevaricator while acknowledging honest criticism.

That’s still good advice.

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1. Serviceable Myths about School Reform: Second Time Around
2. New Data Shows School ‘Reformers’ Are Getting it Wrong
3. Myths About Public Education in Indiana
4. Myths and Realities in Public Education
5. 5 Biggest Lies About America’s Public Schools — Debunked
6. Myths vs. Facts about America’s Public Education
7. Myths Taken as Reality
8. From School Grades to Common Core: Debunking the Accountability Scam
9. PISA: It’s Poverty Not Stupid
10. Charter schools that start bad stay bad, study finds
11. Number of the Week: U.S. Teachers’ Hours Among World’s Longest
12. Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?
13. Anthony Cody: “It’s Poverty Not Bad Teachers”

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.