Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is Our Public Education System Broken?

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet that caught my attention.  How often do we see any suggestion that public education is not failing as some would suggest?  And, more importantly, why would a well-respected publication be willing to publish an article that challenges so many of the criticisms leveled against public education today? 

Refreshingly, in an article titled America’s Not-So-Broken Education System, The Atlantic has tackled this issue head on.  Click here or above to link to the article itself.   When I initially saw the tweet, I have to admit I was somewhat cynical about the headline and what the story might tell.  But reading it spawned a whole new perspective on the challenges to public education and how we, as public education advocates, should respond to the constant criticism of public education. 

The reality is that we have grown accustomed to this criticism and, in many cases, have chosen to look the other way, to not address the challenges head on.  But that is what we must do.  For every argument made about the failures of public education, there can be a counter argument, one that is often more impactful if we simply take the time to do our homework and are willing to tell the story.  As the article so correctly points out, there are certainly areas that must be addressed sooner rather than later.  But the key is that there are efforts underway to do just that.  Sadly, these don’t make for headlines or good press and telling good news stories rarely generates enough press for those who want to remain in the limelight.

And that’s where we all come in.  Think about it for a moment.  When you were a child and heard repeated criticism, how did you respond?  Out of respect for your parents, you probably accepted what they said and moved on.  While you may not have agreed with them, you at least showed the respect for their position as a parent.  And the more you heard the same story, the more real it became to you to the point that you perhaps changed your thoughts to mirror theirs.  In short, you were influenced by repeated telling of the same story.

This, in fact, is one of the challenges we face today.  Whether through an A-F district and campus grading system or the continual criticism of the public school system, it begins to take a toll on all involved.  Teachers start to question their commitment to the profession and the impact that they are having on students.  Students in a troubled school start to associate with the rating of the campus, regardless of their individual efforts and grades.  The stigma of an underperforming school follows them everywhere they go.  If you are told often enough that you and your environment are failures, you start to believe it.

How do we escape this negative spin cycle advanced by so many?  One word … Advocacy, being willing to tell the good news story and being armed to counter arguments and purported facts about the failures of our schools and, by inference, our students and teachers.  With all of the challenges we face in public education, perhaps the most damning is the continued criticism of our public schools and what they are doing to educate tomorrow’s leaders.  Now is the time for all of us to focus on the positives, to talk about successes and what is being done to address the needs of an increasingly diverse (and growing) student population.  Now is the time for all of us to redouble our efforts to Make Education a Priority.

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