"US Public Schools Are Better than They've Ever Been"

So says, Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, who studies public education history.  This from Vox.

It's funny because this morning as I listened to the City Council briefing with the Superintendent, there was a thread from Jean Godden to Sally Bagshaw to Kshama Sawant about girls and math and science education.

Then Sally Clark chimed in saying that she hadn't really followed math and science in school but now she goes in and sees what's being offered and wishes she could go to school now.

I can't tell you how many times over the years that I thought the same exact thing.  I had good teachers when I went to school but there was nowhere near the effort to be culturally competent, help all students (no matter their challenge) and this outreach to girls (and that "you go, girl" attitude). 

I have to agree with several of Professor Schneider's major premises like "People think schools are in decline because they hear it all the time."  And you have to wonder why that is, how in every single state, all public education is in decline.  Almost as if it was part of a plan. 

There's also the fact that so many people like their school but not public education (or their district) as a whole.  It parallels how people feel about their congressman and Congress.

This is key:

First, they serve far more kids than they ever did before. Kids living in poverty – they're really expensive to educate, and they now get, not an equal education, I would never claim that, but we at least pay lip service to it. We're at least trying. Average per-pupil expenditures aren't where they need to be, but they at least are higher in large urban districts than in other places.

Special education kids, they're really expensive to educate, and prior to 1975, it was like, your kid has special needs? Too bad, keep him or her at home. And those kids have a right to a public school education now. That's amazing. That's a major step forward. English language learners, super expensive to educate and we're getting closer to that. I'm not saying the system is perfect, but we're doing better.

All the evidence points in the direction that we have a fairer and more effective system that is probably more focused on student achievement than it once was.

Another issue?

One of the most frequently cited pieces of information in these conversations is, we're just getting crushed in these international comparisons.  People don't know a whole lot about it, but it is a nice piece of evidence that confirms this thing they already believe because they've heard it so many times.

There are a lot of people in policy positions and in political leadership who believe that, and I don't think they're being disingenuous. I think PISA is a big part of that. They say, oh my God, we finished 29th or whatever — we didn't finish first on whatever it is. We need to be first. It excites people who don't know what's on the PISA, or why some countries would be doing better.

This tells us that on one narrow snapshot, kids in Shanghai, which happens to be a very affluent city in a country that promotes testing far more than we do, happen to score better on a narrow range of questions than our kids. I'm not sure what the usefulness of any of that stuff really is.
No kidding.

And, as Diane Ravich points out, the U.S. has NEVER scored near the top even as our country ascended to the top of the world in space exploration and wealth.  Some of that has to do with who we choose to educate and who other countries do (or don't) test.


Anonymous said…
Obviously Professor Schneider been taking advantage of I-502.

The rate of tutoring and supplemental services across public schools has risen 300% since the 90s. I can't find the study right now, but it was detailed a huge secondary educational system paid for by parents and grants.

Who's paying this Professor Schneider to twist facts.
Paid for by teachers unions of America? Maybe he's trying to boost the failing moral of teacher old and those collage students now questioning if a teaching career is for them.

The average inner city school students are failing in basic ready writing and mathematics according to DOE records.

When comparing performing American students against other countries performing students, you see a significant gap in knowlage. So I guess Professor Schneider is twisting the data in saying.

Your students may have better mastery over important subjects, but our students have a shallow and broader knowlage base.

Do I think that American public education as a whole is still in crisis?

I think we're doing a pretty mediocre job as a whole. There are some beacons of quality, but they don't serve many kids. When you look at the international comparative data, and things like math and science, you discover that our best students are lagging way behind most other countries' average students in things like math and physics. You have to conclude that the suburban schools of America are not as good as they think they are. The difference is that our suburban schools are complacent and think they're fine, and the people attending them generally think they're fine. In the inner cities, people know they have a problem and are actively discontented. But I think a lot of suburban Americans are living in a kind of fantasyland.

Eric B said…
I don't think we hear this enough. I was very fortunate in my high school education, going to a small private high school where I was at the very bottom of the income scale at upper middle class. While class size isn't the same, I think my daughter's education at Ingraham is as good or better than mine, with teachers as good or better and far more options in activities.

We have it pretty dang good.
Anonymous said…
Hmmm, person saying schools are mediocre spells knowledge wrong. Is this a trap?

chris s.
Anonymous said…
Our sons had good experiences at the Center School and Ballard H.S. Teachers were caring and passionate about their work.

In my opinion, however, the inquiry approach to math is harmful. The new directors have brought a better textbook to elementary schools and a more fundamentally sound math curriculum should be expanded to middle and high schools.

Poor math is also evident in many suburban schools. Upper income parents use a lot of tutoring to prepare their kids for college.

S parent
Anonymous said…
Pete - the rate of tutoring and supplemental services has increased primarily due to NCLB. That was one of the hallmarks of the act (and once you see who of Bush's good buddies benefit, you'll understand why), and resulted in a windfall for groups like Sylvan, Kaplan, and numerous fly-by-night tutoring groups who were paid with public monies to provide tutoring services to kids in "failing"* schools (*as per the Feds laughable criteria for failing). The crux of the issue is, schools are held accountable, schools/districts have to pay for the supplemental services, but the supplemental service provider has NO accountability. Yay for privatization!

Unknown said…
I read this article and it all rang pretty hollow to me.

Here's Jack's first point:"they serve far more kids than they ever did before. Kids living in poverty – they're really expensive to educate, and they now get, not an equal education, I would never claim that, but we at least pay lip service to it. We're at least trying."

REALLY, playing lip service is better than nothing? I would argue that playing lip service is worse than nothing, because it denies the reality and provides little motivation for change.

And then this, "Special education kids, they're really expensive to educate, and prior to 1975, it was like, your kid has special needs? Too bad, keep him or her at home. And those kids have a right to a public school education now. That's amazing."

I would like to tell Jack "Special Ed is not as amazing as you think. 1975 was 39 years ago, and in some ways not a lot has changed. Many of the promises of IDEA still are not met."

The photo accompanying the article speaks volumes. It's a bunch of sparkly white kids without a visible disability, and who presumably speak English. Maybe for kids like those in the picture, things are great.

I think for everyone else, it's a pretty tone deaf article.
Anonymous said…
My brother has severe learning disabilities and went through the system 30 some years ago. He has a child with similar issues. It is worlds better than it was then. Absolute worlds. I absolutely agree that we are not done, but denying that special ed is vastly improved is breathtaking to me. I think that is the bulk of why educational spending has so dramatically increased without corresponding "increases" in test scores. We are actually trying to educate kids we just used to throw out. It doesn't test perfectly.

mirmac1 said…
You're right Mary. The photo is right out of an IKEA ad, including the snordpfluggerhalm storage system in the background....
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Melissa. Nice shot in the arm. When I compare my public school education (university town school in rural state) with my kids' public education experiences at Wedgwood, WMS, Garfield -- there are definitely things that are better now, and a few that were better then (we had better math and English courses, GHS had WAY better history and science -- to say nothing of music.

There are lots of things we could improve (like SPED, which was actually great about 15 years ago, at least for some autistic kids in programs like John Hayes) -- but that is one of constant vigilance. It takes a lot of work to keep improving SPED, and a few years of benign neglect (or worse) and it all goes to heck.

The thing that frustrates me though is the constant false (or mostly false) drumbeat of criticism. We spend so much time combatting the negativity and the falsehoods that it is hard to make forward progress -- and, in my opinion, that is by design. Those (at least the organized ones with the big money) who tear public education down know that they are preventing it from improving -- and they are doing it on purpose.

At least that is my opinion

Two things. The professor does NOT say Sped is great. He says it is amazing that districts now have to and are trying as compared to 30-40 years ago. And he's right.

Of course, "it's amazing" does not refer to current services.

Also, any comments not on topic will be deleted. Keep that in mind.
Unknown said…
To say that we should be amazed about the fact that public schools in the United States are attempting to comply with a federal law that was passed 39 years ago is falacious and insulting.

As a woman, are you amazed every time you went you are allowed to vote? How amazed would you be if you didn't get a ballot and you called up the election boards and they said, "Look, we let half of you women vote and that's enough. Maybe we'll let you vote next year."

The consensus in Seattle is that there has been a systematic denial of a free appropriate education for students with disabilities for the last ten years.

We are not amazed.
Anonymous said…
@Griffin: Do you travel outside this country? Our public system, as flawed as it is, is light years ahead of most every country on the face of the earth in terms of disability access to classrooms and to life afterward.

Can we and should we improve the system, everywhere? Yes. But our kids are accessing services where other countries are, in the 21st Century, chaining their disabled students to poles, hiding them in closets, dumping them in mental hospitals. And worse. Educate them? Support them and their families? Hell no.

Yes, there is every reason to be amazed at where the United States is today. We can never stop working, but we can also celebrate. Sometimes the 'everything sucks' mantra from commenters on this blog gets old, not to mention becomes ineffective in dealing with those outside the disability community.

Anonymous said…
@ Griffin. And yes, I am amazed every time I go to the polls and vote my mind. We have come so far.

Anonymous said…
Yes, I remember having to walk 10 miles to school without shoes in the show carrying stone tablets.

I recently heard a rumor the schools had running water and heat.Will modern never cease?

TechyMom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Special education in Seattle is NOT nothing. It is also NOT amazing.

When I went to high school in the 70's in another state, there were no disabled kids. Nowhere. Nobody.

Where were all those students? A great many of them had zero access to education. Nothing. And another small group was in a basement somewhere. We also didn't have a whole bunch of required standardized tests - which essentially defined what disability means. That is, if you aren't "standard" as defined by the 55 tests you take in high school, then you must be disabled by definition. That ridiculous phenomenon is new, and not helpful.

It's fair to say that for disabled students, school here in America (and in Seattle) is way better than it was in the 70's. I have no doubt about this. Every disabled kid can go to some school somewhere. It's also fair to say that the educational promise of IDEA is far, far short of the mark. And disability is the last bastion of acceptable discrimination. Crack a short bus joke on national news or with Bill Maher, nobody cares. Make a similar racial remark - and it's a national issue, heads roll, etc.

Not sure how we stack up against other countries schoolwise, but a great many of those other countries (at least in the developed world) are fairly similar to USA. We don't have such an entrenched entitled abitlity tracking as they have in many countries, but there are many here who promote that. Without data, it's hard to say what these international comparisons really mean.

Sped Parent
Anonymous said…
So, is public education in Seattle better or worst than 1980s? It depends on what area you live in and how much attention was given to your social economic class. Most districts are dragging around so much baggage that they are incapable of any type of accelerated improvements. Students entering ninth grade are stuck with the state of education for the rest of their public school career and if their school is lacking good clever forward thinking teachers then students and parents must either settle or seek outside intervention to compensate, which seems the standard these days. I don't remember hearing about excessive tutoring back in high school. Math was math and we just learnt it with the same books students used the previous 10 years. We also had chemistry class with real labs and real chemicals, which most schools don't these days. In the 80s many of us students went on to use what we learnt to contribute to computer science which makes this blog possible.

The knowledge and computing power available to the average student is mind blowing compared to what I had back in the day.

When I look at the technological advances available since 1997 and the lack luster performance of public schools it's very significant and points to something missing. There's something holding students back, what could that be?


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