Bad apple pundit Jerry Bracey is no longer with us. And if ours is a just and vengeful God, he is right now accounting for his edu-pundit sins by being required to perform the Sisyphean task of teaching kids how to read and do math in an inner city public school using whole language and discovery math
for eternity until they reach proficiency.
In any event since we don’t have Jerry to kick around anymore, someone ought to look at this year’s Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll of Americans' attitudes towards their public schools sans Jerry’s spin.
Parents grade their own school well (77% A or B, split evenly). I’d call it a about a B+.
They grade their local schools less well (49% A or B, skewed heavily toward Bs). Call it a B-/C+.
And, they grade public schools nationally in the dog house (18%). Call it a gentleman’s C.
Parents were also asked what was needed to raise the schools to a grade of A. Overwhelmingly, they think that instruction needs to be improved.
So what’s the explanation for these results?
Jerry would inevitably spin the data and blame media demagoguery for the for the “my school is fine, everyone else’s sucks” results. But that’s way too simplistic.
First, you have to recognize that with questions like this that ask for people to access their own choices/abilities, i.e., “how do you access the school you chose to send your beloved children to,” people are generally either loathe to admit they made a bad choice and/or have an inflated opinion of their abilities/choices. You see this most clearly when people are asked to assess their own driving performance: “I drive great, everyone else drives like a jackass.” So, you have to factor that in.
Also, media demagoguery notwithstanding (which goes both ways, of course), people just don’t get their information on the quality of public schools from news sources. They see on a daily basis the products of the public schools – other people and their children. That’s plenty of data to form a coherent opinion. And, the polling data shows that people start having their doubts about public schools pretty quickly—the schools in their own community, not just with some amorphous notion of distant schools somewhere in the nation.
But why else might people be most satisfied with their own schools and less happy with everyone else’s schools?
When people think of public schools generally, they think of education services, the primary service offered by schools. Some might say the primary reason for their existence in the first place. You can see by question 12 above,people generally believe that schools have plenty of room for improvement in the area of educational services.
However, when parents think of their own public schools, they also think of the educational services, but they also think about day care services, the sports teams, the band, and all the other ancillary non-educational services being offered.
To be fair, public schools generally do a good job providing these non-educational services. Keeping kids safe, fed, and occupied while mom and dad work isn’t exactly rocket science after all. And, who cares if the price tag for these services is through the roof; someone else is picking up most of the tab.
When it comes to the education being provided in their own schools, parent’s expectations of their children’s performance will generally meet predictions. My kid doesn’t do as well as the surgeon’s kids, but does better than the janitor’s kids. This generally holds regardless of the teacher’s ability or the curriculum. What basis do parent’s have to judge the absolute educational capabilities of their children? Exposure to a great curriculum delivered by a super teacher, year in and year out, is not something that most people have ever seen. Nonetheless, as question 12 indicates, people have their doubts when it comes the instruction be delivered in public schools.
I think all of these factors go into inflating people’s opinion of their own schools and that their lower opinion of other people’s schools is the more honest and accurate assessment. Confirming this explanation is Nancy Flanagan unwittingly tells us in today’s Answer Sheet post.
A friend who teaches in Kansas confessed recently that she feels a little guilty as bitter education reform battles rage in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Things aren't perfect in her school--they're not perfect anywhere, including the exceptionally rare charter academies that hold lotteries for admission--but she and her colleagues believe they're doing a good job for kids.
When given a choice people vote with their feet. What is the percentage of charter schools that have to hold a lottery because too many parents are choosing them over their local public school? I’m pretty certain it’s not the exceptionally rare charter.
All I know is that if I were running a business and my new competitor had to hold a lottery because he couldn’t service all his customers desiring purchase services from him and those customers were my former customers, I’d be a little worried. Because that’s the best indication that people aren’t happy with me and the services I’m providing.