Sometimes They’re Right

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know I am an unabashed advocate for public education in America.

And, as you may have gathered from my last post, I get angered when individuals or entities use falsehoods and erroneous generalizations to perpetuate an inaccurate narrative of failing schools for political or economic gain.

Contrary to what some policymakers and pundits have said, American public schools are not failing. They are among the best in the world.

To begin with, public education is an absolute right for every child in America, not just the privileged. No other school system anywhere in the world exceeds the United States in providing free access to education for everyone. And that, alone, makes us exceptional.

Our nation has made a commitment to providing a free and appropriate education for every child, regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, school meals, or even if they have a home. We even provide education to children who are here without proper immigration status.

We have developed a special education system to help children at the edges that many other countries just can’t touch. In many countries, students with severe physical, emotional, and cognitive impairments are simply excluded. In others they are institutionalized. In some countries it’s up to parents to find ways to pay for special services. The United States is one of the few countries where these children are not only included and offered full and free access, but the schools go above and beyond to teach these children well beyond their 12th academic year.

Even more, the education provided in many of our schools is some of the highest quality you can find in the world. We teach more subjects, provide robust extracurricular opportunities, provide safe and secure learning environments, and produce more high level university scholars than almost any other nation.

Over the past century, the children from the American public education system have changed the world in every area imaginable – from technology to medicine to the military and more.

And yet we are likely the most criticized education system in the world.

And sometimes our critics are right.

When they say our schools are conspicuously segregated by race and class, sometimes they are right.

When they say many children are trapped in sub-par schools with inequitable resources, sometimes they are right.

When they say we don’t do enough to rid our ranks of mediocre teachers and school leaders, sometimes they are right.

When they say we inflate grades rather than hold students accountable for learning, sometimes they are right.

When they say schools disproportionately target students of color for suspensions and other severe discipline, sometimes they are right

When they say districts fail to assign our best and most experienced teachers to our most challenging students and schools, sometimes they are right.

When they say we lower our academic standards to teach to the middle of the class, sometimes they are right.

When they say we don’t provide enough academic rigor in our classrooms, sometimes they are right.

When they say we give up on some kids, sometimes they are right.

When they say homework and other assignments are nothing more than busy work, sometimes they are right.

When they say our teachers don’t collaborate enough, causing significant gaps from one class to another, sometimes they are right.

When they say we love our rules more than we love our kids, sometimes they are right.

When they say children graduate from high school lacking important job skills, sometimes they are right.

When they say our grading practices are unfair and don’t accurately assess student learning to academic standards, sometimes they are right.

When they say our curriculum and pedagogy is outdated, sometimes they are right.

When they say we don’t use research and data effectively to improve teaching and learning, sometimes they are right.

When they say school is boring and lacks meaning for many children, sometimes they are right.

When they say we try to avoid accountability for things within our control, sometimes they are right.

When they say we don’t do enough to communicate and form positive connections with our parents and school community, sometimes they are right.

When they say we are too defensive and averse to change, sometimes they are right.

When they say we could do more to improve education in America, sometimes they are right.

So, yes, we must continue to advocate for our students, teachers, and schools. We have much for which to be proud.

Yet, to serve the children in our schools and communities well, those of us who work in schools must be harder on ourselves than anyone outside of our schools.

As professionals, we must ascribe to the theory that there is no limit for better and pursue excellence in all we do.

We must be more accountable to the families and communities who entrust us with their children.

We must be reflective and critical of how we and our colleagues think, act, and behave. Self respect without self-awareness is useless.

Here’s the bottom line.

The best counter to those who disparage and criticize public schools to promote school choice in America is to ensure our schools are the unequivocal BEST choice for America’s children.

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves to make that happen?