Today I have a guest blogger. My esteemed colleague, friend, and co-author. She offers some strong ideas in support of public education in the US.
What is right with public education in the United States: A statement, not a question
I currently teach at a public university, and most of my students (who are preparing to become PK-12 teachers) complete a significant number of internship hours in public schools. My two children also attend public schools. From this vantage point, I witness the challenges and shortcomings of public education. No doubt, there are flaws and limitations of public education in the US and much work continues to be done to address these. However, I do not intend to make a statement regarding what is wrong with public schools. People from across the political spectrum have covered this topic, and for decades they have eagerly clamored to the microphone to question what is wrong with public education in the US.
While high profile figures such as Arne Duncan and John King (Secretaries of Education during the Obama administration) and Betsy DeVos, (nominee for Secretary of Education during the Trump administration) set the tone of the national dialogue, their messages resonate well beyond Washington, DC and are repeated across the country. Take for example, my state of Nebraska. In an email to a constituent, State Senator Mike Groene, referred to public schools as “zoos” run by “animals” (educators). He also referred to a “self righteous [sic] public school establishment” and described teachers as “draft dodgers of the sixties” who hide their laziness and lack of ability behind tenure. This in Nebraska – of all places – which is one of the highest-performing states on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and boasts envious graduation rates. Nebraska accomplishes all this without the Common Core, charter schools, or vouchers and with midrange per pupil expenditures.
So while Mr. Groene and others will tell you what is wrong with public education in the US, I will make a statement, actually two, about what is right with public schools. These statements provide only a glimpse of what is right. They are intended to entice you to look beyond the rhetoric and consider the accomplishments, often realized despite herculean odds, of the public education system in the US.
Statement One: Public schools in the US have academic offerings which are far more comprehensive than those in other countries.
The curriculum found in US public schools includes a much wider range of content than what is offered in most other countries. Students in the US not only take mathematics, science, and English language courses, but also courses in physical education, health, a vast array of the arts and humanities, as well as numerous technical areas. Granted, a “back to the basics” curriculum might raise US scores on tests such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA – a test often used to compare the US to other countries), but this approach has been problematic. In countries often touted for their high PISA scores, there is growing recognition of the importance of teaching critical thinking and collaborative skills, as well as addressing the physical, civic, and artistic development of students. In fact, many countries with high PISA scores have initiated reforms shifting their systems away from a narrow curriculum and toward more comprehensive curricular offerings.
Statement Two: Public schools in the US are models of accessibility and accountability.
Public schools in the US provide free education to all children. This simply is not the case in most counties. Furthermore, US public schools assess learning outcomes and publicly report achievement data for nearly all students, excluding only those students for whom standardized testing would be unethical. Many countries only educate, assess, and report the learning outcomes of an elite subset of their population. What does accessibility in US education entail? US public schools educate children:
– living in remote rural communities, small towns, suburbs, and cities of all sizes
– whose native language is English and those who do not speak or understand a single word of English (In fact, in large urban areas over 100 native languages may be represented within the students enrolled in the public schools.)
– of all races and ethnicities
– without limitations based on gender
– who are citizens and those who may have entered the country illegally
– from wealthy, middle class, white collar, blue collar, poor, and homeless families
– who are intellectually gifted and those who face unyielding and tremendous cognitive and physical challenges
If you wish to learn more about what is right in public education, I invite you to watch any of a number of compelling films at nelovesps.org. Despite Mr. Groene’s sentiments, you will see and hear amazing stories of the talents, determination, perseverance, creativity, and humility of the professionals who teach and the children who learn in US public schools.
Connie Schaffer, University of Nebraska Omaha