Monday, April 16, 2012

Things aren't always what they seem to be...


For a number of years now, public schools, teachers and administrators have been under assault by a certain faction whose obvious aim is to eliminate public education in America. Now they won't admit to that but if you study the many one-sided debates and main-stream media-aided attacks on public schools, you would be deft if you considered any other conclusion.

The anti-public education group claims that public schools aren't cutting the mustard anymore. Many sound like CNN's Fareed Zakaria when he laments, "Part of the reason we're in this crisis is that we have slacked off and allowed our education system to get rigid and sclerotic." If you read the rest of Paul Farhi's latest analysis (Flunking the Test, American Journal Review) of this doom-and-gloom chanting, which I strongly encourage you do, you will quickly begin to see the pattern of flame-throwing in the world of sensational journalism, with public education right in its path.

Zakaria's take, however, may be a perfect distillation of much of what's wrong with mainstream media coverage of education. The prevailing narrative – and let's be wary of our own sweeping generalizations here – is that the nation's educational system is in crisis, that schools are "failing," that teachers aren't up to the job and that America's economic competitiveness is threatened as a result. Just plug the phrase "failing schools" into Nexis and you'll get 544 hits in newspapers and wire stories for just one month, January 2012. Some of this reflects the institutionalization of the phrase under the No Child Left Behind Act, the landmark 2001 law that ties federal education funds to school performance on standardized tests (schools are deemed "failing" under various criteria of the law). But much of it reflects the general notion that American education, per Zakaria, is in steep decline. Only 20 years ago, the phrase was hardly uttered: "Failing schools" appeared just 13 times in mainstream news accounts in January of 1992, according to Nexis. (Neither Zakaria nor CNN would comment for this story.)

Another group of so-called reformers love to spin the argument that charter public schools are more superior to traditional neighborhood-based public schools. But when they are called on the carpet to defend this statement, they can only point to a handful of successful endeavors, then completely ignore the fact that there are more than a handful of traditional public schools also succeeding. That's like kryptonite to Superman.

Several recent articles on have confronted the myth of superiority championed by the anti-public education group. They are well worth the read and once again demonstrate that things are not always what they seem to be, no matter how many times you hear it from the main stream media or political power-brokers.

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