Failing Schools? Try Failed Policy.

Posted on: Thu, 06/08/2017 - 09:00

Public schools have failed? Well you might think that if you pay attention to the media. Newspaper writers repeatedly describe public schools with some variant of failed, failing or failure. The Washington Post printed 76 articles in the last year alone that included the phrase “failing school.”  (Thankfully, The Frederick News-Post has been somewhat more circumspect).

Column after column after column after column bemoans the failure of our public schools to achieve this or that desired result. The media and many political leaders blame professional educators for failing to meet the needs of too many students using whatever “school reform” metric is currently in vogue. And proponents of “school choice” suggest that allowing every child to choose the school he or she attends will solve the problem of failing schools. These views and beliefs are rarely – if ever – backed by reputable research (but that’s a discussion for another day).

Schools and education are deeply emotional and deeply personal topics. They’re topics all of us can relate to, if only because we’ve all had some kind of personal experience with education. Ironically when asked about their local public school, most Americans are very pleased. Yet when asked about all public schools, the label of “failing schools” perpetuated by the media and politicians is used.  It is time to move past this empty rhetoric and do the hard work of pinpointing ways to make American public education (which is actually amazingly successful) even better.

It is beyond time to have a more thoughtful and broader discussion about the failure of federal, state, and local policy to build up our public schools as much as possible, to empower educators to innovate, to support students in achieving excellence, and to develop policies to alleviate the impacts of poverty, homelessness, and growing mental health issues on our public schools.

Public schools can’t and don’t educate students alone. Parents, businesses, and the entire community support the work of our schools. That means we need to invest as a community. As Alton Frailey, President of the School Superintendents Association, noted in a recent presentation, “Our schools are the lagging indicator of the community.” Another way of thinking about that: if our schools are failing, our communities are failing.

It is time for our political leaders to critically examine the social and educational policies and regulations that they have enacted.  Are these policies the best we can do for children and families in the 21st Century?  In many cases, the answer is no. But to do that critical examination, we need to put aside the tired rhetoric of failing schools. That’s the language of misplaced blame, not the language of real solutions.

Are you as tired as I am about hearing about failing schools? Tell me about it on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether or not you agree with this post, if you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.