Get A Public School Clue

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

It’s a good thing that public school bureaucrats are not in charge of America’s Early Warning System. They are always the last to know.

“In the 1970s, I used to think that there was no difference in boys’ and girls’ learning styles—it was all in the upbringing and environment,” a Montana public school district superintendent wrote in a letter that appeared in the December 2006 American School Board Journal. “Now I’m sure there are innate differences.”

“A good teacher is going to understand those differences anyway and modify her teaching accordingly—just as she would with each of her unique individuals.” And how many kids has she taught since the “Me Decade” ended?

But if she had a delayed reaction, North Carolina public school spokeswoman Nora Carr has yet to experience such an epiphany. “Yet school districts across the country—especially those in the nation’s largest cities—are reporting alarming increases in middle class flight, as more economically able families of all races opt for private and parochial schools, or schools in the farther-flung suburbs,” Carr writes in the ASBJ.

“Reasons for the exodus vary, from soaring housing prices that make good neighborhoods with strong public schools a luxury fewer families can afford, to the well-publicized and persistent myth that most—if not all—public schools are failing.” Even allowing for a magazine’s long lead times, “soaring housing prices” are a distant memory for most homeowners, particularly those trying to sell their property. As for the “myth that most—if not all—public schools are failing,” which set of test scores would you like to look at?

Carr herself tacitly acknowledges this trend. “While increasing test scores, meeting the needs of at-risk students, and fixing low performing schools are critical goals, if these items dominate the public debate, school leaders inadvertently fuel middle-class parents’ fears that their children’s needs are somehow being sacrificed,” Carr writes.

Carr serves as chief communications officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools in North Carolina, whose woes have been enumerated extensively by the North Carolina Education Alliance. For example, NCEA director Lindalyn Kakadelis reports that in the 2004-2005 school year, 80 percent of CM schools failed to meet the Annual Yearly Progress that the federal No Child Left Behind Law requires of school districts receiving national government funding.

The school district’s own recent survey shows that only 39 percent of parents with children in its schools think that the local Board of Education is spending money wisely.

“Once as revered as Mom and apple pie, the public school brand has crashed and burned spectacularly since the 1970s, when the general public and most parents believed their children’s schools were better than when they attended them,” Carr observes. “Long-term studies by Public Agenda show that the percentage of the public expressing a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in America’s public schools has declined from 54 percent in 1977 to just 37 percent in 2005.”

As we have seen, she is hard put to place her finger on exactly why this has occurred. She does not hold the patent on this reaction.

“For me, public schools in partnership with supportive parents do a good job of preparing kids for college and for life,” a member of the Berkeley (CA) Parents Network wrote. “Private schools do an excellent job of preparing kids for college but don’t give kids as many ‘life skills.’”

Whatever these “life skills” are, they are characteristics that an increasing number of companies, which are setting up operations abroad in order to find a skilled workforce, seem to feel that they can bloody well do without.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.