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Don’t believe everything you hear about public schools

There is a lot of hyperbole surrounding public education, much of which is false and misleading. In a recent article on the Huffington Post blog titled “U.S. Public Schools Are Not Failing. They’re Among The Best In The World” writer Steven Singer does an amazing job dissecting this complex topic. The main thing he does throughout the piece is demonstrating how apples to oranges it is to compare schools from different nations to one another. He writes:

No school system of this size anywhere in the world exceeds the United States in providing free access to education for everyone. And that, alone, makes us one of the best.


This is the crux of debunking the failing schools narrative. While there is certainly much work to be done, there always will, it remains disingenuous to say that schools in the US are categorically failing. I found Mr. Singer's analysis of assessment scores fascinating:

American elementary and middle school students have improved on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study every four years since the tests began in 1995. They are above the international average in all categories and within a few percentage points of the global leaders (something rarely mentioned on the nightly news).Even on the PISA test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to 15-year-olds in about 60 countries, US children are far from the bottom of the scale. We’re somewhere in the middle. We’ve always been in the middle for all the decades since they’ve been making these comparisons.

Another aspect of American schools is that students are not excluded. This is unusual and has consequences on overall scores on major assessments. Mr. Singer adeptly describes this commitment to inclusion:

But if you fairly compare education systems and factor in the equal access we provide for all children to an education, our system comes out way on top. The United States is one of the only 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.

When viewed through this lense, public schools are doing a good job. Are improvements needed, could a better job be done- or course! The point is that comparing our nation's educational system with others creates a false narrative from which there is no recovery. Instead we should be celebrating the diversity in our schools and continuing to make them welcoming to all students.

References: U.S. Public Schools Are Not Failing. They’re Among The Best In The World retrieved 3/8/17

About Jasper Sr.

Jasper Fox Sr. is in his fourteenth year of teaching science in New York State. An avid writer and connected educator, he maintains an active Twitter presence as @JasperFoxSR and writes regularly about improving educational practice to help all students succeed.