Monday, September 05, 2011

Education's Death Spiral

There's a new infographic out looking at the amount of trust the public puts in our public education system. It's a dismal picture. It starts in 1977 with a high of 54% of responses saying they had a "A great deal" or "Quite a lot" of confidence in public schools. It's been slipping pretty steadily since then and for 2011, sits at an all time low of 34%. This is, of course, in direct contrast to the constant raising of standards and expectations for teachers.

Yet overwhelmingly, when given the choice between larger classes with "more effective" teachers or smaller classes with "less effective" teachers, people choose the former. This conforms to everything else I keep seeing that people seem to place everything on teachers.

Oddly, the portion asking people what they "perceive to be the biggest problem that public schools in your community face", "qualified teachers" isn't one of the answers. I don't know if they left that off because it wasn't a possible answer, or suddenly everyone responding forgot about teachers (I suspect the former) but it's an unusual oversight. Instead, "lack of funding" took the #1 spot. More funding is definitely important, but throwing money at problems rarely fixes anything.

Another portion looks at whether people got positive or negative impressions of teachers from the news. No surprise here, teachers are vilified with 68% saying they hear more bad stories about teachers.

But here's the one that really killed me:
How do schools stack up against other community and national institutions? We suck. As noted, only 34% of people rate schools as worthy of confidence. I'm glad to see that the Supreme Court is higher, but only just. A whopping 37%. Police fair a bit better at 56%. But the remaining four institutions worry me that they're rated so highly compared to schools: The Military, Small Business, Organized Religion, and the Medical System.

The military has gotten itself stuck in an endless war. Small businesses are great, of course, but often fail. The medical system is consistently rated as one of the poorest among 1st world nations. Organized religion is merely blind faith. None of those deserve to beat out schools. To me, this speaks of misplaced priorities. We'll slap "Support Our Troop" ribbons on everything, but there's no such ribbons for schools. We'll endlessly debate our health care systems in congress, but when it comes to education reform, we can't even be bothered to review NCLB.

To be fair, our primary education system is, like our medical system, rated extremely low, so it shouldn't be surprising. Yet surprising or not, it's a problem. When families teach their children to walk into schools believing that they're going into an institution that is horribly flawed, isn't really out to help them acquire skills they (should) want and need, then students aren't going to participate in their own learning. This in turn, weakens the perception further, making students again, less likely to want to try, and the spiral continues.

So how do we pull out of this death spiral?

The first key is to start making education rigorous again. I can't blame the perception of schools failing to educate kids when grade inflation induced by poor policies is out of control. Until schools have enough integrity to tell students where they actually stand, then it's no surprise that people won't trust them.

1 comment:

Abigail Smith said...

Relevant story Mom related to me today.

Mom (elementary school librarian): "Oh Ms Art Teacher! Look at this beautiful book on Alexander Calder we got for the library! You should do a class on him! The kids will love it!"

Ms Art Teacher (degrees in Art, Education): *blank stare*

Mom: "Umm..."


Mom: "Ummmmmmm..."

Its a death spiral. I know who Alexander Calder is, and I havent taken a course in art in 15 years (nor do I have much of an interest in it personally). I know who Calder is because I had a great art teacher who did a module on him. I had the mobile we made in that module hanging from my bedroom light for *years* (solar system mobile, w00t!). But kids who are going to the same school I did, today, wont know who Calder is, because their teacher doesnt.

Its not really her fault-- How the hell did she get degrees in art and education without knowing who he is?