Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Are Public School Really That Bad?

One of the items making the rounds on Facebook right now is a comment by the governor of Mississippi that  the decline of the public schools started when moms entered the workforce.  I mean "everyone" knows that public schools aren't as good as they used to be, so something must be to blame, right?  Maybe the teachers are lousy now. Maybe its the broken families.  Maybe its Mom.  But the schools are broken, right?

Are they?  Or are we just measuring everybody now, and caring about everybody?  I graduated from high school in a middle-class town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1979.  I was on the advanced track most of the time.  The kids I was in classes with generally went on to college and now we are doctors, lawyers, salespeople, business owners, teachers, retired military, stay at home moms, nurses, paralegals, veterinarians, and ministers, just like our parents were.  We took four years of English, three or four years of math, three or four years of science, and three or four years of history/social studies.  Even among the college-bound, few took physics, many didn't take world history, and about half of the advanced crowd took senior math.  Most of us took study hall at least for a semester along the way.  None of us had to do summer reading.   Most of us took two years of a foreign language. None  of us earned college credit in high school.  Many seniors, especially those who didn't take a lot of study halls along the way, left school after lunch.  Among the crowd not going to college, two years of practical math was common, or else just Algebra I and Geometry.  They took physical science and biology, but not chemistry or physics.  They filled their class time with home economics, shop, or secretarial or business classes.

Today, in Louisiana, all students are required to pass Algebra I and Geometry. Anyone who wants to be admitted to a state-supported university has to pass four years of science, English, math and history and two years of foreign language.  Summer reading is a given, at least for honors classes.  The honors track students often earn college credit either through dual enrollment or through AP classes.  While some classes are double-blocked, kids in our district have eight periods a  year as compared to the six we had.   It sounds to me like things are more rigorous than when I was in school, not less.

Yea, but Johnny can't read, right?  I've read all the test scores in the paper, I know some of them stink.  My question is whether kids in Johnny's shoes could read 40 or 50 years ago.  I know I could read (but then so can my kids), but how did the poor minority students in segregated schools do?  How did handicapped kids do? When "those" kids were in different schools than "our" kids, did we really care how they did?  Yes, some did well; yes, many will tell you about school being a refuge from the hardships of poverty, but do we have data showing how well those schools catering to the poor actually taught the majority of their students? In today's parlance,how were their test scores?  I know that around here, lining schools up by their free lunch rates gives you almost the same order as lining them up by test scores--the higher the free lunch rates the lower the test scores.  The "problem" is that in the old days either overt racial segregation or, later, district boundary lines, kept "them" out of "our" schools.  Court orders have put them in our schools, along with others who used to be excluded or put in trailers at the back of campus--the handicapped.

Are schools today really all that bad?


  1. I was just having a conversation with my daughter about the difference of then and now. At 13, she wants to sleep late during this summer, watch TV, socialize with her friends, etc. just like I did when I was on summer vacation as a 13 year old. I did a few things other then lounge, but it didn't involve academics.

    She has summer reading, 2 of which are "Little Women" and "The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe" or whatever the title is. :) She's in a private middle school, but my public school daughters have big assignments, too.

    I'll admit that I am not the most astute person when it comes to assessing school test score differences and reasons, however what you've written sounds accurate. I don't think today's kids are less intelligent (even with all the technology that does things for them); I just think that more is expected of them.

    By the way, like most of my generation who was fairly (me)or greatly educated, we "did alright." I was a computer programmer for 15 years and I ate very well. :)

    (Though, I know many who fell through the cracks due to the poverty and bad education you speak of.)

  2. I dont think so. But it's no doubt that not as good facilities as the private school.

  3. I've always had a snob spot about the private vs. public elementary schools, but having one foot in both worlds now, I think your point has merit. I'd be interested to see if anyone can poke holes in the argument. :)

    "Chinese"'s comment, if I understand it correctly, I don't buy. I'm really not expecting to send my kids to Catholic HS because the programs can't hope to compete in the arts--facilities or offerings, either one. The funding simply isn't there the way it is in the public school, and as an artsy kind of person, that's very important to me.

    1. I think that's a matter of where you are and who uses the schools. Here, the facilities are almost always better in the private high schools than the public. As far as the arts go, if you are classified as talented, the public schools probably have better programs; if you aren't, then the private schools do.

  4. I'm familiar with Catholic schools at best having facilities as good as public schools.

    Regardless, I think there is a wider spread among students from best to worst than there was when I graduated from public school in 1974.

    1. But Christian, is it a wider spread in general or just a wider spread at a particular school? Or perhaps,were those on the bottom, particularly if their skin was a certain color, encouraged, at least tacitly, to drop out?

    2. In general nowadays kids at the top tend to have the support of two degreed/ advanced degreed parents, and those at the bottom have parents neither educated nor married.


  5. RAnn, with personal experience in both public and Catholic schools...we live in a world that measures each year as "not as good as next year will be" and achievements measured in dollars of funding.

    Lost are the students' learning needs, but here in NC funding for art/music/creative programs are being cut right and left. More base curriculums are being implemented that leave the individual out of the equation and allow for better "numbers" and more funding.

    Schools don't teach to reach, parents expect more from the schools, and the students are being socialized by like-minded peers with the next generation becoming more and more liberal-minded, with less and less respect for authority.


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