11 Big Myths About American Public Schools

Seeing as how 2012 is an election year, education and how to fix it sits at the forefront of the citizenry’s mind. And an informed vote about the issue is a vote with informed research behind it. We won’t claim to know everything about the education system in Indiana, Delaware, Maine – or any state for that matter, but we can provide a few resources to look over and understand some of the misconceptions regarding how the public school system works.

  1. Things just keep getting worse:

    As Paul Farhi at The Washington Post points out, the American public school system needs help. But even though dropouts still plague districts across the nation — an issue undeniably requiring addressing — in reality, students are actually improving in many important ways. In 2008, 8% of 16- through 24-year-olds didn’t hold a high school diploma, nor were they en route to completing one; this actually marks a significant drop over a three-decade span. Farhi also notes a general increase in standardized testing scores and believes the trend toward diversity in the classroom also stands as a purely positive component of the public school experience.

  2. The “achievement gap” is the schools’ responsibility:

    The Huffington Post’s Gerald Bracey of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University believes the classist component of No Child Left Behind widened the divide between underprivileged and privileged public school students. The former demographic suffers because fewer resources mean compromised knowledge retention and less funding, but this happens because of politics rather than the schools themselves. Bracey argues that politicians, parents, and surrounding communities must also play a role in ensuring equal academic opportunities and outcomes.

  3. Poor grades means poor abilities:

    American parents and teachers unfortunately tend to dismiss a student’s inadequate performance as something inherently the matter with their minds. In some cases this mindset proves true, but it might also mean a lowered work ethic or issues with how material winds up presented in the classroom. This logic also applies to entire classes, schools, and even subjects. Engaged educators concerned with drawing up appealing lessons accessible to all types of learning styles makes for a great start in combating the phenomenon. David E. Drew with Slate notes that the Japanese approach, which emphasizes hard work over aptitude, tends to improve math and science performance.

  4. Charter schools don’t count:

    They absolutely do. As with more mainstream public schools, their charter equivalents cannot discriminate when it comes to admission, show any religious affiliation, or charge tuition. What sets them apart is how students elect to attend them, usually to sharpen particular skills for future careers. Stanford studies revealed that they perform no better and no worse than their peers attending other public institutions.

  5. Black and Latino students drag down America’s global rankings:

    Any dips in ranking have far more to do with class-based discrimination on a national level as opposed to anything core to black and/or Latino culture. But that doesn’t stop some incredibly boneheaded myths painting race as the culprit from funneling through the public consciousness. Marilyn Rhames bucks this mode of thinking by pointing out that underprivileged schools holding far fewer resources are really to blame, as performance increases alongside opportunities and talented teaching staffs. Eliminate the gaps between classes and eliminate the performance issues. It has nothing to do with the race of the students in question.

  6. Merit pay works/Merit pay doesn’t work:

    Study after study, experiment after experiment, reveals that the merit pay debate in American public schools proves a mix of success and failure. Sometimes, rewarding teachers based on student standardized test scores leads to an increased classroom performance. Sometimes, it decidedly doesn’t. So to declare it the best or the worst strategy isn’t exactly right. In truth, merit pay seems to work in some scenarios and fall short in others, meaning universal application probably isn’t a terribly viable path to explore.

  7. Teachers get excessive pensions:

    Even in Massachusetts, which boasts a strong teacher’s union and some of the most high-achieving students in the United States, the educators don’t exactly enjoy the perks their critics say they do. They do not receive Social Security, and 90% of their pensions come straight out of their own pockets. Ten percent of their yearly earnings pay into it, and the state pays 2%. That’s it. And the average eventually means about $38,637 per year once they begin receiving their pensions. Obviously not the cushy government gig so many seem to believe it to be!

  8. Special education is a drain:

    Uh, no. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Americans with Disabilities Act ensure equal accessibility and opportunities for citizens, no matter their physical, emotional, or mental status. Special needs students deserve just as many academic opportunities as those in mainstream classrooms, so to declare their funding a detriment is outright discriminatory. Complaints come when public schools wind up paying the private school tuition of kids whose challenges require more attention than what their resources allow. Seeing as how this situation only accounts for 0.18% of total students, districts aren’t in any danger of compromising anyone’s education in order to ensure another child receives a fair chance.

  9. States just can’t help themselves from slashing at public colleges:

    Christopher Newfield feared a “self-fulfilling prophecy” back in 2008, with budget cuts and tuition hikes considered the only viable means to react to the financial crisis. He holds both politicians and the public (and, of course, communication breakdown between the two) accountable for this trend, and believes more honesty about the true cost of public higher education can help alleviate some of the problem. At the rate things are going, Newfield argues, this a-hackin’ and a-slashin’ punishes the students more than anyone else, granting them educations of a lower quality than what they actually pay to receive.

  10. Prayer is banned in public schools:

    Public school students are absolutely free to pray as they see fit. But the institutions themselves are not to show preference for one faith over another by incorporating prayer into official events and documents. That’s where the confusion comes into play. If a kid wants to praise his or her chosen deity before lunch, that action sits well within the law. But if a teacher were to require every student to praise a chosen deity before lunch, that stands as a violation. So long as the government isn’t paying for the proselytizing, prayer has a home in public schools in Kentucky, Idaho, Mississippi and all states across the country.

  11. Gifted students challenge average to poor students:

    Average to poor students tend to perform better when lumped with fellow average to poor students, and the same sentiment holds true for their gifted counterparts. Many districts lumped multiple abilities into one classroom with the hopes that high performers would inspire their peers to do better. Yeah, this didn’t happen. At best, average and poor students felt uncomfortable and inadequate when compared to the gifted. At worst, the average and poor students actively bullied the gifted.