All Education Is Local
What to make of the results of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll regarding attitudes towards public schools? Here are some of the highlights:
•Teaching is still a career we’d like our kids to choose.
•Even though about half of us think teacher unions are hurting public education, we’re more likely to support teachers’ unions than bully governors.
•We value the principal’s opinion regarding teacher evaluation and which teachers should be laid off first.
•Teacher quality is more important than class size.
•We support charter schools, but not vouchers.
•Lack of money is the biggest problem facing our schools, not discipline or drugs.
•We are proud of our local schools, but we’re less confident about American education in general.
So despite all the national bashing of teachers, we still think that teaching is an honorable career, and we still respect teachers and principals. We like our local schools, and we support them. (This is not a surprise to me, because in the 15 years I worked as a superintendent in upstate New York, I never had a budget voted down – a claim that most other superintendents in the state could make as well). And I do not agree with Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, who says that parents’ support of their local public schools is guilt-driven, making them unable to say that their child’s school isn’t satisfactory. Nonsense. It’s just possible that the local public school is doing just fine and parents understand that it’s best for their child’s progress if home and school work together.
So if people in general support their local school, where does the idea come from that American education in general is sub-par? After all, most parents have no idea what’s happening in schools one city over, let alone across the country. Well, there are those ubiquitous reports that our kids do poorly in comparison with students in other nations, although I have to admit I don’t even know what that means, exactly. (The gap between white and black students, on the other hand, is supported by evidence and is cause for genuine concern.) Then there are the folks who have made a living bad-mouthing American education in print and in other media (no need to name names). And we need to remember that our standards are high and our public schools admit everyone, an idea that is part of our greatness as a nation.
So I have to admit to feeling pretty good that folks in general support their local schools and teachers. Despite everything. If it’s a pretty good year in every local school, wouldn’t it be pretty good year nationally? Maybe even better since the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.