(Guest post by Greg Forster)
The most recent OCPA Perspectives carries my article on how public schools in Oklahoma (like everywhere else!) are worse than people think. I discuss some of the reasons that might lie behind the persistent tendency of the public to think that schools in their own neighborhoods are fine, and it’s always somebody else’s school that has problems:
Local pride creates an irrational bias to think that “our” schools must be good. Even more, it’s because parents would feel guilty admitting they’re sending their kids to schools that aren’t as good as they ought to be…This problem is itself one reason it’s horribly perverse to give government a school monopoly. It makes us feel like we can’t admit the system is failing without being failures ourselves.
These problems may be exacerbated in Oklahoma because it’s a relatively white and rural state. Our cultural image of “failing schools” seems to have been set in stone way back in the 1980s with movies like “Lean on Me.” It’s only the poor, black, inner-city schools that fail. White schools don’t fail. Suburban and rural schools don’t fail…Education reformers, unfortunately, have spent decades reinforcing this prejudice. We’ve typically used only one measurement of what counts as success in education reform: reducing the “achievement gap” between white, suburban schools and minority, urban schools. The unconscious assumption is that if a school is white and suburban, it must be succeeding. That kind of school must represent the best that American education is capable of. But why? Because it’s white and suburban?
I cite data from the new Harvard study “Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children” and also data from the Global Report Card, put together by some guy I know. Check it out.
The focus on decreasing the dreaded “achievement gap” and eliminating leveled classes by subject pretty much dooms any serious efforts to challenge the most able and motivated kids. Such efforts are routinely accompanied by outrage and screams of “elitist”, “racist”, “creaming” and general unfairness. That the outrage is even directed at schools where the vast majority of kids are of the same racial/ethnic group doesn’t say much about the level of interest in those kids who will pass “The Test” anyway.