A call for reduction in hyperbole about public education

In the Education Week Teacher blog Teacher in a Strange Land, Nancy Flanagan responds to the general declaration that 'public school sucks'.

Do public schools suck? Is that the conventional wisdom, the reflexive, global response these days? Do we have to start with the conviction that public education has failed, before we can transform or improve, regenerate or revitalize a fully public system? I say no.

She makes some very good points about reasons to continue to support public education, and to retrofit the system instead of dismantling it.

I agree that it is not helpful to make broad claims that disparage every school in America. Many parents do express satisfaction with their local schools, while still bemoaning the lack of quality in the system overall.

America's education system needs to be overhauled and not summarily eliminated, but a worthy question to ask is "Why and how was public education conceived and implemented in the first place?"

A large portion of dissatisfaction with the current system is due to the massive changes in industry, culture, and technology that have rendered traditional methods as obsolete. Our society's needs demand that we rethink the whole scenario.

We do not need to discard public schools, but we do need to dismantle the education monopoly that federalized education has created, and open up more opportunities for parents to make choices about their child's education.

While I believe that there is enough of a framework of the original structure to allow for retrofitting, public education has looked the same for decades, and it is difficult to think of education as anything but the Chalk&Talk for the Sit&Git. This mold must be broken, and parents and teachers alike are seeking ways to do so.

In my opinion, the biggest obstacle to revitalizing education is the federal government. Mountains of mandates and reams of red tape leave teachers burdened. constrained, and stressed. Schools are no longer reflections of their neighborhoods, and the infrastructure is top heavy and unresponsive. The control of schools needs to be given back to states and communities. The cultural and socio-economic dynamics of various regions of the country are far too diverse to allow for such Borgian centralization (excuse the Star Trek reference, if you must).

Schools are also no longer primarily about academics. They are required to provide meals, counseling about substance abuse and violence, character training, and address health concerns. Time, energy, and money are poured into efforts that used to be the purview of parents, family and friends, charitable organizations and churches.

My perception is that parents generally do not want to take their children out of their local schools. They feel it necessary to being a part of their community. They view school through the lens of nostalgia, and want their children to share in all the same experiences- lunch in the cafeteria, recess on the playground, seeing the same friends every day, having a special teacher that made a difference.

Most parents will invest when they believe that in the overall scheme of things, their child will be served well, and that they themselves can make a difference. But when kids come home from school with four hours of homework, when a developmental delay is stigmatized as a disorder and medication recommended, when they want to work with their child's teacher and school officials, but those officials don't have time to respond because of the demands of supposed school reforms and incorporation of new standards... parents will seek out other options.