And it’s not the school bell
I am a public high school teacher and a conservative, so I see both sides. I worked in the private sector for almost 20 years before becoming a teacher. I taught 10 years in private schools, but came to public school for the higher salary and benefits. I could write a book on the problems with education, but I'll say this -- politicians (of both parties) and unions have no incentive to fix the problems in public schools. They all want to be perceived as "doing something" and have thrown untold millions into schools (except for teacher salaries) and there has been no improvement. In fact, by any measure, American education has declined for at least the last 25 years. If a business failed this long, it could not survive, but without any real competition, schools themselves have no real incentive to get better. Most teachers I know work their butts off to do right by their students, but we are hampered by mandates from federal, state and district people who haven't seen the inside of the classroom in years, and have no idea how learning really works. They want to throw money at educational experts and testing companies instead of trusting the people who do the job every day. Nobody speaks for teachers, especially not the unions. It is infuriating that good teachers can't be paid more for being better, but we are trapped in a one-pay-fits-all system that serves no one. I stay because I love what I do, and do my best within the frameworks put on me. I don't want to see public education fail, but at this point, I think it may have to if we ever want to create something better.
As a student, I can say that this is completely and honestly true.
As a student who suffered through all of this, I feel this, especially with Covid-19. In middle school, I had about three competent teachers, and then an incredible amount of fools. Already not being able to understand their instructions, I lost all capability of understanding anything at all. My only decent class, music, was ruined. Imagine a group of twenty+ people trying to play Mozart through zoom. It is terrible. I think that it is quite true in this case, that people must do something. They want to try to help. Would you think though that it might be easier for teachers to ask parents to teach, or to help. In my case, the only things I learned during Covid came about because my parents stepped in.
Echoing some other commenters, your comments and others are fairly accurate. I've been a public high school history teacher in the mid-Atlantic I for thirty years, teaching in Delaware for the last twenty-three. I do think public schools haven't done themselves many favors, especially with parents prone to support them. In 2009, at a public meeting, our Principal stated, "(This HS) isn't here to serve the fine families of (the immediate surrounding area)." I was sitting in the audience as someone whose children would attend that HS in about 5 years. The message from that principal and the 2-3 following him was that they were not interested in "catering to" the families in the immediate area, preferring to focus on working with the urban students being bussed into the suburban HS. If those suburban families sent their students to the public schools, fine. If they sent them elsewhere, that was fine too. This indifference eventually led my wife and I to send our children to private HS.
Nearly every faculty meeting's focus is on achievement gaps, discipline policy initiatives, and the like. It is rare to have overall student academic improvement as a focus. While these are topics worthy of consideration, parents hear of these concerns, look at their own children, and want them in better situations more amenable to their children's individual talents. And the brain drain continues.
Unfortunately, I don't see the situation considerably improving. Like other commenters have said, there is too much vested in the present situation. Many jobs providing "services" for some of our troubled students, expert consultants touting "flavor of the month" teaching programs, state-level administrators creating teacher evaluation programs that do nothing to either promote better teaching or "weed out" teachers that just don't help kids in any way, shape or form. Everyone gets paid, and the job security is tremendous.
I'm going to keep up the "good fight." (I'm using your article on Homestead with my History classes later this week) I hope to inspire a few, challenge a decent number, act as a good role model to most, and do no harm with the remainder. I try to stay out of the view of administrators and just do my job.
Prof. Brands--Thank you for highlighting several factors for the decay of support for public schools. Indeed, parents--especially those with means--seek maximum opportunities for their own children. And the arguments of politicians and unions about curricula are indeed rarely about curricula. But I suggest that your analysis elides two important factors. The Reagan years didn't just assault government control and unions; the first large movements toward private academies were in direct response to efforts at racial integration in schools. And the 90's and later expansions of (non-state run) charter schools was strongly driven by parents who wanted public support for denominational instruction--which they have incrementally achieved. "Othering" in one way or another has been winning over inculcation of the common good. [FWIW, I attended public schools gr.1-8 and a private HS; I taught in public HS, as well as some work in independent schools. I observed some systems where the adults grossly shortchanged their students, but more where reasonably knowledgeable people worked hard to help the children under their care learn and grow.]
I went to private schools (Lutheran) K-10. I wish I had stayed there for my final two years of high school. I was getting a much better education in my Lutheran schools. Don't get me started on the public schools of today! I could write a book on the horror stories of things people have witnessed in the public schools.
Very dispiriting. Problem: “it takes a village.” Our collective village has become disfunctional. Where do we look for hope?