Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier


The EDifier

February 9, 2017

Alternative facts and America’s so-called failing public schools

Hello, Joe and Mika. My name is Patte and I am a compulsive Morning Joe watcher. I enjoy the background chatter, banter and congenial badgering while I’m getting ready for work. And often a segment makes me stop and pay attention.

Which happened during Wednesday’s show. The topic was the to-the-wire confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  But the substance had more to do with our so-called failing public schools. Political strategist and frequent Morning Joe table talker Steve Schmidt kicked it off by calling our public education system “fundamentally broken” and a “total profound failure.” As evidence, he pointed to Los Angeles where, he claimed, “50 percent of Black and Latino students don’t make it to a diploma.” Joe, you piled on, saying that “public education is broken” and “everyone knows that’s the case.”  The generally affable Willie Geist weighed in: “We can’t keep dumping millions into a broken system.”

Admittedly, I’m a little sensitive. After all, being for public education is embedded in our name, the Center for Public Education. But fundamental to our mission is also being data-driven. And the ubiquitous assertion that public schools are failing sets our collective teeth on edge.

Two things:

  • By many measures, public schools are performing better than they ever have.
  • Public schools still need – and want — to do better.

Since Steve Schmidt brought it up, let’s talk about high school graduation. The rate of high school students graduating is at historically high levels. In 2014, public schools posted their highest ever graduation rate — 82 percent — largely driven by gains for Black and Latino students. To be sure, gaps are still present, but they have narrowed significantly.

So what about Los Angeles? The overall grad rate for LA Unified Schools was 72 percent in 2015, up from 62 percent five years earlier. The rates for Black and Latino students were, respectively, 67 and 71 percent, lagging their peers nationally, but clearly better than the 50 percent Schmidt reported.

Other measures may be surprising. Our younger public school students are rocking it in math. According to results of the National Assessment for Educational Progress, today’s fourth-graders score 27 points higher on the NAEP scale than their peers did in 1990. Eighth-graders have higher scores by 19 points. To put it in layman’s terms, that’s about two years more of math learning. Although reading gains aren’t quite as dramatic as math, reading scores have likewise improved over the last two decades. And here’s a shocker: in math and reading, fourth-graders perform significantly above the international average.

I could go on. College-going rates are up. High schoolers are taking higher level math and science. More of our youngest students are enrolled in high-quality pre-k programs.

This is not to say we are where we need to be. High school students aren’t improving as fast as our elementary and middle-schoolers. Despite the progress made with low-income and minority students, schools have yet to close the achievement gap. And an 82 percent grad rate is not 100 percent. Clearly, we have a lot more work to do. But the perpetuation of the notion that our public schools are failing masks the real gains public schools have made. Worse, it sends a discouraging message to the hard-working educators who are making children’s lives better every day.

Joe, Mika – I love what you do every morning. But on this topic, you are flirting with joining the culture of alternative fact. It’s not too late to pull back and we can help. We even have charts. Have Steve Rattner give us a call.

Your fan,

Patte Barth







RSS Feed