Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Failing Schools?

Education Next is trotting out its Big Fat Survey of Educational Stuff for 2015, and for eduwonks it's twenty-three pages of interesting stuff. I'm sure many of us will be parsing, mining and massaging the results, as well as discussing how much the reform-loving sponsors of the survey can be trusted. But as I poked through it, two results jumped out at me immediately.

So, where are the failing schools?

The whole premise of our ongoing onslaught of reformy forces against public education is that we are awash in a sea of terrible schools. So where are they? Where are all the people saying, "Yes, my school is failing."

Even the folks grading Other People's Schools-- it's a regular thing in these surveys that folks think their own schools are better than the national picture, but the difference here is a blip (the only interesting blip is that more African-Americans think their local schools are failing than think the nation's are).

I mean, we can expect a certain percentage of people to think schools are failing for the usual cranky reasons-- school doesn't teach cursive, or it let's pregnant ladies teach, or it didn't play Chris enough on first string, or school officials kept fining them for truancy, or teachers kept flunking Chris just cause Chris never did assigned work and flunked all the tests. Add to that the constant barrage over the last fifteen years that US public schools are terrible, that they must be reformed, that students must be rescued from these deep pits of failing failure.

So why aren't more people convinced? Why aren't more people giving schools a failing grade?

What about teachers?

This, unfortunately, is a less clear data set. Note that the question is different, so I'm not sure how to read the chart. Does the 9% F rating under parents mean that 9% of the parents would give F's, or that on average, parents would give 9% of the teachers in their school an F? Either way, the numbers are higher than you'd like them to be (although once again we find that the teachers people don't know are worse than the ones they do). But they are way lower than the numbers generated by the theory, favored by Andrew Cuomo and others, that if 70% of students get low test scores, 70% of the teachers must suck.

There are certainly aspects of these data that are unbragworthy. But it is still worth noting that the reformsters narrative of terrible schools staffed with horrible teachers is not what most folks see-- certainly not the level of disaster needed to really jumpstart a good round of disaster capitalist roulette. Perhaps that's why some folks have to work so very hard to create the impression of educational disaster.


  1. Oh, but what does it matter what people think, Peter! Their judgment is suspect. They're too subjective. They can't really know what schools are like unless some external metrics - any metrics, it doesn't matter what they measure as long as they aren't tainted by human judgment - tell them what to think. The poor things are deluded, believing that their silly brains and thought processes and what they observe have any worth or validity.

    This is fascinating data.

    I didn't read the report, but on the face of it I would think the second chart would be the average of the percentages that people gave, from how the question is phrased.

  2. One of the more interesting bits is the difference between parents and teachers giving schools in their own area an A (16% and 21% respectively) and giving the public schools as a whole an A (3% and 2% respectively). That 19% drop in teachers assessment is the largest drop of any of the demographic groups in the first set of tables.