Wisconsin’s Democracy Explosion Partially Due to Sharply Split Views of School Success–Local vs. National

Only a small fraction of parents–varying between 5% and 10%–have regarded their own children’s schools as failing, while they see schools in their communities failing at a higher rate, fluctuating around 15% since 1975. The perceived national failure rate started off about equal to the perceived community failure rate in 1985, but has generally trended upward since then, with a dip in 2005 followed by a sharp rise through 2010, another indication of the growing power of anti-school propaganda, even as parent’s perceptions of their own childrens’ schools moved lower than previous low levels:

The combined impact of decreased perceived failure rates in parents’ childrens’ schools and increased perceived failure rates in schools nationally and in the community over the past five years has created a sharp upticks in the ratios–an indication of a divergence in perceived failure rates, which has made the national mood of perceived trouble in education an even more unreliable predictor of how people feel about their own local school than ever before:

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

These perceived failure rates–even the worst of them–stand increasingly at odds with what the dysfunctional “national concensus” is telling us. An AP story Tuesday,

“Are 82 Percent Of U.S. Schools Really ‘Failing’?” revolved around the prospect that:

The Department of Education says the number of schools that fail to meet the annual proficiency goals could jump from 37 to 82 percent this year. That would include schools that have not met the requirements for just one year.

The possibility–or impossility–of that dramatic jump was the focal point of the story, which also took pains to say:

There is no “failing” label in the No Child Left Behind Act. And schools that do not meet growth targets – aimed at getting 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading and science by 2014 – for one year are not subject to any intervention.

Still, the failure to meet NCLB goals clearly is some sort of failure in the NCLB framework. And the number of schools currently “failing” by that measure is 37%–a good ten points more than the polling figure for the nation’s schools, which is at an all-time high. Some critics long have claimed that NCLB was a de facto attempt to undermine public education by establishing a framework of goals that would eventually label virtually of the naiton’s schools as failures, simply because of how it was structured.

If the deeper lessons of Wisconsin are learned, it seems virtually inevitable that the Washington consensus on education will itself finally get the failing grade it so richly deserves. Schools need help–yes. They do not need rule by distant bureaucrats preparing the way for privatization.

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10 comments on this post.
  1. John Emerson:

    It seems to me that your interpretation could have been a lot stronger.

    1. Many of the people who believe that the schools are failing don’t know what they’re talking about.
    2. A strong majority of parents like the school that they know best, but believe media rumors about the schools in the nation as a whole.
    3. Many of those most negative about public schools have no personal investment in the system at all, and are working on other agendas: lowering taxes, busting unions, fighting against secularism, bashing liberal teachers.

    Diane Ravitch, a former school basher, wouldn’t go as far as I have but she’s extremely disillusioned with the “school reform” movement of which she used to be an integral part (one of the few actually involved in education, IIRC).

  2. Paul Rosenberg:

    Maybe my language wasn’t as strong, but that’s pretty much what I was saying, plus one thing more: Wisconsin is evidence of what happens when they try to push things too far.

  3. David Kaib:

    It would be preferable if we had at least one major political party that would make the case for public education, and activate what people know from their own experience while downplaying the corporate rhetoric.

    The sad thing is that in places without much in the way of a Republican Party, like DC, Democrats are no better than they are elsewhere (if not worse).

  4. CayVoo:

    Paul Rosenberg, I am very happy to have found your writing again.

  5. CayVoo:

    I guess I also mean “you’re.”

  6. Paul Rosenberg:

    My hope is that Wisconsin will be a turning point for us.

    As this fight spreads across multiple states, the neoliberal education faction is going to be increasingly irrelevant at best.

  7. Paul Rosenberg:

    More is hidden than is revealed.

  8. CayVoo:

    Thanks for the great post. What I’d like to know is are there any valid evaluations of how schools across the US are really doing?

  9. Paul Rosenberg:

    Not really, that I’m aware of. There’s the NAEP, which seems to be a valid measure of student performance on a set of fundamental measures. But it doesn’t really reflect the contribution of schools as distinct from the basic driving factors of family and community affluence.

  10. CayVoo: