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5 Biggest Lies About America's Public Schools -- Debunked

Here's the truth behind 5 of the most destructive myths about public education.

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If this weren’t problematic enough, “choice” can cause other headaches for parents. In Wake County, NC, parents have widely expressed outrage about the effects of their temporarily instituted school choice plan. Promoted as “convenient” for families, in practice the plan has resulted in widespread transportation problems that have left students stranded at schools well into the evening hours. And in Harlem last month, parents complained to The New York Times that they were not given any “high-performing” school options to choose from in their much-touted school choice plan.

School choice tends to resonate with parents, but as Thomas tells AlterNet, “The evidence on choice shows [that]…parents do a terrible job with that choice.” This is in part because though market-based solutions like “choice” sound good on paper, they are rarely any match for the complex needs of our nation’s schools and the children they educate. And as Thomas has previously noted, both pro- and anti-school choice think-tanks and researchers are now finding that choice yields no academic gains. This has happened both at the local level (a conservative think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reported that it was “disappointed” to admit that school choice had failed in Milwaukee) and at the national level, as well. To prove this latter point, Thomas cites a voucher-specific 2008 study, the most comprehensive look at school choice done yet, which argues that,

“… what little evidence exists about the likely impact of a large-scale voucher program on the students who remain in the public schools is at best mixed… [and the] evidence to date from other forms of school choice is not much more promising. As such,…one should not anticipate large academic gains from this seemingly inexpensive reform.”  

The short of it? There is just no conclusive evidence that school choice programs actually work. Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Lie #5: Your student’s teacher sees your constructive involvement in your child’s education as an annoyance.

A narrative that pits parents and teachers against each other is part and parcel of the politicized rhetoric about education that you hear in the news. Educators have known for some time that parental involvement is a key component of student success. Indiana University’s Career and Postsecondary advancement center reports that, “66 different studies came to one conclusion based on the evidence: families matter. Whether changing TV viewing habits, providing diverse readings materials around the house or volunteering at school, parents can help their children succeed as students.” But corporate reformers are actively promoting antagonistic relationships between parents and schools.

The Center for Public Education cites a 2008 study by the National Center for Education Statistics which found that parental involvement is one of the top predictors – if not the top predictor – of academic success. But common anti-teacher rhetoric has created some unproductive relationships between parents and teachers. Public school teacher Madeleine Bolden of the Atlanta area tells AlterNet that she’s noticed “parents becoming more adversarial with…teachers.” More than ever before, she says, “I have felt bashed by parents who mask either their children's failings or their own failings by the rhetoric” of school failure. Often, she says, parents approach teachers as if “we are doing everything wrong.”  

She concludes, “This kind of attitude erodes teacher student relationships in the classroom. When parents consistently put down the teacher,” it’s not easy for teachers and parents to “bond in a way that promotes optimal learning. Students are suffering as a result.”  

Whatever else you may have heard, the truth is, most teachers do welcome constructive parent involvement -- especially involvement that doesn’t put them on the defensive from the outset. The Center for Public Education cites a 2003 study: “Two-thirds of teachers surveyed (Public Agenda, 2003) believed that their students would perform better in school if their parents were more involved in their child’s education.” And the center notes further that “virtually all schools welcome parent involvement,” from attendance at teacher conferences to PTA membership to parental help with homework.