Scapegoating Public Education

A scapegoat is one who is blamed and punished for the transgression of others as a way of distracting attention from the real problem. Public Schools have become political scapegoats and campaign fodder for public office seekers. But who would want teachers to be the fall guy for issues in which they have no control? Who would want to distract the public’s attention from the root causes of crime, poverty and health care? What mastermind could concoct such a scheme of blaming teachers for the economy rather than accepting responsibly and being accountable for their own inactions? What kind of individuals could maintain credibility for public school reform issues while at the same time sending their own children to private schools? (How about President’s Clinton, Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, No Child Left Behind author Sandy Kress, etc.).

Politicians love to link the future economic competitiveness of our nation to the county’s education system. It just makes since even though there is no evidence to suggest the two are linked.  Linking the economic success of a nation to the public education system has been discouraged but used for years. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Did the public education system cause the crash of the stock market in 1929 that ushered in the great depression?
  • Was public education linked to the rebound in the economy after World War II and the prosperity that followed in the 1950s?
  • Public education was blamed by politicians and the media for Russia beating the United States into space with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, but was public education exalted only 12 years later when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in the summer of 1969?
  • Public education was targeted for the economic future of our country when A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, but was public education praised for the subsequent economic upturn during the late 1980’s and 1990’s?
  • Because politicians want to link the economic future of our county to the public education system, shouldn’t public schools currently be blamed for the lack of ethical conduct of the Wall Street executives that led to the worst economic downturn since the great depression?

Of course this is nothing new. In a 1982 report prepared for the National Commission on Excellence in Education entitled An Analytic Comparison of Educational Systems: Overview of Purposes, Policies, Structures and Outcomes, University of Massachusetts professors Christopher Hurn and Barbara Burn warned against this practice of linking economic success of a country and its education system saying, “There is no research which clearly demonstrates a relationship between measures of educational quality and economic growth” and “justifications for education in rather narrow economic or utilitarian terms run the risk that if the society does not get richer (and another society which sends less on education does) or the individual does not get a better job, the public will become entirely disenchanted with our educational institutions.”

Unfortunately, the media has a history of not being interested in research based findings unless the story can generate sales. Public schools have always been pretty darn good but pretty darn good stories about our schools don’t make the 6 pm news or the front page of the newspaper.

Diane Ravitch has become the voice of public schools today in much the same way Gerald Bracey did before his passing. We must protect our public schools and keep them away from the profiteers disguised as voucher proponents or test producers wrapped in the cloak of accountability. Our teachers need our support and our classrooms need to return to a more creative environment where children are learning through thinking-not stooped over a test preparation manual. Public schools are not and have never been the problem; they have always been the answer and certainly should not be viewed as a scapegoat for the failed policies of politicians and the journalist that refuse to publish facts about our schools.

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About ourschoolsblog

Rickey Williams is the author of this blog and began his career in public education in 1982. He has a deep respect for educators and the mission of public education. The author earned his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in Educational Administration. As an adjunct, he teaches graduate level courses to aspiring campus principals. His public education experience includes teaching math and coaching to secondary students (6-12), leading campuses as the high school principal, and leading districts as the superintendent. Foundational beliefs about public education include: Students and staff must feel safe and valued while in school. Educators and parents who promote and value an education enhance a child’s education. Students must be given the opportunity to reach their academic and social potential through high expectations, sound curriculum, and differentiated instruction. Enthusiastic educators have a passion for teaching and continuous professional growth. All district employees will be examples of professional and ethical conduct and will promote and enhance a positive and collaborative school climate.
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