Superintendents need to tell public schools’ success stories, counter myth-makers
This from Brad Hughes at KSBA:
Bowling Green – The fact that Americans love their local public schools but have a dim view of the nation’s public education system isn’t news. It’s borne out year in, year out by the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll.
But participants in the summer conference of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents were told Wednesday that the local leaders can no longer be satisfied with community support while lawmakers in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., are being pressed for reforms in public schools in general.
Dr. John Draper
“Elected officials feel compelled to do something about the myth that public schools other than local schools are pretty bad,” said Dr. John Draper, a former Alabama educator and executive of the state’s school administrators association who is now a consultant for the Rockville, Md.-based National School Public Relations Association. “Public schools are doing better than ever but Americans don’t believe it. We have to learn how to make the truth sticky and how to unstick a sticky myth like public schools are failing.”
Draper, who will be delivering a keynote address at next month’s KSBA Summer Leadership Institute, led superintendents through a series of “Talk, Truth and Critical Conversations” about public education in America. For example:
Talk: Too many high schools are dropout factories.
Truth: We are making changes and doing a better job – graduation rates are rising. The difference between now and the past is that special education students are being counted in graduation rates.
Conversation: Schools must identify struggling students early – “We’ve got to push it down into elementary grades;” – remove time constraints, going to things like an “ungraded high school,” where student progress is measured by credits or hours rather than being labeled as “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior…and stupid;” schools must provide multiple options needed for every child to graduate.
Talk: Charters do a better job of educating kids than regular public schools.
Truth: There is no research that charters as a group are more effective than regular schools. Some charters are better, but are more selective in the students they accept.
Conversation: Americans like to choose and “choice is a new American value. How can we bring this flexibility to all public schools? The day will come when the money will go with the kid. If we are not the schools of choice, we are really going to hurt when the money goes with the kids."
Talk: American ACT and SAT scores are declining and have been for decades. American schools are falling behind those in other nations on international tests.
Truth: Average ACT and SAT scores overall have declined, but every subgroup of test takers – girls, boys, whites, minorities - has increased scores. That’s because the overall population of students taking these tests has changed significantly as more low achieving kids are encouraged or required to take these tests, such as the ACT in Kentucky. And American students have never tested well on international tests, scoring 12th of 13 nations when the first international exam was conducted. Now the U.S. scores have “fallen up” to near the international average. Some countries cull low-performing students and those with disabilities from testing.
Conversation: “Standardized tests are one measure of learning. All children can learn but learn at different rates with different strengths. And we don’t want to be the high score on international tests. The minister of education of Singapore – a nation scoring high on international tests – came to America to study our public education system. Asked why, he said that Singapore does a good job teaching students who to take tests, but then its students don’t do well on the test of life. He was here to learn how America teaches students to do well after graduation.”
Draper said the place to begin rejecting the myths will come within public schools themselves.
“If we can’t win over our own people – teachers – how will we win the rest of the country? There are 8 million public school employees in this country. Some are saying bad stuff and killing you out in the public,” said the former middle school assistant principal and high school principal.
“You have to be the chief morale officer of your district. It wasn’t part of the job description years ago, but today it is. We know the many wonderful things happening in our schools. Those good things are everyday happenings to you (but not to the general community,” Draper said.
During Wednesday’s opening session of the KASS conference, the organization honored Cindy Heine, the retiring associate executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, with its KASS Distinguished Service Award for her years of advocacy and research about public education’s needs, successes and challenges in Kentucky.