5 education myths

Robert Maranto and Michael Q. McShane list their five favorite myths about public education, starting with “the cutback myth.”

Most Americans believe that their public schools are underfunded, and struggling to get by on declining resources. . . . In constant dollars, education spending rose from $1,214 in 1945 to just under $10,500 in 2008. . . . What’s far more important is how that money is spent.

“More money means better schools” is myth #2.

While expenditures have been increasing over the past several decades, performance has not. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been given to a representative sample of U.S. students since the early 1970s, and the results have been basically flat. Similarly, the graduation rate for students has remained stagnant, as well, at about 75 percent nationwide. While some might argue that students today are somehow more expensive to educate, it should be noted that in this time period, rates of child poverty have declined and, in theory, technological advances should have been able to automate and thus decrease the price of some of the processes of schooling.

It’s also a myth that “our schools are going to hell in a handbasket.”  NAEP shows our schools aren’t getting any worse.

Myth #4: Choice will solve everything. Nope.

The “most insidious and dangerous myth” is that “schools don’t matter” when it comes to educating disadvantaged children, they write.

“It’s poverty, stupid!” the familiar refrain repeats.

. . . This is simply not accurate. We know, as a result of the measurements imposed by No Child Left Behind, that there are hundreds of schools across the country that are succeeding in educating poor students – charter schools, private schools, traditional public schools. And, if you ask them how they do it, as we asked the leader of one of the most successful systems of charter schools in America, they’ll say, “good teaching, and more of it.”

This is not to say that poverty does not play a major role and that broken homes and dangerous neighborhoods do not present serious hurdles that students need to overcome in order to learn. What it does tell us is that those hurdles are not insurmountable.

American public education has started to foster innovation and reward excellence, conclude Maranto and McShane, authors of a new book, President Obama and Education Reform: The Personal and the Political.

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    Before the 1970’s, few kids with disabilities were in the public schools, and certainly not those who are the most expensive to educated. Spending on general ed students has not increased at remotely the same rate.

    • People forget that due to simpson’s paradox, it is possible for each subgroup of kids (by race) to be improving each year, but the national average remain stagnant or decrease. I hate when people mentioned myth 5 and don’t understand the possibility of simpson’s applying.

  2. Poverty is not the problem; the problem is the multigenerational transmission of attitudes, habits and behaviors that create poverty. Poor families/communities that place a high enough priority on education tend to have kids who do well; behave appropriately, turn off the tv/videogames, do the homework, demand academic success, visit libraries and local places of interest etc. Be a responsible parent and make the hard choices. Why should anyone be surprised that kids in families/communities who reject such behaviors and expectations don’t do well?

    CW, I agree with you about the severely disabled, some of which still really don’t belong in academic settings, but not about the kids with dyslexia and various learning disabilities. They were in my DH’s school and in my school (40s-50s), but they were not separately classed. In both cases, however, they did achieve basic literacy, numeracy and general knowledge – helped by the fact that the school populations were stable over time. Just recently, I read that the increase in spec ed students was almost exactly paralleled by the increase in spec ed teachers and, theoretically, spec ed kids should be doing better than formerly (particularly the dyslexic and SLDs).

    The number of admins and non-teaching personnel is where I’m guessing that much of the remaining money is going – not helped by federal invovement and the paperwork it requires.

  3. Google the 20/20 segment by John Stossel ‘Stupid in America’ for a validation of why spending more money doesn’t equal higher student achievement. Every parent of a student starting 6th grade or that is starting high school should watch this 50 minute insight into America’s public education system.