I think we’ve been conditioned to believe that education in the U.S. is in dire straits. I had that impression myself, until a recent e-mail exchange regarding education made me think about it more.
That exchange made me think about the evidence we have to say education is so bad. The key pieces of evidence seem to be:
1) The results of standardized test scores in comparison to other countries and in comparison to prior test scores relative to the amount of money we spend on education.
2) Anecdotal horror stories.
3) High school diplomas that do not seem to be worth much.
4) High school graduates that are considered by colleges and employers to be unprepared to function.
Undoubtedly, pockets of poorly managed schools exist. But, in many areas, education isn’t so bad. Suburbs are known for quality public schools.
I’m not sure, and neither are educational experts, that standardized test results are a valid gauge of education success. Yet, baffling, these same experts seem to continue to use the test results to indicate success. It seems that if they know the drawbacks to using standardized test scores, they might consider employing creativity to find other measures of educational success. For example, have they ever thought about surveying parents to see what they think?
Let’s entertain for a moment that I’m right. That with the exception of some bad pockets, most schools do a good job at educating folks. I think if you compare things like adult literacy rates to a hundred years ago, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
So, if we assume education isn’t so bad, the next good question to ask is, how could that be right?
I think it’s because of parental accountability, which is the main source of accountability in education.
Most parents hold their educational providers accountable, even in this age of government-run, public schools there is still choice that is exercised by parents to get their kids into quality schools.
They try to live in areas that have quality public schools. They may also choose to send their kids to private school or home school, or enroll their kids in supplemental programs at the library, community center, churches or places like Mathnasium, private music lessons and so forth. They meet with their teachers and principals and form PTA’s to influence what happens in the school.
Parents also hold their kids accountable for showing up, behaving, completing assignments and progressing.
If I’m right that education isn’t so bad, I believe parental accountability is the reason.
I interpret the data differently than others. I actually think that data supports my theory of parental accountability.
They see the growth in the amount we spend on education and the relatively static test scores and conclude that education is in bad shape.
My conclusion is different. The fact that test scores haven’t changed much, I believe, supports my theory that parental accountability is the most important factor in education and the increase in spending has had no impact on that accountability.
Now, I’m not saying education isn’t as good as it can be. Far from it. But, I don’t think the answers will be found in top-down measures issued from DC or state capitols. The answers will be found in further encouraging parental accountability.