It never ceases to amaze that as Republicans trumpet America’s greatness and exceptionalism, they paint a deplorable picture of the nation and in typical conservative fashion lay all the blame on government and particularly the waste of money on its social programs. The truth is their main complaint is using government funds to support any program that does not funnel taxpayer dollars to corporations and the wealthy, and they have particularly focused on what they call an obscene waste of money on public education that in their corporatist libertarian philosophy is better spent on for-profit private and religious schools. To bolster their contention that public education is failing miserably, they cite the deplorable performance of students enrolled in the public school systems, and they have had valuable assistance from corporate-owned media and the Koch brothers American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who want to send taxpayer dollars earmarked for public schools to corporate-owned private schools and religious programs.
On Thursday, public education advocates finally received a wealth of good news courtesy of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from a long-term trend study of tests given every four years in math and reading. According to the data, contrary to what Republicans, ALEC, and corporate-education advocates contend, America’s public education system has made consistent and equitable progress over the past four decades. Republicans, and the media, have spent no small amount of time and energy convincing the American people that student achievement is declining and that American public educational progress has declined or at least stalled in recent decades, and yet test scores show that not only has there been steady improvement at home, but the nation’s international rankings have not declined as well. The NAEP’s study showed that students have improved in reading and math, and it is across the board for white, African American, and Latino students; every demographic has improved over the past 40 years.
The long-term study compared 50,000 students’ test results in 2012 and compared them with students who took the first reading test in 1971 and first math test in 1973 and the results were that students did much better in both subjects than their counterparts from 40 years ago. The study does not mean there is not still room for improvement, or that certain areas are being deliberately underserved by advocates for privatizing the public education system, but it does belie Republicans’ contention that because of unionized teachers, secular education, and declining test scores government funds are being wasted on America’s public school system. There is added good news that will send Republicans into a funk, and it is that “given where they started, Black and Latino children have racked up some of the biggest gains of all” according to Kati Haycock, president of the nonprofit organization, Education Trust that works to close the gap between poor and rich privileged students. Haycock said, “When you break out the data over the long term and ask who is improving, the answer is . . . everyone,” and it will be worth watching the mainstream media to see how much longer they perpetuate the myth that America’s public education system is an utter failure and needs taxpayer dollars shifted to for-profit corporate and religious schools.
Although there is no dearth of criticism for the expiring No Child Left Behind law, its primary, and unfortunately for Republicans, benefit was it did shine a glaring spotlight on the deliberate racial disparities in funding education and put pressure on school districts to help their weakest performers. No Child Left Behind set impossibly aggressive goals for academic growth and set out harsh consequences if schools failed to meet them. For nearly ten years, school districts, states, and educators rightly complained the goals were not only unrealistic, they were impossible and set up public education to fail. The goal of the deceitful law was that within 10 years of its 2004 beginning, 100% of America’s school children were required to be proficient at grade level. The incredibly absurd notion that 100% of the nation’s students would be proficient is a statistical impossibility, and although that is every school and teachers’ primary goal, it does not take into account a variety of factors impacting student performance that are out of teachers and school’s control, and that was the point of the law.
Public school teachers, and schools, are tasked with serving the entire population regardless a student’s language barrier, socio-economic status, family issues, disability, or prior education. Republicans have assailed public school teachers as overpaid, lazy, incompetent, and draining valuable resources better spent on corporate tax breaks, tax cuts for the rich, and of course the for-profit corporate and religious schools. Republicans, and some misguided Democrats, promoted merit pay for public school teachers regardless they have little control over their clientele’s (students) home life, language barriers, or psychological factors resulting from lack of nourishment, unemployed parents, or cultural background. As an example, there have been no calls for merit pay for doctors receiving Medicare payments based on their treatment success rate, or cutting salaries for poor conviction rates for district attorneys, or pay cuts for law enforcement for rising crime rates. Public school teachers though, have been singled out by Republicans and it is not only because they hate education funding, but because teachers choose union representation to bargain for decent wages and working conditions.
What America’s public education system needs is increased funding and support for teachers instead of perpetual cuts and degradation as “lazy babysitters on the dole in a job they can never be fired from.” For the record, the tenure Republicans complain give teachers lifetime employment regardless poor performance is a canard to portray public education in a negative light. The only thing tenure guarantees a public school teacher is that when administration fires them, they are required to give cause for termination and it is a protection against corrupt administrators and school districts. Before tenure, for example, a male administrator whose sexual advances toward a female teacher were rejected would allow the administrator to summarily terminate the teacher with impunity. However, with tenure, the administrator would have to put in writing he was firing the teacher for rejecting his sexual advances. Teachers are terminated every day for cause, but they absolutely do not have guaranteed lifetime employment or the hundreds-of-thousands of public school teachers who lost their jobs to Republican education cuts would still be gainfully employed.
The NAEP report was good news indeed for public education in America, and it is doubtful Republicans, anti-union governors, privatization advocates, and religious fanatics will cease degrading and demeaning public education. It is also doubtful corporate media will allow Americans to learn public school students have made steady improvement over the course of four decades, or that minority and poor students have made the greatest gains as a result of equitable funding for schools in economically challenged areas. What is evident, is that despite Republicans cutting education budgets and subjecting schools to impossible to meet requirements, America’s public education system is not in decline and is in fact continuing to make great strides in providing every student, regardless language barriers, economic travails, and lack of nourishment with a quality education that will only improve due to the dedication of teachers working 16-hour days, funding their own classroom supplies, and catering to their precious charges.