An article published in the American Journalism Review last week by Paul Farhi argues that despite the popular narrative, America’s schools aren’t doing so badly. He writes:
Some schools are having a difficult time educating children – particularly children who are impoverished, speak a language other than English, move frequently or arrive at the school door neglected, abused or chronically ill. But many pieces of this complex mosaic are quite positive. First data point: American elementary and middle school students have improved their performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study every four years since the tests began in 1995; they are above the international average in all categories and within a few percentage points of the global leaders (something that few news reports mention). Second data point: The number of Americans with at least some college education has soared over the past 70 years, from 10 percent in 1940 to 56 percent today, even as the population has tripled and the nation has grown vastly more diverse. All told, America’s long-term achievements in education are nothing short of stunning.
Farhi goes on to highlight a variety of common journalistic generalizations about education: reformers are better than traditionalists, teachers are ineffective, education is in “crisis.” Farhi points out that journalists often struggle with both access and time, however other factors are at play. “The mainstream media has failed to do due diligence [on the school reform agenda] for over a decade,” says Valerie Strauss. “They bought into the rhetoric of school reform and testing” mandated by No Child Left Behind. As for President Barack Obama’s proposed Race to the Top initiatives, Strauss faults the news media for failing to ask whether “the rhetoric matches the practice. There’s nothing new under the sun. Some of the things that didn’t work 30, 40 or 50 years ago still don’t work….We’ve taken as truth whatever Bill Gates says.”