Much of the press you read about public schools these days is negative. However, the fact is that public schools are performing better now than they ever have, with much more challenging clientele than they have ever served. Diane Ravitch makes this point superbly, supported with data, in her recent book, Reign of Error.
Many children show up for their very first day of school compromised due to their social and economic conditions at home. Without going into lengthy descriptions and causes of those conditions, let it suffice to say that those children are at a disadvantage from day one of their formal educational experience. They are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Neither is it the fault of the public schools those children attend.
Sadly, when systems of accountability, built primarily on high-stakes testing data, consistently drive schools toward a pathological fixation on test preparation and test performance, the achievement gaps that are painfully evident between those children and the ones who were raised in more privileged environments is constantly, publicly, painfully accentuated.
Those children are marginalized.
They are marginalized as the result of their home environment.
They are marginalized by being brow-beaten toward better high-stakes test performance.
They are marginalized when their schools, their teachers, and their communities are excoriated for not doing “enough.”
They are marginalized when important and enjoyable aspects of school curricula are taken from them (e.g., fine arts, physical education, elective classes, etc.), in order to “catch them up.”
They are marginalized at the hands of misguided public policy.
An awful cycle of blame and recrimination becomes a persistent drumbeat in the psyche of these children. For many of these children, school is the brightest spot in their lives because it is filled with adults who love them and seek to actualize their very best futures.
We can do better.
It’s time we should.