making things up, public education edition
One frustrating aspect of the education debate in this culture, for those who defend public school like I do, is that the vigor and frequency with which conservatives have pointed to failing public schools have created an atmosphere where people casually assume a majority or even all public schools are just inherently failing. That’s not fair, it’s not based on evidence, and its not productive. It would certainly be handy for voucher proponents if it were true, but making sweeping claims based on a statistically tiny set of outliers is not responsible. (Fun fact: repeatedly saying “everyone knows” something to be true is not, actually, making an argument.) There are undoubtedly some public school districts in this country with very poor educational outcomes. The causes of those poor outcomes, and the appropriate way to confront them, are of course matters of controversy. But we can all admit that there are some public school districts that are in dire shape. But the Detroits and Hartfords and Baltimores don’t represent the entirety of the vast American public school population, and it’s dishonest to suggest differently.
And yet this kind of assertion, independent of evidence, happens all the time. So James links admiringly to this comment over at the Atlantic‘s Business section. In it, the commenter baldly asserts, “Public schools sound great, but the results suck.” Thanks for that. But where’s your proof?
Part of the problem is a lack of proper educational data. Note, though, that this problem would be worsened by private school vouchers, not improved. Private schools have far less accountability in the form of standardized testing than their public counterparts. Indeed, private school educational outcomes amount to self-reporting and the honor system. This is what people talk about when they say that private schools have “flexibility” or lack bureacracy. Public investment, however, requires public accountability, and indeed, accountability is precisely what many voucher proponents claim they want.