Faith is believing what you know ain't so. -- Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
The reason bad public schools are bad is that they badly governed, from top to bottom. Happily, bad public schools are in the minority, despite what some newspapers and other lickspittle TV pundits have to say about them.
“Badly governed” does not mean “governed with bad intention.” What it does mean is that school leaders seldom are willing to face facts which threaten their piece of mind. These school governors, -- state and local administrators, superintendents and principals -- are brim full of ideologies and nostrums they’ve inherited and which they insist on foisting off on the vulnerable.
Part of this is their not unreasonable belief that that much of the general public is in the same delusional state. No parent wants their kids learning things which would disturb the parents’ peace of mind. (This is why so-called “critical thinking” gets many a salute, but has yet to make any headway into the public school curriculum.)
In the olden days of kings and princes, the Established Church of a nation saw to it to inculcate the belief in their congregations that their ruler, as malignant as he might be, sat in power by the Will of God. Subjects were to accept their lot in life and forswear violence as an instrument of change. (See In Days of Yorengore)
In today’s United States of America, where both aristocracy and religious sectarianism in government are purported to be absent, it is the role of the Public Schools (and many a private and parochial school) to teach little more than that our “citizens” -- never “subjects” -- are obliged to accept their governors as the Will of the People.
As good citizens, they are to reject any attempts at governmental change which might involve “violent” activity -- no matter what Thomas Jefferson ever advocated. This "Citizen’s Faith" is what is most important; the recently tediously advocated knowledge-and-skills-focus on the schools has always been given little more than lip-service.
If getting knowledge and skills were really the mission of the schools, then there would be a far more careful preselection of students than our governors and their clients, including parents of schoolchildren are prepared to pay for. Kids are put in grades by age. This is a traditional and cheap sorting method. If some don’t do so well on their report cards, everyone who does not work in a school knows at whom to point the finger of blame.
Here is a method for raising test grades substantially in just two years:
a. for the next school year, retain in grade every public school student who does not have B+ average on standardized tests;
b. any student who is failing this year should be held back for two years;
c. make age 7 the beginning year for first grade; and
d. pull back the curriculum so that any intellectually rigorously formal curriculum is not encountered before 9th grade.
If these steps were to be taken, students would encounter the present high-stakes testing almost two years later in their academic careers and more likely do far better in them, especially in the middle schools.
I don’t expect the above steps to be even considered. Why? Because our school and political leaders, along with many, many parents of school children, just have too many mental impediments -- myths, misinformation, and narrowly focused esteem issues -- to deal with providing their students, their children, with an appropriate, humane, invigorating education.
For references and to examine these issues further, see The Capacity to Benefit from Formal Academic Schooling: two ideologies of distribution