The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy: Failing Public Schools

Everything you need to know about the post-truth demonizing of public schools and false promises of charter schools is in these two paragraphs from Education Week, the queen of misinforming edujournalism:

At their best, the most innovative charter schools provide convincing evidence that there are better ways to educate students (especially disadvantaged ones) than now prevail in most traditional district schools. In fact, these pioneering schools bring together most of the innovative policies and practices needed to transform the nation’s traditional schools into the most successful in the world.

And yet, most traditional school districts either ignore or actively resist innovation. And their processes are so ingrained that one significant alteration would inevitably lead to systemic change or even a total redesign. Few public educators can imagine, let alone undertake, such dramatic change.

Edujournalism has been for decades a harbinger of the current threats to democracy posed by, not fake news, but post-truth journalism, the sort of enduring but false claims that drive mainstream media and remain unchecked by the public.

I recently detailed eight post-truth claims about public education that have fueled over three decades of baseless and harmful education reform; we are now poised for a resurgence of school choice schemes as the next wave of more unwarranted policies unsupported by research and not grounded in credible analyses of education failures.

The paragraphs above traffic in very predictable nonsense — ”innovative charter schools” and public schools and educators who actively resist change — that resonates only with those who have no real experience in public education.

This nonsense is driven by the self-proclaimed innovators, few of whom are actual educators, and embraced by the public, most of whom have been students in public schools, and thus, believe they know the system.

Let’s here, then, unpack the nonsense.

First, I can offer a perspective that includes gaining my teaching certificate in a traditional program in the early 1980s before teaching public high school English for 18 years in the rural South, a small-town high school in a moderately impoverished areas.

Significant also is that my teaching career began the same year that South Carolina’s accountability system kicked into high gear; SC was an early and eager adopter of the standards and high-stakes testing movement that has driven K-12 public schools for over three decades.

I also have now taught in higher education for the past 15 years, as a teacher educator having one foot still in public schools (and the bureaucracy that controls it) and another in a much more autonomous profession as a tenured professor.

The Great Lie about charter schools versus public schools is very complex. The lie begins with the hollow use of “innovation,” a term that means nothing except in the sort of pyramid-scheme reality now promoted by Trump and newly minted Secretary of Education DeVos.

The lie then falls apart when you unpack the claim that innovative charter schools will save public education; we must ask, if bureaucracy and mandates are crippling public schools, and freedom to be innovative is the key to charter schools, why not just release public schools from the bureaucracy and mandates so that all schools are free to innovate?

The answer reveals the circular and misleading logic of the Great Lie that is charter innovation: For decades, school choice advocates have struggled against the public remaining mostly against school choice, mostly in favor of their local public schools (even when the public holds a negative view of public schools in general). How, then, could the public be turned against public schools?

The solution has been relentless and ever-increasing mandates that guarantee the self-fulfilling prophesy of public schools.

From SOE DeVos to the EdWeek narrative above, relentless education reform has resulted in creating public schools and teachers trapped in mandates and then criticizing them for not being innovative.

If innovation is really the solution to the problem facing public schools (and I suspect it isn’t), teachers need autonomy.

Yet, education reform has systematically de-professionalized teaching, systematically made teaching and learning less effective, and systematically overwhelmed schools with impossible demands so that the public sees only a failing system, one that the innovator-propagandists can smear as resisting change, refusing to innovate, and doomed to failure — with only innovative charter schools to save the day.

When we peel back the post-truth rhetoric, evidence fails to support claims of charter school success, and five minutes in a public school reveal that schools and teachers are not incapable of “imagin[ing] dramatic change,” but are blocked from practicing their professional autonomy by the exact forces accusing them of being against reform.

Public school teachers have never had professional autonomy, and most cannot even go to the restroom when they need to.

Spitting in the face of public school teachers as the paragraphs above do is the worst of post-truth journalism.

I have now spent about the same amount of time as an educator in K-12 public schools and higher education.

The professional autonomy gulf between the two is stunning.

K-12 public schools and teachers are scapegoats in a ridiculous political charade that depends on post-truth journalism and a gullible public.

There is nothing innovative about that.

Written by

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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