Education Opinion


By Patrick Ledesma — September 21, 2010 5 min read
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“Wow! I see why you all enjoy teaching! This is tough work. But it’s so rewarding. That was fun, but I’m tired! How do you do it?”

These are actual words from professionals outside of education who have the kindness, courage, and dedication to teach a short, sometimes twenty minute, lesson about their jobs during Career Day. I’ve heard similar stories from parent volunteers in the classroom.

As our guest speakers or volunteers would reflect on their brief teaching stint as they leave to go back to their jobs, I would just say something like, “Great! Well thanks for helping!” or “The kids enjoyed your presentation!”

What I’m sometimes tempted to say is, “Now imagine still having an hour left in the class period after your short twenty minute presentation, then giving the same lesson at least three more times today. And, you’ll need to give the same presentation at 1:15 PM with the same energy and enthusiasm you had at 8:00AM, but to a different class with different personalities. Then, remember last night how long it took you to prepare for that 20 minute lesson? You’ll do it again for tomorrow morning, and each day again and again until June!”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Career Day, Back to School Night, or having parents volunteer in the classroom. When we engage the public and invite them into our classrooms, they learn and experience the daily life of teaching and how we serve the community. They appreciate teachers.

As a result, the majority of people supports their local schools and honor the hard work teachers do.

Unfortunately, anyone reading current headlines about public education will not get that impression. With a variety of upcoming education themed events such as NBC’s Education Summit and the release of the movie Waiting for Superman, one is led to believe that a major crisis is unfolding in education and public schools are the reason for society’s ills.

Don’t believe the frenzy and hype of how bad public education is. You know better. Teachers know better. What’s the evidence?

The 2010 Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup Poll, perhaps one of the most respected yearly educational polls, consistently reports high marks for people’s perception of their local public schools.

For example, when asked to grade the school your oldest child attends, 77% of the public gives their local school a grade of an “A” or “B.” This grade has been stable since 1985, ranging from 65%-77%.

But, what is very interesting is how people grade public schools nationwide.

When asked to grade public schools in the nation as a whole, only 18% give a grade of “A” or “B.” 73% give a grade of “C” or “D.” These grades also haven’t changed much since 1985.

So, 77% of the public would grade their local school as “A” or “B.” But, when grading other people’s school, they give a “C” or “D.”

Time magazine’s own highly publicized poll about education released on September 9 also has similar findings, though you will have to dig to find these results in the full version not shown on the online article.

When respondents were asked what grade they would give their child’s school, depending on the grade level, 31-39% would give an “A”, 36-38% would give a “B.” That’s around 66-77% of the population giving their local school a grade of “A” or “B.”

Isn’t it interesting how both the PDK/Gallup and Time polls are similar with their results for questions about people’s perception of their local public schools?

Yet, according to Time Magazine’s poll, 67% think public education is in crisis, and it’s the crisis question that is displayed first on its website. If you want to find the good news about people’s opinion of their local school, you have to download the full version of the report.

What is going on?

People believe the bashing of public schools, but only for other people’s schools.

The PDK/Gallup poll also reveals other interesting tidbits about how much teachers are supported.

Improving teacher quality is the most important national education issue at 44%, much higher than the 11% who chose creating better tests to more accurately measure student achievement.

And, with all the media polarization of school closures and takeovers, when asked how about consequences for a consistently poor-performing school in your community, most (54%) believe that keeping the school open with existing teachers and principal and providing comprehensive outside support is a preferable option.

Only 17% chose to close the school and reopen with a new principal. “You’re fired!” makes for good TV, but does not sell in communities.

Why do families support their local public school?

When teachers have the opportunity to interact with parents and parents get involved with their school, they build relationships. They understand that good teachers make the difference and support the specific people they know to be the teachers of their students.

This trust in teachers makes sense. Teachers are committed and dedicate their time to their students and families. What teachers do not do is spend time in advertising, marketing, and public relations outside their school community. It’s not their job, and no one does it for them.

This is unfortunate. In this void, other interests are free to define and promote a perception of crisis in public education that meets their specific agenda. And they have what public school teachers lack in building public perception- time, vast resources, and money.

In the absence of teacher relationships, the public buys what they are marketed, whether it matches what they know to be true in their own personal experiences and relationships in their communities.

It’s time for teachers to change how public debates in education are framed and represented. Just as we build relationships in the way we engage parents, we can change attitudes as we engage those in the media and policy.

Teachers need to get involved in the public debate whenever and wherever possible, regardless of their specific stance or beliefs about specific issues. Some teachers show their advocacy through external efforts and movements. Others, like myself, expand the teacher voice internally through collaborative projects through the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards and the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship Program with the US Department of Education.

Regardless of our paths and diversity of opinions, we share the belief in the importance and authenticity of the teacher voice and the trust we have with our communities. We all believe that when teachers have the opportunities for engagement and interaction with stakeholders, we can ensure that the perceptions match the realities that most students are well served by the talented and respected teachers in public schools.

So when people hear doomsday scenarios of how public education is destroying America, remind them about their own experiences and how they feel about their local school, and to be open to the possibility that other families across America really do share the same level of trust and confidence.

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.