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Education Opinion

The Big Lie About Public Schools

By Walt Gardner — March 31, 2014 1 min read

One of the oldest propaganda techniques is repeating something so often that people eventually come to believe it. The campaign to undermine confidence in public schools serves as an instructive case in point (“The Charter School Performance Breakout,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29).

The strategy is quite straightforward: Begin with the accusation that public schools are failing. Omit all qualifications to this statement. Then point to selected examples to support the indictment. Continue the attack by asserting that all explanations to the contrary are merely excuses (“How Bill de Blasio Is Being Framed,” The Nation, Mar. 26). I understand the anger and frustration that taxpayers feel over the glacial improvement of traditional public schools. But helping students get the education they deserve will not happen as long as propaganda is used to sway public opinion. Explanations in education are not excuses any more than gravity is an excuse for why objects fall to the ground.

Let’s look at The Wall Street Journal op-ed cited above. At first reading, it is highly convincing. But a closer analysis reveals the elements of propaganda I noted. First, it maintains that traditional public schools are failing because laggards cannot be closed. This is not true, as seen in New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia. Second, it asserts that charter schools are successful because of their distinctive features, but it fails to point out that they do not have to enroll special education students and can push out underperforming students. Third, it cites the success of top charter schools, while omitting the role that self-selection bias plays. Finally, it implies that the educational establishment is making excuses for its inability to produce similar results.

If I had not taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I admit that I would have been persuaded by what was presented. That’s the power of propaganda. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how they’re being manipulated. By the time they do, it will be too late to undo the damage.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.

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