School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Ditch the Term ‘Failing Schools’

June 13, 2023 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

My optimism faded to disappointment while reading “Mapping the Future of Education” (April 26, 2023), an opinion collection with the Aspen Institute Education & Society program. While the road map’s noble ambiguities allow varying perspectives to work together, I was surprised at the term “failing schools” in one of the five pathways. That controversial—not to mention pejorative, archaic, and hegemonic—term jumped off the page and sullied the otherwise affirmative nature of the collection.

The act of labeling schools as failing serves to stigmatize communities. In addition, the burden of “failure” is placed on the shoulders of dedicated teachers and hardworking families and ignores the fundamental systemic issues that inhibit appropriate improvement.

The term “failing schools” is increasingly exploited as potent political rhetoric and is, thus, inappropriate for education’s future. In my role within a local arts education nonprofit, I engage with many Title I schools, some labeled as “failing” and threatened with closure. When I enter those schools, I see a community needing support, not stigmatization. I see gifted young learners needing relevant educational experiences and assessments, not a state-mandated schoolwide letter grade. I see hardworking teachers needing intentional and dedicated resources, not relegation as political scapegoats. And I see families who need living wages and additional support services, not threats to close their local school.

If we want to support educational opportunity, we must remove the deficit-based language of “failing schools” and acquire asset-based terminology that inspires and supports communities through compassion and understanding.

Andrew Lusher
Artist and Programming Manager
Arts for Learning Virginia
Norfolk, Va.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2023 edition of Education Week as Ditch the Term ‘Failing Schools’


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Principals Have a Lead Role in the ‘Science of Reading.’ Are They Ready?
The push to shifting schools to the science of reading has often neglected the vital role of the principal.
9 min read
School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week