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Are Schools Really Broken Or Are We Ignoring the Built-In Inequalities?

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There's a lot of discussion in some policy circles about how broken the education system is, but in an article in The Atlantic Jack Schneider argues that phrase has more than a little myth about it. Schneider doesn't deny that there are plenty of things that need to change about how the nation's children are educated, but he cautions that the "broken system" message may make it easier for the public to accept half-baked ideas from reformers without recognizing the strides public education has also taken over the last hundred years.

Schneider also points to how this dominant narrative "denigrates schools and communities." Teacher satisfaction is low, with many educators contemplating leaving the profession. And parents say they are dissatisfied with the public school system, even when they report positive direct experiences with their own child's school. Schneider writes that the campaign to change "broken schools" may be having an even darker effect:

"Perhaps the most serious consequence of the 'broken system' narrative is that it draws attention away from real problems that the nation has never fully addressed. The public-education system is undeniably flawed. Yet many of the deepest flaws have been deliberately cultivated. Funding inequity and racial segregation, for instance, aren't byproducts of a system that broke. They are direct consequences of an intentional concentration of privilege. Placing the blame solely on teacher training, or the curriculum, or on the design of the high school—alleging 'brokenness' —perpetuates the fiction that all schools can be made great without addressing issues of race, class, and power. This is wishful thinking at its most pernicious.

This is not to suggest that there is no space for criticism, or for outrage. Students, families, and activists have both the right and the responsibility to advocate for themselves and their communities. They know what they need, and their needs have merit. Policymakers have a great deal to learn from them."

Schneider's full article is a thought-provoking read, challenging many of the headlines that have become common.