One of the items making the rounds on Facebook right now is a comment by the governor of Mississippi that the decline of the public schools started when moms entered the workforce. I mean "everyone" knows that public schools aren't as good as they used to be, so something must be to blame, right? Maybe the teachers are lousy now. Maybe its the broken families. Maybe its Mom. But the schools are broken, right?
Are they? Or are we just measuring everybody now, and caring about everybody? I graduated from high school in a middle-class town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1979. I was on the advanced track most of the time. The kids I was in classes with generally went on to college and now we are doctors, lawyers, salespeople, business owners, teachers, retired military, stay at home moms, nurses, paralegals, veterinarians, and ministers, just like our parents were. We took four years of English, three or four years of math, three or four years of science, and three or four years of history/social studies. Even among the college-bound, few took physics, many didn't take world history, and about half of the advanced crowd took senior math. Most of us took study hall at least for a semester along the way. None of us had to do summer reading. Most of us took two years of a foreign language. None of us earned college credit in high school. Many seniors, especially those who didn't take a lot of study halls along the way, left school after lunch. Among the crowd not going to college, two years of practical math was common, or else just Algebra I and Geometry. They took physical science and biology, but not chemistry or physics. They filled their class time with home economics, shop, or secretarial or business classes.
Today, in Louisiana, all students are required to pass Algebra I and Geometry. Anyone who wants to be admitted to a state-supported university has to pass four years of science, English, math and history and two years of foreign language. Summer reading is a given, at least for honors classes. The honors track students often earn college credit either through dual enrollment or through AP classes. While some classes are double-blocked, kids in our district have eight periods a year as compared to the six we had. It sounds to me like things are more rigorous than when I was in school, not less.
Yea, but Johnny can't read, right? I've read all the test scores in the paper, I know some of them stink. My question is whether kids in Johnny's shoes could read 40 or 50 years ago. I know I could read (but then so can my kids), but how did the poor minority students in segregated schools do? How did handicapped kids do? When "those" kids were in different schools than "our" kids, did we really care how they did? Yes, some did well; yes, many will tell you about school being a refuge from the hardships of poverty, but do we have data showing how well those schools catering to the poor actually taught the majority of their students? In today's parlance,how were their test scores? I know that around here, lining schools up by their free lunch rates gives you almost the same order as lining them up by test scores--the higher the free lunch rates the lower the test scores. The "problem" is that in the old days either overt racial segregation or, later, district boundary lines, kept "them" out of "our" schools. Court orders have put them in our schools, along with others who used to be excluded or put in trailers at the back of campus--the handicapped.
Are schools today really all that bad?