The Bad School Syndrome (1)

As is always the case, the recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll (PDK, September 2010) found that people rate their local schools much more positively than they do schools in the US in general.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (above, during a media event in September 2008) has done more to destroy public schools than any other major political leader in the USA during the past ten years. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The differences were striking: Forty-nine percent of respondents said they would give the public schools in their neighborhood a grade or A or B, but only 18% would give public schools in the nation A or B. When asked about the school their oldest child attends, 77% said they would give the school at A or B, suggesting that those who have more information about local schools rate them more highly.

How can this be so? Why do parents think their local schools are good, but at the same time think that Aermican schools in general are not good?

In his commentary, John Schnur makes the astonishing statement that this result shows that people overestimate how good their local schools are: "Parents need more, better information" (the title of his article). But parents get information of the best kind: First hand from direct experience.

In a column accompanying last year's poll, which produced nearly identical results, Gerald Bracey ("Experience outweighs rhetoric") gives a logical explanation for this phenomenon: "Americans never hear anything positive about the nation's schools," noting that "negative information flows almost daily from media, politicians, and ideologues."

Parents' views of the nation's schools are thus similar to George Gerbner's "Mean World Syndrome," the view that because of the media, people think the world is much more violent than it actually is. Gerbner argues that this phenomenon prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat.

Bracey's view can be characterized as the "Bad Schools Syndrome." Because of media reports, people think that schools are much worse than they really are, which prompts a willingness to allow programs to be introduced that would otherwise not be tolerated.

Bracey's many columns in the Kappan and his books provided overwhelming evidence that this negative perception of the quality of the nation's schools is undeserved, that the parents' perceptions are much closer to the truth than John Schnur's point of view.

(1) This paper is a slightly revised version of a paper published in Substances News exactly one year ago. Clearly, nothing has changed since then.


September 1, 2010 at 9:18 AM

By: Lela

Parents need more, better information

Is this the same Jon Schnur who is the co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools and one of the master-minds behind Race to the Top?

September 1, 2010 at 12:45 PM

By: George N. Schmidt

Same 'New Leaders' Schnur

Truly it's the same guy. He began his 'New Leaders' career after the Democrats lost the 2000 election and he lost his Clinton - era job with the U.S. Department of Edcation. Chicago (at the time under Paul Vallas and Gery Chico) was one of the places that launched 'New Leaders' in 2000 - 2001. There is more that hasn't been written than has.

September 8, 2010 at 9:27 AM

By: R.N.

From the top

Arne Duncan drew exactly the same conclusion in a speech awhile back. That people like their local school more than public schools in general just proves that we don't know enough to realize how bad our local schools are, he said.

September 9, 2010 at 4:24 PM

By: Monty Neill

Checker Finn too

Checker Finn, of Fordham Foundation, and one of the most influential policy wonks of the past 20-plus years, has long argued that local folks don't understand how bad their schools are. The political question to us is how to use people's understandings of their own schools, and their grasp of what education is for (which, with all its variations, still shows a far wider, comprehensive sensibility that academics alone, never mind just tests), to argue against their belief that 'the other guy's schools' are awful.

September 19, 2010 at 2:48 PM

By: Denise Sullivan

ESL teacher

Seems to make sense to me!

August 18, 2011 at 2:54 PM

By: Nancy Goldberg

excessive testing!

As testing has increased, students have lost the time it takes to make deeper, meaningful associations within their personal frames of reference. That forfeiture of "connections" explains our depleting degree of personal interaction. Without time for teachers to model tangent thinking, those personal intellectual connections will diminish further. We must dramatically limit the time we spend testing and increase discussion, Q and A and intellectual conversation, or students will find alternative means to stimulate this necessary growth.

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