The Bad Schools Syndrome

As is always the case, the recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll (PDK, September 2009) found that people rate their local schools much more positively than they do schools in the US in general.

The differences were striking: Fifty-one percent of respondents said they would give the public schools in their neighborhood a grade or A or B, but only 19 percent would give public schools in the nation A or B. When asked about the school their oldest child attends, 74 percent said they would give the school at A or B, suggesting that those who have more information about local schools rate them more highly.

In a column accompanying the poll, 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.

What makes the Bad Schools Syndrome more harmful than the Mean World Syndrome is that we recognize the latter as “a syndrome.” That is, we study it and understand that it does not represent reality.

On the other hand, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is actually promoting the Bad Schools Syndrome as truth and, further, basically telling parents that if they don’t agree with him then they are clueless about the schools in their own neighborhoods. Imagine the impact on public narrative about education in this country if Duncan had responded to the findings of the PDF/Gallup poll with curiosity rather than condemnation.

Bracey's many columns in the Kappan and his books provide overwhelming evidence that this negative perception of the quality of the nation's schools is undeserved. 

[Stephen Krashen ; Jason Ohler ]. 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 19, 2009, 6:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


October 19, 2009 at 10:29 PM

By: Judith Lechner

Let President Obama know

My title says it all . I believe that it is impossible for a president to be up on all issues, but this is so important he needs to have input from the voices closest to the issue, and PDK, with its dedication to public education is one of these.

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