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Wednesday June 19th 2024

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The Problem with Public Schools: Some Blame Teachers, Others Poverty

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I awoke to an interesting Education Week blog post titled “Expecting Too Much from the Best Teachers.”

Blue HouseAs in the general debate about the awful state of American schooling, this post centers on “the blame game.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that teachers are getting a fair share of the blame. Heck, we even have influential billionaires crying it’s their fault and we need to pay better to get real Cracker Jack teachers in classrooms.

And then, of course, Education Week would step in and come to their defense, interestingly, in a blog called “Reality Check.”

The problem with blaming teachers, according to the blog, is that the source of failure is poverty:

There’s only one problem with their case. They say absolutely nothing about the role that poverty plays in performance. According to UNICEF, the U.S. has the shameful distinction of having the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Finland, Singapore and South Korea don’t come close. To make matters worse, the Census Bureau report released in September showed that the percentage of Americans below the poverty line in 2009 was the highest in 15 years, The rise was steepest for children, with one in five affected.

I don’t believe that even the best teachers can completely overcome the huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that poor students bring to class through no fault of their own. They can help narrow the gap between these students and those from advantaged backgrounds, but they can’t eliminate it. That’s a vital distinction given short shrift in today’s debate. It’s one thing to improve academic performance in absolute terms, but it’s quite another to improve performance in relative terms.

According to this argument, the rich kids are always – naturally – going to do “better.” Setting aside the idea of “better” as a relative, subjective determination, I began thinking of all of the homeschooling families I’ve known over the years, both past and present. Economically, they span the entire wealth spectrum. Some, I’m sure, fall below the poverty line; others live in relative financial splendor.

Again, from the blog post:

It’s an article of faith among reformers that recruiting teachers from the top tier of their class will assure top performing schools.

Whether rich or poor or somewhere in-between, homeschooling was successful. Was it, then, because the “teachers” were from the top tier of their class? No. (Many, if not most, homeschool “teachers” never study “teaching.”)

So what did these families hold in common? What made them successful, despite teacher-school-class-ranking and income level?


Love works. And the kind of love that works will never be available in a system such as public, government funded schools has become. The problem with public schools isn’t the grades the teachers got, nor is it poverty. It’s the system itself. If they won’t scrap the system, bid it goodbye and think LOVE. AT HOME. IT REALLY WORKS.


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5 Responses to “The Problem with Public Schools: Some Blame Teachers, Others Poverty”

  1. SoCalLynn says:

    Parental apathy might be another way of describing the problem. I don't think it's poverty, either. My family just went to Disneyland and watched the Great Moments with Abraham Lincoln exhibit for the first time ever. Although I knew he was poor and largely self-taught, in his own words he described how he had an aggregate of about 1 year of formal schooling. Any further schooling/learning he accomplished completely on his own. Our family isn't rich, nor are we poor, by any means, but we have lots of motivation and parental involvement. I look forward to seeing the fruits of the labor (of love, I guess!) that we have put into our daughter's home education.

  2. Mother Mary says:

    Have to agree. I think it’s myopic to say that there is one single cause of Big Education failure. The entire factory model doesn’t work anymore.

    Teachers are not solely to blame, although there are some rotten apples in their barrel. Teachers have psychological, drug, alcohol, financial and marital problems same as any other group. Just as there are great teachers, there are some who shouldn’t be there.

    Poverty is not to blame. Big education likes to say that the kids come to school unprepared to learn. Perhaps if we didn’t categorize children as failures before they even get into Kindergarten, that would help, too. Putting prejudice into the teacher doesn’t make it easier for the child.

    Perhaps if we looked at education as learning, instead of lining little ones up making them think the most useless snippets of rote information are somehow important and independent learning is inconvenient for the staff, that might help.

    Perhaps if Big Education wasn’t constantly testing and categorizing children based on made up criteria, kids would be learning instead of competing for a good category.

    Self-esteem does not replace knowledge. And knowledge has a lot more value than what someone wears. No one cares if you were popular in school; they just want to know you can do the job.

    Big Education needs to stop convincing children and their parents they need drugs to follow rules and be accepted.

    Parents need to recognize that education is a business: that teachers are employees and principals are middle management. Big Education is preparation for factory work where everyone does the same thing at the same time and works from bell to bell.

    And I’ll bet it would help immensely if we stopped trying to blame Big Education’s failure on everybody and their grandmother and started taking responsibility.

    That’s why home schooled kids do so well – they can think, not recite; create, not follow; accept responsibility, not blame others and – yes – they have a loving support system that is there year after year supporting them, not a superficial relationship with individuals who can barely remember their name.

  3. Lips that Speak Knowledge | How Do I Become Effective at Homeschooling? says:

    […] what is it?  Linda Dobson from Parent at the Helm says […]

  4. jen says:

    Parental apathy. The reason the home schoolers do better regardless of financial situation is that if a parent is going to go to the trouble to homeschool, they probably value education. In the poor communities that underperform, either the parents don't value education, or they are too busy working three jobs to keep food on the table. The reason charter schools are such a success in poverty areas is that the application process is so arduous, that only the parents who value education will go through all the paperwork to try to get their kids in to that school.

    When you have 35 students in your classes, and of those students, 20 or so have no desire to be there and do nothing but be as disruptive as they can, and you have no means to discipline them other than after school detention and/or referrals, then it becomes extremely difficult to teach. We need to have more alternative school options for those disruptive students so that the ones who want to learn will be able to do so. What ever happened to millitary schools for discipline problems?

  5. grandma_linda says:

    That's true, Jen. Certainly parental involvement is part of homeschooling's success recipe. That's a good question about schools where kids with discipline problems used to go to – maybe they were seen as too overbearing. Thanks so much for being here and reading, as well as taking the time to share your thoughts…it's much appreciated!

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