Opinion: Public Schools are Low-Performing

Surviving in Austin, Texas

Before my daughter started second grade, she was a voracious reader. She devoured the Harry Potter novels, one by one. Nestled in a corner of her room, she let her imagination run wild for hours at a time.

Then, the school district Board of Supervisors and Superintendent dispensed iPads to all the students on which to perform assignments and activities.

My kid sure did love her iPad. She asked constantly to get on it. Every day after her after-school snack. Every night after gymnastics practice. On weekends, I woke up late to find her sprawled on her bedroom floor with the iPad.

I once vented my frustrations to a fellow parent. He told me that the same thing had happened to his daughter. She was deep into the third Harry Potter novel when this past school year started. Then, she abruptly lost interest in reading.

Research Supports My Observation

In 2011, former Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that “82% of this country’s public schools are not passing the test in educating our children.”

In 2016, a retired high-school teacher blasted the public school system when he penned profound opinion editorials in Huffington Post aptly entitled “Why Public Schools Don’t Teach Critical Thinking Parts I and II.”

Within, he purports that “students are usually taught only one viewpoint about everything…” What’s more, they are “conditioned by years of these [standardized] tests that attempt to brainwash them into thinking that every question must have a right answer…”

In 2021, the director of K-12 education reform work at a public policy institute, as well as the author of a book on educational reform, likewise spoke up. In his words, published in a journal about education policy:

“Millions of children still languish in low-performing schools, where they will never develop the skills or habits necessary to get into college or the military or succeed in anything but low-paid jobs.”

Wait, are students getting dumber?

In his book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, author-schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto makes a striking comparison:

“Pick up a fifth-grade math or rhetoric textbook from 1850 and you’ll see that the texts were pitched then on what would today be considered college level.”

Research by the National Academy of the Sciences of the USA seems to likewise support this theory. Their work published in 2018 indicates that IQ scores have been falling steadily since 1975.

In other words, we aren’t, as a nation, getting any smarter.

Free or Low-Cost Alternatives Do Exist

I found an alternative education for my kid. She is now attending a low-cost charter school with a classical curriculum. Her third-grade class is reading E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” along with five other works of literature. Next year, they will read C. S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” By the fifth grade, they will be reading William Shakespeare’s comedic play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

My hope is that she will rediscover her love of learning in an environment that fosters imagination and critical thinking skills.

My fear is that growing millions of other kids will not be so lucky.

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