Same Old Story About the Problems in Public Schools

Nearly 70 years later, the arguments remain the same

In a front page story, the Detroit Free Press reports that “Detroit schools are grinding out another ‘lost generation.’” The article goes on to lament that up to 40 percent of students leave or graduate without mastering “simple arithmetic,” their handwriting is “atrocious” and their spelling is “deplorable.”

Teachers “lay the blame on overcrowded classes. They say it is impossible to teach with any measure of success when there are more than 40 in a class.” Administrators want money for more counselors, saying the current low number is “ludicrous.”

But that story is not from today. It was written in 1949 (you can read it here).

It should sound familiar. The arguments from many schools, administrators, teachers and association groups representing them have not changed.

Across the state, again and again, the education establishment complains about overcrowded classrooms, a lack of money, low teacher pay, teacher shortages and more.

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Objectively speaking, especially over the long term, most of these claims are misleading or just plain false. Education spending is at an all-time high. Some schools have trouble getting teachers in some areas, but 100,000 qualified educators in Michigan are not currently teaching. Pupil-teacher ratios have steadily declined. Even though most districts are constrained by the rising costs of health and pension benefits, they still provide teachers with regular pay raises.

The real point is not about the legitimacy of these claims; it is their significance and impact that is open to debate. But lawmakers and the public should realize that they are nothing new. It seems no matter what the state of affairs, many public school officials just sing the same ol’ song.

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