How is it that intelligent and motivated parents, many sacrificing financially to afford homes in the most expensive suburbs, end up as uncritical supporters of a public school system...?
IN THEIR HEARTS, says University of Missouri political science professor J. Martin Rochester, many suburban parents know something is wrong. When he interviewed 250 executives of leading corporations for his book on suburban education (Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence), most believed their local schools suffered from programs that are "diluted, distracted, and diffused from the basic mission of education."
The problem, he concluded, is that over decades suburban schools have developed effective techniques for promoting ideas that support the convenience of teachers and administrators, while excluding information and research that would require a change in policies, practices, and personnel.
It starts at the top with boards of education composed largely of busy volunteers, who over-rely on the guidance of superintendents, and goes all the way down to the interactions between teachers and individual parents. When suburbanites join school curriculum committees, for example, they are rarely presented with all sides of an issue and seldom informed of all the relevant research. Critical parents, Professor Rochester found, "end up being demonized as right-wingers or troublemakers."
Other writers who have studied the academic deficiencies of suburban schools reach a similar conclusion. When EducationNews.org columnist Barry Garelick examined the inability of three Maryland districts to successfully incorporate a superior math curriculum from Singapore, he found that teachers skillfully used vague technical jargon and inflexible rules to discredit aspects of the program that required them to learn new skills.
As suggested by the title of his book Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom, Stanford professor emeritus Larry Cuban finds suburban educators eager to spend public money on the latest technology to create a "leading edge" aura, yet rarely willing to take advantage of its academic potential. "Curricula, teaching methods, and schedules [could] all be customized to meet the learning styles and life situations of individual students," says Cuban, and "coursework from the most remedial to the most advanced can be made available to everyone...(but educators take) action to prevent technology from transforming American education."
Dr. Armand Fusco, a retired Branford, Connecticut school superintendent who has written and lectured widely on the deficiencies of suburban districts, sees similar problems: "It's one thing for parents to intuit a problem, quite another to do anything about it when educators with advanced degrees flash their credentials and have glib answers for every question."
Superintendents, for example, will always brag that their local public school students perform just as well on state mastery tests as students in neighboring affluent suburbs. What they neglect to mention is that any mediocre suburban school will appear successful, just so long as it is surrounded by other mediocre suburban schools and their average test scores are higher than those of nearby urban districts.
Dr. Fusco believes that the federal No Child Left Behind law had it right when it sought to measure the performance of individual schools, but it was aimed at demographic groups least able to do anything about the results. "What's needed is data that makes it clear to suburbanites just how badly served their own children really are."
Meet the Suburban Parents