SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / October 2005 / Superintendent's October Message
Superintendent's October Message
Myths The Television Tells
Several years ago a young man offered to volunteer in my science classroom at North Medford High. My volunteer was British, married to a young woman from Medford, and possessed a doctoral degree in biochemistry. Mark found research a “bit socially isolating” and was considering becoming a teacher. His image of American high schools was very negative. He wanted to see for himself what an American high school was like before changing careers. After observing several classes and participating with students in lab activities, he was unexpectedly surprised that young people were friendly, courteous, and engaged in learning. He assisted in my classroom for several months and eventually earned his teaching certification at Southern Oregon University.
Mark and I had many discussions about education in England and the United States. His media-influenced notions of American schools largely turned out to be myths. He had been led to believe that high schools in the United States were ineffective and that students were unruly and out-of-control.
Critics have easy access to the media and public attention. As educators, we have to continually share the real facts because the media typically focuses on controversy, shrill voices and perceived crises. Below are the myths the television continues to tell:
Myth 1: American kids are worse than ever.
Fact: Almost all major indicators of negative behavior in U. S. youth are falling. Teenage smoking, alcohol consumption, violent crimes, pregnancy rate, arrest rate for property crimes, rate of non-fatal crimes, and weapon possession at school are all down significantly over the past 20 years. 1
Fact: Adults have a mistaken impression of American youth. When polled, a vast majority of adults think kids are more aggressive, commit more crimes, and use more drugs than previous generations. They also think schools are much more dangerous than the past. Statistics show these impressions are not true. 2
Myth 2: U.S. schools are failing.
Fact: Most national indicators of positive teenage behavior in school are rising including: students taking and passing Advanced Placement Courses; number of high school credits completed; number of math and science courses passed; performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. 3
Fact: Oregon state assessment scores show students performing at higher levels, at all grades tested, over the past 15 years. 4
Myth 3: Schools are wasting money.
Fact: More than 70% of school districts’ budgets in Oregon are spent directly in the classroom on teaching and helping students. Less than 6.8% of school districts’ budgets in Oregon are spent on school building administration. Only 1.3% of school districts’ budgets in Oregon are spent on central office administration. 5
Fact: Public schools are required to hire independent auditors to verify proper accounting practices as part of annual financial audits.
Fact: School districts are governed by publicly elected boards that are responsible for policies that guide districts’ operations.
American schools have a great deal of work to do. Progress made is encouraging but not enough. There are still too many students not succeeding and too many graduates not fully prepared for college. We need to keep our expectations high and provide programs and support systems to ensure success. Indicators are moving in the right direction and although success stories are not typically headline news, there is positive evidence about our young people and our schools to build upon for the future!
1Millennial Rising: The Next Great Generation,
Neil Howe and William Strauss, Vintage Books, New York 2000.
2American Association for School Administrators presentation
3National Center for Education Statistics,
4Oregon Department of Education
5Confederation of Oregon School Administrators