In Praise of American Educators: Review Part I

As educators in my own state of Oklahoma continue to face pending cuts to school funding, and as advocates of public education attempt to remind their neighbors that our schools are worth the investment, it is a good time to look at the facts.
In the next few weeks, I’d like to post some reflections on Richard DuFour’s ground-breaking In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better, where he explains why the general public’s perception of schools is generally so poor, and why the reality of your local school experience may dramatically contradict those perceptions.
In just the first two chapters of the book, he provides piles of evidence that contradict the common assumptions that American schools are failing. He cites at least 69 sources to show how these assumptions are both deeply held and deeply flawed.
Then he methodically exposes the irrelevance of the three most cited sources of school critics: the false identifiers in NCLB (No Child Left Behind), the invalid results of NAEP (The National Assessment of Educational Progress), and the skewed findings of PISA (The Performance of American Students of International Assessments)
In place of these false assumptions, DuFour points to long lists of evidence showing that present-day American schools have a much different scorecard, including:

  • record-setting high school graduation rates
  • more students succeeding in rigorous classes
  • steadily improving test scores
  • greater parent satisfaction
  • and improved student-teacher relations.

If these stats are surprising to you, let me encourage you to pick up a copy of the book. DuFour catalogs every claim with detailed citations, and validates how public schools are much healthier than people suppose.
These accolades don’t come without warnings (coming chapters), but the evidence is both surprising and encouraging.
For instance, DuFour cites Gallup polls asking parents how they would grade American schools. The majority of parents gave D’s or F’s to our nation’s school. But when these same parents are asked how they would grade their own local school, the overwhelming majority assigned A’s or B’s…”slightly more than 1 percent have indicated the [local] school is failing (DuFour, 18).
If you’re surprised by these findings you’re not alone:

“When filmmaker and author M. Night Shyamalan created a foundation to investigate the condition of American schools and how to improve them, he operated from the premise that our schools were failing. But once his researchers presented him with the evidence, he was surprised that he was wrong. As he writes: ‘In this case, what everyone knew just wasn’t so. Despite the impression left by thousands of research studies, tens of thousands of blog posts, and millions of words in every newspaper and magazine in the country, America’s school aren’t failing’”(DuFour 27).

Educators have known for years that their work seldom receives the respect and admiration that their service deserves, but Richard DuFour provides persuasive punches to the arguments so frequently used to criticize schools.
The message of In Praise of American Educators comes at a pivotal time for public schools. As more states are rethinking their dependence on high-stakes assessments, and as the federal government has reauthorized NCLB as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), schools are bracing for changes in standards and accountability, and more power may be returning to states and local districts in deciding standards.
It is also a crucial message since we are fighting an uphill battle with public perception. This is all the more reason to continue celebrating the amazing moments happening in your schools everyday.


The reality is that the vast majority of public schools are rescuing and preparing students. None of them are perfect. All of them have room for improvement. But the investments in our schools–in providing every child with quality teachers and resources–is more than worth it.

Now It’s Your Turn

What are some ways you are celebrating the good moments of your school? If the public’s perception of our schools is ever to match the reality, it will only happen when we overwhelm them with the positive happenings all around us. If you’re looking for ideas on how to better promote yours, check out my post on 10 digital tools to enhance your communication.

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Principal Matters–The Book!

Principal Matters (Final) 3D
School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker