This is the second half of a two-part article. Read part one of this article here.

Public schools are moving away from what makes for good schools. Here are some things they should consider.

High expectations for students: 

A growing list of actions at all levels of education in the US shows that school policymakers, administrators, and some educators counterintuitively aspire students’ achievement to be even below mediocre. Under the mantra of equity, schools are implementing no-grade policies, assigning fewer challenging assignments, and dismissing summative judgments of a student’s academic performance. 

Universities demand fewer and fewer standard assessments of a student’s high school work and have stopped requiring some type of admission exam. They defer to a students’ demographics, type of high school, and from what neighborhood they come from as useful information in the admission process. Standards and high expectations in learning seem to be fading. 

A long-time educator and “teacher of teachers,” E. D. Hirsch, Jr, in his magnum opus at age 90 warned that as a country we are losing our “power of shared knowledge.” The “child-centered” pedagogy coming out of our teacher training schools has it all wrong. Hirsch writes that we need purposeful, consistent, and standards-driven content-centered learning in elementary and secondary schools, to be successful as a nation. We need to get back to our common school, not focus on issues that will divide us. 

Strong leadership that supports positive student outcomes:

Universities graduate a plethora of students with advanced degrees in educational leadership, with little variance in ideological approaches to the curriculum, from the small St. Elsewhere type colleges to research-intensive universities. 

Strong school leaders that have captured the attention of the public are those that have created a teaching/learning environment that has a purpose-driven curriculum, establishes high academic standards and performance of students, demands discipline and accountability of students, gives teachers a lot of latitude in the classroom to serve students’ needs, while fostering a shared vision for goals and values of the school. Additionally, the leader communicates this vision consistently and confidently to parents and is appreciative of parental involvement in their children’s education.

Parental involvement in the curriculum and instruction.

During their children’s remote learning given the Covid-19 home sequester, many parents were shocked to learn what was being taught to their children

Parents began paying more attention to what was on the students’ reading list, what books were in the libraries, and what co-curricular activities they were asked to attend. Concerned parents took to their advocacy rights by attending and testifying at school board meetings. They were not only not welcomed by these elected public servants, but board members called the police on parents to detain these “disruptors.” 

The US DOJ and FBI colluded with teacher unions and national school board leaders to surveille and research names of parents who complained about what was taught in their public schools. Often the issue was not so much the topics taught, but what was age-appropriate subject matter. DOJ and FBI officials put parents who attend school board meetings looking for accountability on their expanded “existential threat list.” 

Government-sponsored schools have recently demonstrated a lack of interest in parental involvement in schooling. Dissatisfaction over school board responsiveness to parental involvement in what is taught in public schools prompted the US House of Representatives to pass a Parents Bill of Rights in late March of this year. 

Parental involvement in students’ health and welfare.

Reaching children where they go to school is a natural place to impart health education messaging and select mental health and healthcare services. Healthy children make for healthy learning in schools. Educators, parents, and healthcare providers are in agreement that physical education and healthy diet instruction is time well spent for students in schools. 

Most adults are familiar with our country’s commitment to raising healthy children since the establishment of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition dating back to a 1963 initiative of President John F. Kennedy. How one cares for oneself, and by extension how parents care for their children, is a personal matter. Courts historically have given parents a lot of latitude in how they care for their children’s health and welfare. Recently, parents have become concerned about what teachers are saying to students regarding health issues, but not divulging to the parents what messages they convey to the student. 

Sex education has historically been controversial; but parents and schools have had open dialogue, debate, and agreement on policies related to what is taught, by whom, and at what age for school children. A significant number of educators today, with support from school administrators, have gone well beyond discussing the sexual revolution to leaving open what sex a student belongs to and encouraging them to make the change, all without parental involvement. 

Decentralized school structures.

The benefits that public schools bring to a society, similar to the benefits of public health measures, make this government service a public good. A major principle of those responsible for public health and public safety is that those who are closest to the people are in the best position to nurture the people and solve the problems of the people. Consequently, much thought should be given to how much influence the morass of federal and state bureaucrats should have over our community schools.

As with most government agencies, bureaucratic bloat inhibits diffusion of innovation. Additionally, teacher unions have become an all-powerful fourth estate influencing much of what takes place in the schools in our towns. Exemplary and flagship schools are most often those that innovate despite the long reach of federal and state authority. 

A spirit of community.

Horace Mann (1796-1859) is considered the founder of today’s public-school movement, via a common school philosophy. That philosophy meant teaching what knowledge is worth knowing and what values and virtues are most important to impart to young impressionable children — all to make for a better and productive citizen of the republic. As an Enlightenment thinker, he saw the outcome of education as children developing a scientific citizenship, learning a common language of speaking and writing, and appreciating the value of a common culture. Citizens should be literate and develop habits of industry, not just for their own good or the good of the family, but for the common good. 

As America matured and became a melting pot, economic, socio-cultural, and political participation success followed. Not long ago, schools held banners in the gym and school hallways espousing shared values such as truth, respect, honesty, and integrity. In just a short time since, the focus has been ostensibly on diversity, equity, and inclusion in an effort to gain benefits from any “otherness,” but in practice it has created a culture of self-loathing, victimhood, and segregation, void of any gratitude. 

Play fair and by the rules. 

Students are being exposed to team, and at some point, competitive, sport at younger and younger ages. They will hear a host of adages to play by, such as play fair, obey the rules, don’t argue with the referee, don’t be a poor sport, have fun, and it is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game that matters. Girls and women’s sports at all levels have advanced in many ways. 

Surprisingly, boys in scholastic and collegiate sports have encroached on girls’ and women’s competitions, as school administrators and league officials have looked the other way. Having girls and boys compete together in sporting events certainly should be considered; however, events that have clear rules on who is eligible to compete should be respected as a matter of fair play. 

Rules for who competes against whom by sponsoring schools and clubs are well beyond girls’ leagues or boys’ leagues. Wrestling has participants compete in weight classes, as does pee wee football, and boxing. Golf tournaments have golfers register their handicap. Road races seed runners at the start of a race according to their demonstrated finish times; jumping the queue of a seed in road races is poor form. Schools have deviated from their historical message to students to “play by the rules.” 


We are decades from a major report on the future of education in the U.S., a report that says if we don’t reform the basic three elements of any education — 1) What do students need to know? 2) How to teach it? and 3) How do the students know what was taught? — then we are a nation at risk. 

Since that time, stakeholders have not been at a loss to create initiatives that improve public education in the US. In fact, a common set of characteristics that make for good schools has been identified as those that: 1) support innovative school leaders; 2) give latitude to and reward excellent teachers; 3) provide a purposeful-driven curriculum that aims to educate good citizens; 4) sets high standards for students and accountability for their performance and behavior; 5) expects a high-level of parental involvement; and 6) allows for competition, including school choice. 

Surprisingly, many public schools in recent years have been running counter to the characteristics of good schools. They have successfully eliminated anything related to pro deo et patria. A founding goal of public education is to foster good citizenship and civility. The search for veritas is fading for many schools today. Public school leaders seem to devote more time to choosing sides in the enduring socio-cultural and political wars in our country, as student academic performance in other countries surpasses that of the students in the US. 

The nation’s risk is not from an outside invader, but from influencers from within, who have an aversion today to truth, justice, and the American way. 

Stephen F. Gambescia is professor and director of an Interprofessional Doctor of Health Science program at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. His research and writing areas are in macro public policy issues.

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