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How to Mold Public Opinion Against Public Schools

Two of the most effective tools of propagandists are to tell a big lie so often that it is accepted as undeniable truth, and to create a scapegoat for the anger and frustration that the public feels. An op-ed by Ted Nugent published on Jul. 29 in the Washington Times is a page torn from the textbook used in Propaganda 101 ("NEA - master of disaster").

Nugent starts out by declaring that public schools in America are a "complete and total disaster." As a writer, I take great pains in the choice of my words. I assumed that other writers who are published in newspapers and magazines would do the same. Obviously, Nugent does not. The truth is that public schools in this country range in quality from excellent to execrable. Nugent, however, places all of them in the latter group. Let's see why he is wrong.

The results of the Program for International Student Assessment showed that our students actually placed No. 1 when they were compared with students at schools abroad having similar poverty rates. To wit: schools in the U.S. with less than a 10 percent poverty rate posted a score of 551. Finland, which is widely acknowledged to have the world's best schools, came in No. 2 at 536. Even when the poverty rate was as high as 24.9 percent, the U.S. held its top-rated position with a score of 527.

If this evidence were not enough, Nugent conveniently overlooks Newsweek's annual list of "America's Best High Schools." It identified 1,600 schools based on the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests given at a school each year divided by the number of graduating seniors. Admittedly, 1,600 high schools is a fraction of the 25,000 public high schools in the country. But it hardly warrants omission, thereby impugning Nugent's claim of "total and complete disaster."

Nugent then sets up the National Education Association as the scapegoat for the failures of American schools. He says that the NEA "couldn't give a damn about children, and the test scores prove it." Once again, the truth is different. As I wrote on Aug. 1 ("Teacher Tenure Must Be Earned"), union members overwhelmingly support the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom regardless of seniority because they know how harmful such teachers are to student learning. A survey by the National Center for Education Information found that this belief was held by nearly all teachers, whether certified through traditional or alternative routes.

I have great respect for education commentators whose views differ from mine as long as they provide data to support their beliefs. As one wag put it: In God we trust; all others bring evidence." Nugent clearly does not fall into either category.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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