Friday, September 13, 2013

It is time to change the dominant narrative

Dominant narratives are powerful.

Dominant narratives are the stories that we believe to be true. Sometimes the narrative is true. Others times the narrative is not, but we act as if it is because it is the dominant narrative.

I recently came across this article that captures the power and the danger of dominant narratives. The article tells the story of a basketball player whose "raw talent" is "exceptional," "precocious," "formidable," and the like. Yet, he never became a star.

The dominant narrative was that he was an exceptional player. Yet he never proved it.

I see a similar narrative taking place with our public schools. One current dominant narrative is that public schools are a failure.

I am here to say - they are not!

But this narrative is so pervasive that people believe it even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Let me explain.

Many schools in our state are doing wonderful things. Yet the state's new accountability system places the vast majority of public schools in our state in the yellow category. Venessa Keesler, Deputy Superintendent for Education Services with the Michigan Department of Education, said that yellow rating is a "warning."

The dominant narrative is that over 80% of the schools in Michigan should come with a warning.

That's ridiculous! Yet, that's the dominant narrative.

The dominant narrative says that only 25% of high school graduates are prepared for college. Yet, according to the state of Michigan's own website, only 27.55% of students who graduated in 2010 (the last year for which they have data on their website) took a remedial course in college. Broken down it shows that only 10% took a remedial reading course, 12% took a remedial writing course, and 21% took a remedial math course. So how can it be that only 25% of students are college ready yet 63% did not need any remedial course in college and 90% did not need remediation in reading and 88% did not need remediation in writing, and 79% did not need remediation in math.

The dominant narrative is trying to say that public schools are a failure.

They are not.

It is time to change the dominant narrative.

Public schools are successful. Public schools educate successfully the students who come through their doors.

Can public schools improve? Of course.

But the dominant narrative should be that public schools are working and they are getting better.