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What If the Crisis in Public Education Is Not What You Think?

It's a question we are not asking.

Over the past month, teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina led mass protests, accusing state officials of denying them a fair living wage. In March, the Secretary of Education, who promotes charter, parochial, and private school options, could not explain the effects of her policies on public schools in a now viral television interview. Parents in New York recently called for the ouster of the state education commissioner, citing botched standardized testing. Education, some say, continues to put our nation at risk.

Inarguably, public education is in crisis. But how, precisely?

The crisis is commonly framed like this: Because outdated schools fail to prepare children sufficiently to compete in the 21st century, perennially evident in the persistent achievement gap at home and international test performance abroad, standardized tests should be used to hold teachers directly accountable while parents should be empowered to choose better schools for their children. It is a narrative as satisfying as it is unsound.

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