There is a dilemma created by how people perceive schools in the U.S. compared to how these same people perceive their own schools. In October 2010, Phi Delta Kappa released its annual poll on education. Across the nation, only 18% of citizens would give our public schools a letter grade of an A or a B. However, when asked about their own local school, 49% give their schools an A or B. If this is indeed a true cross-section of our nation, should not the two percentages be the same?
And when asked to grade the school where their oldest child attends, 77% of parents give their schools high marks.
America wants good schools, but are they ready for great schools? As Jim Collins points out in his book Good to Great, good is the enemy of great. If something is good, people have little incentive to make the changes that may or may not result in greatness.
But America is a Great nation, and we believe that we need great schools to maintain our leadership in the world.
So therein is the school leader's dilemma. We are charged with reforming our schools to create great schools, . . . provided we do not change our local institutions because they are good just the way they are.
I maintain this is one of the largest forces of inertia holding us back. We Americans love our schools. Adults remember fondly the schools they attended. They wish to model today's schools with warm nostalgia after their own alma maters, whether they graduated in 1999 or 1929.
We need to reform U.S. schools, but we can only do this if we have the educators with courage to make the necessary changes. We also need a public and school boards prepared to support change in the face of the discomfort it creates.