Major misconceptions

The Education Beat

Myths: Progress in hiring black teachers, higher rate of dropouts are two of the common -- but erroneous -- views people hold about education.

January 06, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

NINE MYTHS ABOUT education:

The nation's schools are making steady progress in hiring black teachers.

Wrong. Between 1971 (the first year racial data were available) and 1996, the percentage of African-American teachers nationally declined from 8.1 to 7.3, while the proportion of white women teachers increased from 66 percent to 74 percent. During the same period, the median age of teachers increased from 35 to 44.

Like it or not, the teaching force in America is dominated by middle-age, white females.

Poor urban and rural school districts such as Baltimore City and Somerset County spend less on each student than all others.

Wrong. Last year, according to the State Department of Education, Somerset spent $6,624 on each student, fifth highest among the 24 districts. Baltimore spent $6,408, ninth highest. The state average was $6,584, and Montgomery County, the wealthiest district, spent $8,035.

Frederick County, an up-and-coming suburban district, was 23rd on the spending list, at $5,858.

Huge infusions of federal and state aid allow poor districts to spend more. But they're not putting large amounts into books and buildings. Almost all of their spending goes to employees' salaries and benefits.

Teaching students in their native language first will hinder their learning English later.

Wrong. According to recent linguistic research, programs that first develop children's native language skills show beneficial effects on their English-language development -- and in their general academic achievement.

America's schools are letting students slip through the cracks. More students are dropping out today than dropped out 25 years ago.

Wrong. When the grandparents of today's students entered adulthood, about half of the population (ages 25 through 29) had completed high school. Today the figure exceeds 86 percent. Dropout rates are declining, and high school completion rates are on the rise.

Student grades in selective colleges such as the Johns Hopkins University are lower because the subject matter is tougher.

Wrong. National studies show that the less selective the college in admissions, the lower the grades. This is true regardless of race. Grades are simply more inflated at schools such as Hopkins than at schools such as Essex Community College, perhaps proving that you get what you pay for.

A popular college teacher is not a good teacher.

Not necessarily. According to the National Education Association, this argument has no basis and no research to substantiate it. People do say, "The best teachers I had were the ones I hated most," but those people are in the minority.

In polling, people give generally high grades to the nation's schools.

Wrong. People think poorly of the nation's schools -- especially the ones they do not know, and the ones on which their information comes from the media. But people give better grades to their local schools.

Last year's Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup education poll found 43 percent of those living in urban areas across the country assigned their local schools an A or B. Forty-three percent of suburban residents and 52 percent of rural residents did so. These are the same schools to which people who do not live in those communities assign low grades.

Whites are more concerned about such issues as drugs and violence in the schools than blacks are.

Wrong. Fifty-eight percent of nonwhites see discipline as a very serious problem, 49 percent of whites. Sixty-five percent of nonwhites see drugs as a very serious problem, 50 percent of whites.

These striking demographic differences make it clear that educators need to redouble efforts to reach out to nonwhites by listening to and addressing their problems. Such a message was delivered last year by a panel that studied minority achievement in Maryland.

Children who are home-schooled are socially maladjusted when they enter formal schooling.

Perhaps once true, but no longer. Modern home-schools are models of social "networking." Their kids engage in numerous social activities, date, participate in sports, go to church and cruise malls together. They have little trouble adjusting.

Home-schooled girl finishes college with 4.0

When I interviewed Jamie Smith 2 1/2 years ago, she was taking a calculus course at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- just for fun. UMBC was Smith's first formal schooling. She had been home-schooled for all of her 19 years in Montgomery County, where her dad is a public-school teacher.

Jamie Smith Hopkins, now married, graduated from UMBC on Dec. 22 as commencement speaker and valedictorian -- with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

She's off to write about education for the Ames (Iowa) Tribune after working at The Sun as an intern and at the UMBC Retriever as a reporter and editor. We'll be hearing from her again.

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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