Good Schools, Bad Schools: More Codes that Blind

On the first class of my May X course on educational documentaries, we watched the short and really powerful film Crenshaw by Lena Jackson.

The film introduces students to many of the key patterns of educational reform over the last thirty-plus years, including how we talk politically and publicly about good schools and bad schools as well as how we have chosen to address inequitable opportunities and outcomes among identifiable populations of students by race and social class.

Crenshaw specifically addresses the political strategies of closing so-called bad schools—often including takeover policies and cosmetic renamings of historically important schools for communities.

The morning of the second class, I read Why the board is closing Lincoln about the same dynamic in Charleston, SC, my home state.

Beyond the disturbing pattern of trying the same approaches over and over while expecting different results (the most blatant failure of the accountability era in education reform), this editorial support for closing a school exposes the problems inherent in how we talk politically and publicly about schools.

The editorial describes the school being closed, Lincoln Middle-High School, with “inadequate,” “shortcomings,” and “under performing.”

As a rhetorical and policy strategy, the editorial frames Lincoln against nearby Wando High, characterized as “academically one of the top high schools in the state.”

So we have Lincoln as “bad school” and Wando as “good school”—making this seem more than credible: “Why shouldn’t students from the McClellanville area get an education as good as students 25 miles down the road in Mount Pleasant?”

Let’s examine that more carefully.

As the editorial notes, “Lincoln’s students are predominantly black, and some people who have felt the brunt of very real racism over the years see shuttering Lincoln as motivated by a lack of regard for a minority school and its students.”

Both Lincoln‘s and Wando‘s state report cards document how test-based data seem to reinforce that Lincoln is under performing and Wando is a top school.

However, a key element of how these schools are characterized is omitted—the poverty index for each school:


The editorial is mostly wrong-minded throughout—except for its concession that race and racism lie at the foundation of why SC has refused to address adequately our investment as a state in “other people’s children.”

“Bad” and “good” contribute to our coded political and public discourse that reflects our collective unwillingness to do what is required: reform directly education so that all students have the sorts of opportunities that we do guarantee to the most fortunate children among us.

Lincoln as a school, the students it serves, and the community within which it sits—these are not “failing” but overburdened and under-resourced.

Wando as a school, the students it serves, and the community within which it sits—these are not academically “top” because of the school, but because this context is far less burdened, gifted a tremendous amount of slack within which students and by proxy schools can succeed.

Of course, students at Lincoln deserve the same opportunities as the students at Wando—but to act as if this somehow has something to do with the physical plants, the school buildings, is inexcusable.

If we truly believe “Why shouldn’t students from the McClellanville area get an education as good as students 25 miles down the road in Mount Pleasant?” (and I am pretty sure we do not believe that), then we simply need the political and public will to make that happen right there in Lincoln—and there is nothing hard or magical about that.

Closing schools, renaming schools, taking over schools, changing standards and tests—these, and nearly every education reform policy we embrace, is so much foolishness, the indirect but fake change that reveals beneath the codes that we simply don’t give a damn about some children and some communities.

“Bad school” and “good school” keep the accusatory gaze on buildings, educators, and even children. What we need is to spend some time in front of a mirror—where the real problems lie.


An Alternative to Accountability-Based Education Reform


5 thoughts on “Good Schools, Bad Schools: More Codes that Blind”

  1. This was a good start, but I was left hanging. I’m in totally agreement with author on the problem in Wando vs Lincoln or good vs bad. I already know present fixes are self serving but not for the kids or their community. Will the follow up article give some solutions? Give examples of some “good” vs “bad” schools that are moving forward & truly improving Education for the Bad school.

  2. There is no such thing as a bad school. Schools are buildings on a piece of property. If anyone wants to see what I mean, visit one at midnight during the summer months/weeks when school is not in session.

    There are run down schools and schools in dangerous neighborhoods and most of the dangerous neighborhoods are in areas with high rates of poverty. If a school is alleged to be bad that means a number of things.,

    For instance:

    1. high rates of poverty.

    2. violent street gang culture

    3. incompetent site or district administration

    4. allegedly corrupt site or district administration (and this can only be determined by a court of law according to evidence collected through the proper legal process by police that adhere to the public legal process).

    5. An allegedly corrupt elected school board. (again, this can only be determined by the proper public legal process. Corporations and billionaires do not have the legal right to become vigilantes, but they have and because they have subverted portions of state and federal governments, they are getting away with hit under the guise of corporate public school reform)

    6. too many good teachers are burned out from the stress caused by the corporate public education reform movement and its Testocracy funded by private sector billionaire oligarch (individuals who clearly see themselves as above the law) and companies like Pearson (a UK corporation). Isn’t that an act of war — in reality a subversive invasion to destroy the United States Republic and its Constitution that was written to protect the people from their own govenrment? These teachers are not bad. They have been abused by the autocratic, often fraudulent corporate for-profit Testocracy and its supporters.

    7. Too many students do not engage in the learning process and cause disruptions to the teaching process because those students see school as a prison. One major cause of this thinking is caused by living in poverty with parents and/or guardians that do not do their job as parents and support the public education process. Let’s not forget that K-12 is mandatory to the age of 18 for all children and there is no choice. Children from age 5 to 18 have no choice. They must attend school. Under some circumstances, depending on the education laws in each state, these statutory children may voluntarily drop out if that is their choice when they reach an age that is usually 16.

    Children who do not engage in the education process but go to school because they have no choice have made a choice not to learn. That does not make a school bad.

    Let me tell you who is bad. Every individual that is a part of the corporate public education reform movement. No, I’m wrong. They are not bad. The are evil. They are corrupt. They must be stopped. And being a fool is not an excuse. If you support evil even though you think it is a good cause, that does not stop you from being a criminal because aiding and abetting a crime is illegal.

    This is called aiding and abetting a crime and ignorance is not an excuse. When the legal process stops working and the crime/fraud continues, then it becomes an act of war and the people have a right to rebel against their oppressors.

    For instance, a New York judge ruled Wednesday that the use of student test scores to evaluate a Long Island teacher was “indisputably arbitrary and capricious” — but the teacher’s lawyer now says they aren’t fully satisfied with the decision and may appeal further to ensure the measure isn’t used in the future to judge other teachers in the state.

    This is a perfect example of peaceful ways to resist and avoid bloodshot and battlefield deaths, but if justice fails, then there is no choice but to resist violently. As long as their are victories in a Court of Law according to the legal process, there will be no need of a violent uprising.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s