Historic Use of the Term “Failing School”

Politics is about many things—power, money, authority, values, ideas…

It also is about language.  In current school reform debates, the phrase “failing school” and its plural form “failing schools” are used very often.

Below are two Google Ngram charts that depict the rise in the frequency of this term in books appearance between 1900 and 2008.  The results are rather eye-popping—use of the terms took off after 1990.  (Click on the figures to get a much larger view of them.)

Chart 1. Term: “Failing School”

Chart 2. Term: “Failing Schools”

Caveat: the data drawn upon only include publications digitized by Google and classified by Google as “books.”  So it excludes all other media (magazines, video, radio, etc.) and certainly does not include spoken language.

Update: It is unclear what factors account for the rise in the usage of these terms in books.  Did it originate with academics?  Local or national journalists?  State or federal policymakers?

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