Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The hurrier we go, the behinder we get

The State Department of Education has announced that the number of "Academically Unacceptable Schools" in Louisiana has risen dramatically, but assures the public that it does not mean our schools are getting worse.

In fact, according to a press release from the department, "more students than ever are grade-level proficient."

How to resolve that seeming paradox? The culprit is statistics. This year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education raised the minimum School Performance Score from 60 to 65. And next year, it will rise 10 more points.

The Associated Press is reporting that the number of AUS schools skyrocketed from 48 last year to 135 this year.

Under a new state letter grade policy, any school rated AUS will be slapped with an "F" in October. The threat of a state takeover will loom over schools that just a couple of years earlier would have been academically acceptable.

To some observers, it may seem that there is a deliberate effort to create the appearance that public schools are failures.

Acting Superintendent Ollie Taylor is sanguine about the increase in AUS schools, saying "I have no doubt that we will see schools quickly overcome this status, given the history of our districts and schools in responding to tougher standards."

BESE President Penny Dastugue also oozes confidence, saying, "Our commitment and challenge now at the state level is to work with schools and districts to get every school in the state over the bar."

"Raising the bar" is a popular metaphor with education reformers. They like the sports analogy, with its implication that every challenge can be met with just a little more effort.

But an athlete who is popped in the kneecap with a stick can't very well jump over a higher bar, and that is what's happening to public education in Louisiana.

The legislature, Gov. Jindal and BESE just agreed to freeze public education’s Minimum Foundation Program for the third straight year, even as the costs of providing education keep rising.

On top of that, some $83 million was cut from the education budget. That included money for nationally certified teachers, classroom technology, student remediation, and reading and math initiatives. Those are the very programs that are crucial to meeting the higher standards.

Increases in student achievement are a testimony to the hard work by teachers in the classroom. But they cannot be expected to keep improving with fewer resources. And it certainly doesn't help to have a system that seems set up to ensure the perception of failure.

Popped in the kneecap, indeed.

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