Schools actually doing wellPosted Wednesday, August 31, 2011, at 8:28 AM
Last week's story on the Adequate Yearly Progress scores for the school district inadvertently indicated more schools in the district had failed than actually did so.
Largely, that was due to the fact I misread a chart I'd been given, but it caused the district administration some considerable grief, and for that I felt terrible.
In fact, only three of the district's schools failed this year -- Hacker Middle School, West Elementary and the junior high.
As the story explained, it isn't easy to pass AYP. The way the thing is set up, it only takes a handful of students in just one of the 41 demographic groups analyzed to create a "failing" grade.
But that doesn't mean the schools are actually failing. Most of the schools passed and in every "failing" case, they were all very close to passing.
The standards are very high, which is good. Schools should be expected to achieve high standards. They're a lot higher than when I went to school, back in the days when art classes involved drawing bison on cave walls. I seriously doubt that, in those days, 85 percent of all the students in my school district were reading and doing math at or above grade level. That would have been considered a major success story in those days. Today, it's the minimum standard -- and a lot of our kids are well above that minimum.
AYP was part of the much reviled No Child Left Behind legislation. That bill actually did very little to address problems of educational performance. It did generate a great deal of bureaucratic paperwork and add to administrative costs, money that could have been spent in the classrooms, instead. A number of school districts around the country simply lied to the feds about how they were doing and faked the test scores, because if they couldn't show they were getting better, they didn't get important federal funding.
Funding cuts then drove educational performance even lower. There is, after all, a direct correlation between how much you spend on each student and how well they perform in class.
Part of that is because money is used to buy better textbooks (Idaho hasn't allocated money for textbooks for years) and instructional aids, but mainly it's because more money means you can hire more teachers, and that means smaller classroom sizes. A teacher working with 18 students can spend a lot more time "customizing" instruction for an individual student than one who is swamped with 36 students in their classroom (where you can lose 20 percent of the teaching period just trying to get them into their seats).
Teacher training is better than it has ever been in the history of this country. The standards we ask kids to achieve are higher than they've ever been. But when you cut funding, you wind up cutting teachers and aides, counselors and other support personnel, all of which make educating our kids more difficult. When the legislature gets mad at education, and decides to punish schools with lower funding, it generates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That's why, if the legislators actually want to improve education, they need to put the money where their mouths are. It's great to require higher standards. I have yet to meet an educator that objects to that. They all want their kids to succeed. But they can't do it in overcrowded classrooms and where budgets are so tight they have to buy their own paper to run off tests and worksheets.
If we really want quality education, we have to pay for it.
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