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Amendment 1 a can of worms that must be opened
school grades

(Thoughts on education reform by Assistant Editor Ted O’Neil)

Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot will be decided by a yes or no vote, but the issue involves far more questions than that.

In brief, if the measure passes it would create an Opportunity School District into which “chronically failing” schools could be placed. What constitutes a “chronically failing” school? One that receives a failing grade three or more consecutive years on the state’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index. The CCRPI is basically a school report card that assigns letter grades to schools based on certain factors.

States have to perform such measurements to satisfy federal Department of Education rules and regulations. Why is it that the federal government even involved in local education? Again, there are far more questions than answers when it comes to K-12 issues.

The CCRPI is a flawed system that does not measure educational achievement, but is simply a proxy for poverty.

Bryan County Schools is a perfect example. Schools in North Bryan range between 63 and 73 percent in the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared with 26 to 31 percent in South Bryan. It doesn’t take a math whizz to see the correlation as to why schools in North Bryan fare worse on the CCRPI compared to those in South Bryan.

The CCRPI also is flawed because of the weight it gives to the so-called “achievement gap.” In short, schools with a large number of high-performing students are punished because of the gap between them and lower-achieving students. A more honest measurement would focus solely on gains made by low-scoring students.

That being said, can some good come from the OSD? Yes and no.

On the one hand, it’s simply a matter of one government entity taking something over from another government entity. And as Ronald Reagan so perfectly put it, the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

And school boards, including ours, rightly have a concern about the process as it relates to local control.

On the other hand, there are some 68,000 students currently stuck in what would qualify as “chronically failing” schools should the measure pass. They deserve more than a “we’re trying” answer.

So what are the answers?

One option is to allow unfettered choice among and between current districts. Another is more charter public schools. My native Michigan, for example, has no cap on charters and allows universities to authorize them. There are hundreds of them, and those that fail — either through academic malfeasance or lack of parental interest — close down. That doesn’t happen with conventional public schools.

Competition is not a bad word when it comes to education. Students are not the “property” of a particular school building or district.

What isn’t the answer? More money.

If that were true, public schools students in Washington, D.C., would all be Rhodes Scholars. Our nation’s capital spends $25,000 per student and has nothing to show for it. Remember the test-cheating scandal there a few years back?

And that brings us to the real crux of the problem. Despite its best intentions, public education in America is still too similar to the 19th century version of itself. Students attend school for eight hours a day to learn how to follow orders and prepare for the workforce, based on an agrarian calendar, at the nearest school.

That’s fine and dandy if your neighborhood school is not “chronically failing.” Otherwise, it screams that there is something fundamentally wrong with assigning children to schools based on what ZIP code their parents can afford.

The “winners” of the Amendment 1 battle will shout “victory” depending on the outcome Nov. 8, yet tens of thousands of students and families still won’t have an answer when the school bell rings the morning of Nov. 9.

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