February 01, 2005

Leave Bad Schools Behind

A tale of one California school in which parents are speaking their minds by moving their kids:

Oak Grove Middle School has low state test scores, and for many parents -- and teachers -- that's all they need to know. It doesn't matter that the Concord school once was honored as a California Distinguished School and has classes for gifted and talented students, a state-of-the-art technology program and even a psychologist on campus to support the kids.

What matters is that widely publicized state test scores and the federal No Child Left Behind Act have labeled the school underperforming, giving parents a reason to leave. Enrollment has dropped from 915 last year to 750, and the parents of another 180 students have requested transfers by the fall. The act also has figured in the loss of 40 teachers in recent years, Principal Lorie O'Brien said.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this why California's accountability program, open enrollment policies, and NCLB were implemented? So that parents could make judgments based on objective criteria and move their kids someplace better if they chose to do so? Why aren't we being asked to be happy here for the at-most 345 students who may now be attending schools better suited for them? Is the assumption here that no school could possibly be better than one with a psychologist on call, test scores be damned?

...The schools fail to meet state and federal accountability standards often because they're struggling to teach low-scoring students who are learning English after immigrating to the United States, said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., an advocacy organization for more effective public schools which has studied the effects of the federal law.

Jennings and other education experts say that as the schools' test scores spiral downward, it's not uncommon for the more educated families to pull their kids out, increasing the percentage of low-scoring students and making it even more difficult to raise the scores. As a result, the schools -- which range from suburban ones such as Oak Grove to urban campuses -- lose per-pupil funding and the benefits of parents with the time and resources to get involved.

Yes, but if schools are having a very difficult time teaching immigrants, doesn't that suggest that something could in fact be wrong with the educational process? Should parents who do care about how their kids are educated be forced to hang around and pick up the slack for those who don't? And isn't it possible that as test scores decline, other issues could arise - like overcrowding and discipline problems - that arealso factors in a parent's decision to pull out?

Bottom line - isn't it perfectly okay for parents to decide that they value test scores over diversity in a school? Or has that been made illegal by the pro-diversity crowd?

"(At) schools that are so labeled, sometimes teachers feel they're being blamed unfairly, and sometimes teachers are looking for ways to leave," Jennings said. "Sometimes the better-educated parents take advantage of the school choice option."

Again, wasn't NCLB supposed to have at least some of this effect? Because some of those teachers who are so labeled are in fact not doing a great job of teaching. And the last time I checked, it wasn't only parents of kids who were doing well who can request transfers. Any parent can request such a transfer, and any kid can benefit from it. Perhaps it's more likely that better-educated parents will request the transfers, but it seems somehow dishonest to present the story in such a way that a less careful reader might conclude that income is somehow a necessary factor in the equation.

Oak Grove has always had a mix of students from blue- and white-collar families who live in Concord and more affluent Walnut Creek. In 1996, the state named it a California Distinguished School for its exemplary teaching and high standards.

Yes, and in 1996 I was still legally married and wearing size 5 jeans. Schools, which tend to be populated with people, can change as people do. What's more, according to the middle school rubric online here, at least some of the factors going into the selection of distinguished schools are as fuzzy as:

Evidence shows how the entire school community is committed to the vision that all students will reach the standards and demonstrates how all students will be ready for high school and for passing the high school exit exam.

If being committed doesn't translate into something that's objectively measurable, how much is the commitment worth to the students?

Back to the original article:

...n the seven years since the first of the state's new test scores -- which the federal law uses to gauge a school's performance -- the school has seen a marked shift in its demographics: The Hispanic population -- which is largely from the Monument Boulevard area in Concord -- has jumped from 27 to 52 percent, while the white population has dropped from 57 to 30 percent, according to the state Department of Education...

Kristy Caldwell's two children, who attend the high-performing Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek, would attend Oak Grove, and that deeply concerns her. "I'm not prejudiced, (but) the school became English-as-a-second-language, " she said. "You would be taking my kids from a great environment to a ghetto environment where they're struggling with other needs ... The test scores at Oak Grove are terrible."

A parent of any race could make the same decision for their kids. Especially when, as the article goes on to say, there are "persistent rumors" that Oak Grove has a problem with fights. Are we supposed to assume that there is absolutely no basis for those rumors? Is a parent whose kid has been beaten up on campus being racist by wanting to move them? Or ignorant in warning them to be careful?

I find it interesting that this article does not explicitly state that any parent can request such a transfer, and that said transfer might be attractive to any parent when a school's demographics have changed so rapidly that "rumors" of violence abound and teachers are forced to teach basic English as well as everything else.

Are parents of children with high test scores making this problem worse by leaving? Yes, when the "problem" is defined as "How do we keep a public school populated when times have changed and scores are down?" However, it's perfectly legitimate for those outside the system to judge with their feet and define the problem as, "How do I best educate my kids?" In which case, the parents are addressing the problem just fine - and in the way that state and federal accountability programs intended.

(via FreeRepublic.)

Posted by kswygert at February 1, 2005 03:42 PM