Enter your photo in the Ultimate Fan contest by midnight to win a suite night at a Salem Red Sox game and a chance at a trip to Fenway Park.
Lawmakers fail schools with grading system
Thursday, February 7, 2013
For 16 years or so, state and federal lawmakers and bureaucrats have tinkered around with measuring public education.
This has resulted in Virginia’s Standards of Learning, the feds’ Adequate Yearly Progress, and all kinds of other metrics and measurements and charts. Lots of charts.
Now they seem to be admitting that all that previous effort just doesn’t cut the mustard. Because this year, the geniuses in Richmond have hit upon a new scheme, pushed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County: letter grades for every public school in the commonwealth. Both the House and the Senate have passed this.
Alas, nobody I’m aware of has ever asked education leaders to grade those measurement-minded lawmakers. That seems unfair. So I gave some area school board members and administrators that opportunity this week.
None seemed more eager than Fuzzy Minnix, a five-year veteran of the Roanoke County School board. He was a 12-year county supervisor before that.
We must forgive Minnix if he sounded a bit frustrated. You see, he ardently believes in turning mediocre schools into good ones and good schools into excellent ones. But his head is spinning from all the different edicts. And Minnix has lost his faith that state government leaders share his goals.
He ticked off some of his own measurements to explain why: Richmond has slashed $14 million in state funding from Roanoke County schools in the past four years. His school system has lost 115 teachers, cut 36 positions, and it’s looking at closing three schools down the road.
“I graded the governor, and he’s in my own party, and he did not get a good grade,” Minnix said. He launched into a long-winded explanation of all the points he deducted for affronts listed above. The bottom line is, Minnix assigned a grade of “D.”
“I would not give the House and the Senate a good grade, either, because they’ve contributed to the situation we’re in now,” he added.
Regarding the newest letter-grade scheme, “to turn around, after all those cuts, and say to the teachers and the schools that they’re inadequate and not doing their job — that takes more guts than a fat man has,” Minnix said.
Rita Bishop, Roanoke’s school superintendent, says the current A-F grading scale is inadequate to rate what’s going on in Richmond. She would invent a new grade — “U” — and put that on the General Assembly’s report card.
“That stands for ‘unaware.’ You should think about what you’re doing if you’re unaware,” she said. “Why do we need this? … We’ll work on it, and do our doggonedest, but we’re very aware of the folly of this thing.”
Lorraine Lange, Roanoke County’s school superintendent, elaborated on the point Bishop made. Giving a grade to an entire school, which could have 2,000 students performing at different levels, in different subjects, is silly.
A school system, she added, would never give students a single grade for all the different subjects they take. For that reason she was reluctant to grade our lawmakers. “I can just say that Richmond is not average.”
“Better than average, or worse than average?” I pressed.
“I’m going to give them a ‘D,’ too,” she finally said.
Perhaps the cleverest yet most politic response came from Alan Seibert, superintendent of Salem’s schools.
“I would never presume to understand the complexities of a legislature,” he told me slyly. “So I don’t think you can summarize their entire body of work with one letter grade. You’d need multiple grades, for efficiency, progress, legislation. You’d want to evaluate each of those domains discretely.”
What does that remind you of? Golly, it’s kind of like the way schools measure students.
Seibert added: “We don’t presume to believe that one letter could accurately describe a child, much less a building full of them.”
But that’s what Richmond’s trying to do.
Stanley, who sponsored the A-F bill, has said that only 52 Virginia schools would rate below average (a D or F) under his plan. There are something like 1,850 public schools in the state. In that respect, the bill seems like the proverbial tail wagging the dog.
Worse, it’s akin to taking the handful of the worst students in any one school and making them wear pointy caps so all the other kids know who the dummies are. Ask any educator how effective that is as a motivational tool. I defy you to find one who says it works.
This is exactly the kind of “solution” you hear at a backyard barbecue, from some ignorant neighbor whose tongue has been loosened by too much moonshine.
Don’t our schoolchildren — and our schools — deserve better?
Weather JournalChilly holiday weekend AMs