GUEST COMMENTARY: Abandonment of public schools isn't working

2013-09-08T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Abandonment of public schools isn't workingBy Tony Lux nwitimes.com
September 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Recent revelations concerning former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett instructing his associates to raise the letter grade for Christel House Charter School (as well as several other charter schools) reveals a desperate act to prove success for an inherently flawed concept of school reform.

The current concept of school reform espoused in this state, and even nationally, is misguided and inherently flawed. This strategy started from well-founded concerns that many children, mostly disadvantaged poor, are not achieving at grade level. From there, the unfounded conclusion reached and preached was that all of public education was broken and that there was no fix.

The strategy for school reform became one of flight from, and abandonment of, public education.

The strategy of abandonment was sold to the public on the basis that public education was too costly and poor achievement results should not be "rewarded" financially.

The next step was to appease caring parents with school choice, flee their public school and seek other school alternatives. Those alternatives became charter schools and private schools. Funding for those alternative schools would come from public tax dollars siphoned away from public schools.

Flight to private schools would be expectedly limited, because of their high standards for accepting only the best behaved and highest achievers. The real pressure would be to demonstrate the charter school option could actually achieve at a higher level than the "inept" public schools. It would be especially important that at least some charter schools could reach achievement levels as high as the highest performing pubic schools, shining examples that the concept of flight and abandonment was a viable strategy.

The pressure was too much, as Bennett revealed "anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."

This school reform can succeed only if special modifications are made either at inception, through the selection of the most compliant and hard-working students and parents, or later through the manipulation of the assessment criteria for assigning performance grades to those schools.

What has been ignored is the designers of this school reform have capitulated their responsibility to actually improve public education. Even school choice has been built on the concept of unlimited quantity over guaranteed quality.

The abdication of responsibility for quality improvement is also evidenced by over-simplified A-F grades that hope for improvement through fear of being labeled with a bad grade.

While harsh teacher evaluations are being sold as another silver bullet for improvement, teacher and principal preparation programs are being watered down with reduced requirements for becoming a teacher, principal or school Superintendent!

Raising the level of achievement of our poorest and most disadvantaged students cannot be done through oversimplified and misguided strategies of flight and abandonment while abdicating responsibility for ensuring the implementation of proven instruction strategies. Bennett is an example of the pressure to try and do so.

Tony Lux is a retired school superintendent. The opinions are the writer's.

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