"Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational "excellence," I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity." ~ Thomas Sowell
|Toledo Public School's Pickett Academy has been in|
academic emergency or failing for more than a decade.
But it's also a good quote to explain what's going on in Ohio in general as the legislature considers new rules for charter schools.
Let's start with Pickett.
Pickett used to be kindergarten through sixth grade, but was recently changed, as part of an overall restructuring of the Toledo Public Schools. It now goes to eighth grade.
For more than 12 years, Pickett has been failing. It was in academic emergency under the old state grading system and has had a failing grade since the new school report cards have been issued.
In 2011-12, the school met none of the performance indicators and did not meet the "adequate yearly progress" indicator.
In 2012-13, under the new letter grades, the school received a D on its Performance Index (which measures the test results of every student) and an F on Indicators Met (which tells how many students passed the state tests at a minimum level).
In order to "meet" an indicator, at least 75% of students must pass the test.
The school met zero - none - of the 14 indicators during the 2012-13 school year.
It also scored an F for Gap Closing, which tells if every student is succeeding regardless of income, race, culture or disability. The state set an Annual Measurable Objective of 83.4% in math and 78.5% in reading. Pickett's overall score in reading was 53.3% and was 36.4% in math.
So what happened in the 2013-14 school year? More of the same.
Another D on the Performance Index. Another F on Indicators Met with, again, none of the 14 indicators achieved. And another F in Gap Closing.
You would think, with scores and grades like these over more than a decade, that students who would attend Pickett would be taking advantage of the Ohio EdChoice Scholarship.
The EdChoice Scholarships give options to kids who are, or would be attending, an underperforming school. Parents can use the scholarship to send their child to participating private schools.
So how many students who would have been stuck in this particular failing school have opted for a better education?
That's a good question. According to a spokesman at the Ohio Department of Education, data on the number of EdChoice Scholarships issued by underperforming school is available. As soon as they email the information, it will be included in this blog post.
Regardless of the number of students leaving, it is certain that not all students at Pickett are doing poorly, just that a vast majority of them are.
Which brings us back to the quote - and the Ohio General Assembly.
There are a lot of people up in arms about the performance of charter schools - which are also public schools - especially after a pretty negative report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Fordham was the first non-profit agency to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education as a sponsor of community schools. Fordham's report, released in December, said that "too often Ohio's charters have produced mediocre results" and that, on average, charter school students "make less academic progress than their district counterparts."
Fordham made several recommendations for improvement and some are included in House Bill 2 and as part of Gov. John Kasich's budget recommendations.
Certainly, poorly performing schools should not be allowed to continue to crank out poorly educated students. And an examination of public charter schools is not only valid, but necessary. Parents need this information - and information on traditional public schools - so they can make good decisions for their children and find a school that best fits them.
But among all the angst and hand-wringing over charter schools that don't do well after three years, a lot of politicians, teachers unions, special interest groups and lobbyists are ignoring schools like Pickett that have been failing students for more than a decade.
In fact, if Pickett had been held to the same standard as existing charter schools, it would have closed quite some time ago.
For instance, in the 2013-14 school year, charter schools serving up to third grade would automatically be closed if, for two of the last three years, the school had been in Academic Emergency. While Pickett now serves up to eighth grade, it's been in Academic Emergency for over a decade.
The problem isn't that so many kids are stuck in failing schools without options, or that charter schools aren't doing as well as other public schools, or that parents cannot afford a private school education - though all these are, indeed, problems parents and communities face.
The bigger problem is that the various school options are not held to similar, much less the same, standards.
According to a December 2011 report from the Center for Education Reform, between 1997 and 2011, nearly 100 (99 to be exact) charters were closed for failing to meet their obligations. A January 12 Columbus Dispatch article noted that closings are now over 150.
There are 233 schools on the current List of Designated Public Schools, the schools that are underperforming and have been failing for at least two of the last three years. Students who attend, or would be slated to attend, those schools are the ones eligible for EdChoice Scholarships.
Interestingly, the List has a "Closing" column, which identifies schools that are in the process of being closed.
Guess how many of those 233 failing schools are closing.
THAT is the problem. Traditional public schools which are failing students are allowed to remain open while the other public education option - charter schools - must close when they fail.
Now, if the traditional public schools weren't failing overall, or just failing to meet the needs of specific students, there wouldn't been a "need" for other options, though there would still exist a "want."
No school can be all things for all students, which is why school choice is so important to parents and students.
But if we're not going to open the doors so wide that ALL students can have a choice, then the least we can do is ensure that traditional public schools are treated the same as charter public schools and close down the ones that are continually failing to meet even the most basic of standards - like Pickett.
After all - it's "for the children."