Friday, September 28, 2012

Our failing public schools

Our failing public schools

Gil Spencer is known for his” take no prisoners” approach as a Delco Times staff commentary columnist.

SPENCER: No excuse for a failing education system
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Delco Times Opinion By GIL SPENCER gspencer@delcotimes.com
The state’s education establishment is still smarting from last week’s release of standardized test scores that show student performance getting worse instead of better.
Across the state, test results showed one in four Keystone State kids are not up to snuff in math, while three in 10 cannot read at grade level. Only 60 percent of our 500 school districts made “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by our education experts (compared to nearly 90 percent last year).
In Delaware County, over half our school districts failed the AYP test.
Of course, public education activists and union leaders had a ready excuse for this failure: Money.


Here's my response:

Hey Gil –

Nice seeing you again at Live from the Newsroom the other day.


Priya is certainly entitled to her opinion.  Here’s another:


The overwhelming proportion of the JPL Mars Curiosity exploration team came from America's public high schools.  A JPL website, Zip Code Mars, carries brief bios of the Mars team; 104 of 141 team members graduated from public high schools.

Last year, among the usual local colleges, Haverford High School grads also attended Harvard, Princeton, Swarthmore, NYU, Columbia, Cornell, MICA, RISD, Penn State Schreyer Honors College, Pitt Honors College, Drexel Honors College, UVA, Boston U, American, Catholic U, Case Western, Lehigh…..from a public school in a district that spends at about the state average.

U.S. 15-year olds in schools with fewer than 10 percent of kids eligible for free or cut-rate lunch "score first in the world in reading, outperforming even the famously excellent Finns.

U.S. schools where fewer than 25 percent are impoverished (by the same lunch measure) beat all 34 of the relatively affluent countries studied except South Korea and Finland.

In Pennsylvania, the statewide average for public school students in poverty in 2011 was 39.1%.  For the 144 PA schools on the 2011 list of failing schools that accompanied SB1, the voucher bill, the average poverty rate was 80.8%

These rates are based upon a family of 4 having an income of $23,000 or less.

A whopping 23.1% of U.S. children under the age of 18 live in poverty, putting us second in the world.  Among developed nations, only Romania has a higher relative child poverty rate…..

Does funding matter?  Apparently the school reform folks think so.
Here’s a May 16th, 2012 quote from Archbishop Chaput: “some of our schools will be forced to close without the passage of opportunity scholarships (i.e., school-choice vouchers) and increased Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) funding. This isn’t a “maybe.” It’s a certainty driven by economic facts.”

He got $50 million in new EITC money with absolutely no strings attached.  No public fiscal scrutiny and none of these damn PSSA tests.  Just cold, hard cash.  Ironically, area parochial schools have lost over 30,000 students to charter schools – the EITC program is simply a government bailout, with zero accountability.  We’re apparently just supposed to take it on faith.

There is no independent research demonstrating that charters or vouchers are systematically more effective than traditional public schools in raising student achievement for high poverty populations of students.

Every kid can learn.  Poverty is not an excuse – but it’s a stubborn fact.

We’re spending tens of millions on tests that are of no direct benefit to our kids.  We’re squeezing non-tested subjects out of the curriculum.  We’re wasting an enormous amount of instructional time and taxpayer money on test prep and testing that, in my opinion, is out of control.

We need leadership that will bring together ALL stakeholders from traditional public education and reformers, have them stop shooting at each other, and focus on how we can best use our limited resources to educate kids in poverty.

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