Today the Alabama State Board of Education published a list of 75 “failing” schools in the state of Alabama.
You may review the list of schools in Trisha Powell Crain’s article here. It includes two schools in Huntsville City: Lee High School and Columbia High School.
You should also give Anna Clarie Vollers’ article a look as she deftly points out that the decline in the number of “failing” schools in Huntsville is the result of just one thing: closing (or renaming) those schools.
As Vollers writes: “Johnson was the only Huntsville City school on the failing list in 2015. In 2014, nine schools were on the failing list, some of which have since closed or merged with other schools: Butler High, Chapman Middle, MLK Jr. Elementary, Davis Hills Middle, Ed White Middle, Johnson High, Lakewood Elementary, Dawson Elementary and Westlawn Middle.”
Johnson wasn’t on the list this time because the board closed/renamed Johnson as Jemison, and as Vollers points out:
when a school that was on the failing list in the past closes and then opens with a new name and school code, that school does not appear on the failing list as there is no data for the school.
So, the most reliable way to get off the failing school list is to close the school. Keep this in mind; it’s crucially important.
The State creates this list by looking at each school’s scores on the ACT Aspire test. This is the same ACT Aspire test that HCS students have been guinea pigs for since 2012 when Dr. Wardynski made a deal with ACT for that purpose.
The most important fact to remember about this list is that by state statute no matter how improved a school may be from one year to another, no matter how much the educational process has improved over time, six percent (6%) of all of the schools in the state will be on the “failing” list.
Let me say that again.
No matter what, 6% of the state’s schools will always “fail.”
Setting Up to Fail
Let me ask you, when you were in school, did you want to be graded on a curve, or did you prefer receiving the grade you earned regardless of how your peers did on the test?
Let’s imagine this situation: You are in a class with 100 students. Your teacher gives you a test, and on that test the grades ranged from 100 down to lets say six students who made a 75.
Using the system that the state legislature has devised, those six students who made a 75 on the test are automatically given an F. Is this an accurate representation of the work those six students did?
Let’s imagine another situation: You are in a class with 100 students. Your teacher gives you a test, and on that test the grade ranged from say a 50 down to lets say six student who made a 25.
Using the system that the state legislature has devised, those six students who made a 25 on the test are automatically given an F, but the other 94 students would receive a passing grade. Is this an accurate representation of the work those 94 students did?
Either way, this system is setting up 6% of the school to fail. And it is giving the 94% a false sense of achievement.
This system is not designed to give parents an accurate understanding of the educational quality of the schools in the state.
It is instead designed to set up 6% of the schools to fail.
Well, that’s simple. Being on the failing list means that the state will give you a little bit of money, a fraction of the amount it was paying to education your child, to pull your kids out of the failing school.
At first, this seems reasonable as who would want to be in the bottom 6%? Shouldn’t we close those failing schools down anyway?
But the problem is that when we do close that 6% down, what happens next year?
Another 6% will, by statute, take its place.
Zero Sum Thinking Doesn’t Work in Education
This system is based on the flawed understanding that education is a zero sum game. The state legislature and sadly our HCS Board President, Elisa Ferrell, as well are convinced that education is a competition. And as we all know, in any competition, there can only be one winner. I suspect that this is why when Vollers asked Ms. Ferrell about the failing school list, she repeated put the responsibility of improving on the schools themselves:
I’m very confident they’ll work their way off the list.
It’s nice of Ms. Ferrell to share in taking responsibility for her role in improving our schools, isn’t it? Ms. Ferrell and the state legislature are wrong about this. Education doesn’t work this way, and it never has.
I know it’s unpopular to say this in this state today, but education is the ultimate participation trophy: Everyone who participates in education wins.
The student who gets a full-ride scholarship to Harvard as a result of her GPA and ACT scores benefits from participating in education.
The student who is on the autism spectrum, like my son, who learns life skills that help him navigate this increasingly insane and hostile world with a bit more independence benefits from participating in education.
In fact, a student like my son will actually benefit from his education far more than the student going to Harvard. The Harvard student would likely be successful no matter what.
It’s a pity that Ms. Ferrell isn’t aware of this. You would think that someone who was on the board of education would actually have an understanding of how education works.
I’m convinced that the state legislature is completely aware of it, however. This system of grading schools is just a way for the state to cut back on education expenditures because an educated populace is harder to control.
The purpose of this “failing” school list is simply to close down schools.