Sunday, September 1, 2013

Flunking the new batch of school report cards

Welcome back for another school year, dear teachers.

Along with the children who seem to be well-adjusted and ready to learn, please take those with special needs or cultural differences or from troubled homes – or all of the above – and turn them into kind, productive and intelligent members of our communities who will be poised to lead future generations.

By the way, you stink.

If that’s the message the Ohio Department of Education wanted to send to Ohio educators with the release last week of yet another revamped “report card,” it’s done a pretty good job.

Even districts that last year were deemed “excellent with distinction” are holding report cards dotted with “F’s.”

On top of that, a diminished print news media continues to give major play to the report card story, giving credibility to a process that really doesn’t make much sense.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in one of its printed weekday editions (which you can now count on one hand), screamed across the top of Page 1: “WHICH SCHOOLS MADE THE GRADE?”

I downloaded a few of the district and building report cards in hopes of some kind of analysis but immediately grew frustrated with the data. It lacks context. And without context it is meaningless. It’s poppycock. It’s bull.

I did come across a response to the new report cards by George Wood, superintendent of Federal Hocking Local Schools, who said the report cards lead us “down a dead-end road.”

“There is no evidence that the way the state reports on student achievement, or school performance, primarily by using standardized test scores, helps children learn or our teachers teach,” he wrote. “The ‘new’ report card simply continues this attempt to grade our schools with tools that are not up to the job.”

As Wood pointed out, Ohio’s public school districts have received little or no funding increases over the last few years. I’ll add that during the same time for-profit charter schools seem to enjoy ever-increasing ways to make their owners money, courtesy of a Legislature that is bent on giving the public schools competition.

So public schools, in efforts to make ends meet, are cutting all those plushy, cake jobs (please read sarcasm here), such as guidance counselors and specialized teachers, who used to help the lower and higher ends of the educational spectrum while encouraging and helping the middle to achieve educational success.

Now the state, in a gotchya minute, declares your district isn’t doing the job when it comes to the lower and higher ends.


OK, if you’re within the sound of my voice, don’t worry, Mom and Dad. Your schools are good. Your kids, as long as they have your help, will get a good education. Most of your teachers are very dedicated. And our schools are turning out tomorrow’s physicians, engineers, accountants and leaders. There are numerous examples.

(Now, if we could just keep some of them here. But that’s a different subject for another time.)

Phooey on the report cards.

After another Lake Erie rescue attempt that ended with a fatality, a police officer was trying to offer some advice to would-be rescuers.

He was telling a television reporter that one needs adequate water skills to not only save the victim but also himself. Clearly he was trying to be diplomatic with his comments.

I think what he wanted to say was this:

“If you can’t swim, you aren’t doing anyone a favor. Stay out of the water, or you might die.”

A year ago, six Louisiana teenagers drowned while trying to conduct a water rescue. Not one could swim and their parents, who also could not swim, watched helplessly on the river bank. It was a needless tragedy.

So, Mom and Dad, not only should you assist in your child’s educational development (see above), you also should make sure he learns how to swim. After all, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and there are swimming pools everywhere.

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

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