I'm angry this morning. When I read the Roanoke Times, I found that Bob McDonnell's cockamamie idea of grading public schools A to F, with its purpose of opening up state education to for-profit "managers" of "failing" schools has found its way to Roanoke and maligned a fine school.
Westside Elementary School is the largest in the city, with more than 700 students. About 87 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The student body represents 19 foreign countries and has a 33 percent mobility rate (students moving in and out of the school). With that population, one would expect relatively poor academic results. However, in the past three years, Westside has seen its passing English test scores rise from 71 percent to 83 percent. Math passing scores went from 81 percent to 90 percent. The school has an active and involved PTA, an award-winning debate team and a competitive student dance group. So, what caused that D grade?
Westside is being punished because it received a School Improvement Grant, part of the reason for the achievement gains. That grant automatically triggered the D grade. For some ungodly reason, if a school seeks funding to help it increase educational success for its disadvantaged students, that is being taken as proof that it is below average. What nonsense!
"Maybe he [Gov. McDonnell] doesn't really know about Westside because I think Westside is a great school," 11-year-old Treazure Taylor said when RT editor Christina Nuckols visited.
"If the governor actually came here as a student, his mind may change," said 10-year-old Cameron Peters.
Out of the mouths of babes...Bureaucrats in Richmond thinking up ways to pad Bob McDonnell's resume for his next run for office know absolutely nothing about school improvement. Nor do the for-profit corporate types lusting after a chance to break into the newly-created Virginia market for managing "failing" schools. And, Westside is not the only school in Roanoke given a unfair D for seeking help for its students.
Lincoln Terrace Elementary School in Roanoke was also given a D. That grade also wasn't for poor academic achievement on the part of the students. It was given because Lincoln Terrace, which also has a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, receives funding from programs meant to help raise school achievement.
As Kay McGrath, a member of the Lincoln Terrace faculty, said in a letter to the Roanoke Times, "What kind of message does that [D grade] send to a school division serving economically disadvantaged students? You are neglectful if you don't take the funding, but you are penalized if you do."
It appears that the deck is being stacked against some public schools in the Commonwealth. By assigning a low grade because the schools have taken advantage of funding to help them raise their achievement, the state enlarges the pool of schools available for state take-over.
The law that just passed the General Assembly needs to be amended by the governor to end this obvious wrong. I don't expect that to happen, certainly not when McDonnell takes his cues for public education from the likes of Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush, who has ties to for-profit education companies. The fix is in.
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