Sunday, January 09, 2011

Star Tribune editorial pines for mass public school closings

Newspapers have a storied history in the US. Once they were openly partisan, but today they must feign an attitude of "objectivity." The new norms caused many papers, if they hadn't already, to assume a beneficial attitude towards the communities they served and that made them profitable. Certainly the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, at least for the years when it was owned by the Cowles family, considered itself a positive civic actor. No more. Now the paper, in a deceitful, mean-spirited and ignorant editorial, is essentially calling for the mass closing of so-called "poor performing" schools in Minnesota.

So onerous and cavalier is the editorial that it can't even quite bring itself to tell the truth about what it is advocating. But make no mistake: The paper is calling for mass public school closings. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act will be the lever that "forces" the closings. I say "forces" in quotes because school districts can refuse to comply with NCLB rules, but the consequence is losing federal Title 1 money that serves poor students.

To understand how many schools might be ripe for closure consider that a report from the Center on Education Policy shows the number of schools not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) - the metric used for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) - soaring to 54 percent of Minnesota's schools in 2008-2009. And that number has been growing - in 2005-2006 it was 31 percent.

NCLB policy states that after six years of not meeting AYP a school must one way or another be destroyed. Yes - they call it "restructuring" but it really means destruction. In a year or so Minnesota will have a long list of schools that have not met AYP for six years. Will we have the stomach to destroy schools that have served as community hubs for decades? Despite there being no evidence that closing traditional schools does anything positive for academic achievement or for narrowing achievement gaps, the Star Tribune sure hopes so.

If nothing else reading the Star Tribune editorial illustrates the main reason the newspaper's own opinions are unsigned: it saves the authors from embarrassment. Not only does the editorial misinterpret its main source, it makes leaps of logic that would shame a third grader. If the paper were arguing for something trivial, like a new stop sign somewhere, the incoherence might still not be acceptable but it wouldn't be so pernicious. But when you are making an argument to destroy neighborhood assets that have been built up over decades it is unforgivable. The editorial states that educators
"...need to use proven educational models and throw out methods that don't yield results, while getting tougher about closing schools and starting over when necessary."
The level of ignorance is breathtaking. Who would argue against using "proven educational models"?? But after more than a hundred years of public education in the US, and two decades of charter school experimentation, can anyone really say we haven't done the research into finding out "what works" ??

Unfortunately for the editorial writer, what we've actually learned is that high-stakes testing, competition, and market-driven reforms do NOT work. And we know why: Collaboration is key to successful education, not competition.  In competition there are winners, but more importantly, there are losers. Which students do we allow to "lose" in education?

Might there be other reasons why students fail at particular schools? The editorial refuses to even consider the idea that student or family socio-economic status (SES) might have something to do with educational outcomes, even though the most credible research shows those factors control about 70 percent of measured attainment. Closing a school might make editorial writers at the Star Tribune feel better, but it does nothing to improve the SES of student and parent populations. 

Admittedly using evidence and reason to argue have long since gone out of style in the opinion pages of the Star Tribune, so this editorial's special awfulness is only one of scale, not substance.

1 comment:

DiscordianStooge said...

Admittedly using evidence and reason to argue have long since gone out of style in the opinion pages of the Star Tribune

That's not the only place.