I just read a letter to the editor published in Eastword News by the executive director of communication at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and I am rather miffed.
The director, Phil Bacharach, attempts to dismiss all the concerns expressed by teachers across our state, the concerns of a superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the state, and of all the parents who have expressed doubts about the changes being wrought in our educational system.
Bacharach's letter is written in response to Dr. Pam Deering, the superintendent of my school district, who originally published a letter in Eastword to express our district's and many Oklahoma educators' concerns about the A-F grading system released by the SDE. She denounces the grading system on the basis that the SDE itself struggled to apply the formula accurately, research has proven the system is flawed,and that the grades lack instructional value for multiple reasons. Educational leaders from school districts across the state have decried this system.
After taking some time to organize my thoughts, I started writing a response to Bacharach. But as I looked for sources of information, I found this letter written to the Norman Transcript by Bill Huntington. It pretty much says exactly what I was thinking, and I'm not one to reinvent the wheel.
Mr. Huntington handily dismisses Bacharach's attempts to defend the SDE. And then he points out two reasons our schools struggle, neither of which have anything to do with the the grades our schools receive:
First, public education has suffered from years of level funding in an inflationary economy. Second, state officials and legislators withhold basic assistance needed by the poor to improve their level of living in the name of “reform.”
Here it is important to note that schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty tend to receive the lowest scores. Wouldn't it make sense to shore up the family structure and economics of those families, instead of assignment punitive grades to those students' schools?
According to the Children's Health Watch study referenced above, while poverty does not have a direct impact on student performance, it does directly impact five “latent factors: of a student's life that do directly correlate with student performance:
- Physical Environment
- Parenting Style
- Cognitive Stimulation
- Health at Birth
- Childhood Health
- Child Care Quality
Study authors drew some conclusions regarding these latent factors:
First, the influence of family poverty on children's intellectual development is mediated completely by the intervening mechanisms measured by our latent factors. Poverty has no direct effect on children's intellectual development; this absense suggests that focusing directly on the intervening mechanisms that affect children's educational achievement may prove to be an effective alternative to income transfer.
Second, our analysis indicates specific components in the home environment that are affected by lack of income and that influence children's intellectual development. Our various model specifications indicate that cognitive stimulation in the home is by far the most important influence mediating the effect of poverty on such development…Second in importance is parenting style.
The conclusions of this study leads me to Mr. Huntinton's last point:
Third, Oklahoma citizens have not lost faith in their schools, but they have lost faith that the state education and political leadership that should be representing their basic educational needs.
Perhaps if our SDE and state government spent more time and money on policies and programs that would support our districts as we work to educate our most vulnerable populations, and provide early in-home cognitive stimulation for children and parent education for low-income families — and less time creating and defending useless assessments and punitive grading systems, we might actually believe that they had our children's best interests at heart.