September 9, 2015
Commentary: Another round of
stigmatizing grades for low-income schools
By CHRIS FITZSIMON
NC Policy Watch
education officials released the results of the second year of the
troubling A-F school grading system last week, and just like the
results last year, they are more of a statement about poverty than a
meaningful measurement of how well students are doing at school.
over 98 percent of the schools that received an F grade have more than
50 percent of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch while
94 percent of schools that earned a D had a majority of students who
qualify for the federal lunch program.
percent of the calculation of the letter grades is based on student
test scores while only 20 percent is based on much the scores improve
from year to year. That means no matter how much students at a low
income school improve, it’s very difficult for poor schools to receive
a higher letter grade.
many Republicans and conservative think tanks openly acknowledged last
year that the formula should be changed to increase the weight of year
to year improvement, but legislative leaders refused and so once again
stigmatizing F’s and D’s are being slapped on most low-income schools
regardless of the progress they are making.
The punishing and unfair system comes at a time when the grades might have even more negative consequences.
Rob Bryan is working on legislation behind the scenes in the General
Assembly that could turn over poorly performing public schools to
for-profit charter school companies who could then fire teachers and
administrators at will with no accountability.
bill has reportedly been through many drafts with no public input or
discussion and could surface in the last days of the legislative
session. It’s patterned after proposals in a handful other states and
supported by right-wing foundations interested in privatizing much of
grading system is part of setting the stage for the dismantling of
low-income schools instead of providing support services for the
students who attend them.
The grades also reinforce the overwhelming evidence that poverty and educational achievement are closely linked.
the schools and teachers trying to help poor students doesn’t help and
neither does failing to recognize the students who are improving, but
that’s exactly what the current A-F grading system accomplishes.
undermines a community’s confidence in the schools and makes it even
harder to convince top teachers to take on the challenges the schools
not only a lack of incentive, there’s a professional price to pay for
working with low income kids. Under the current grading system, you are
branded as a failure. If Bryan has his way, you could be fired.
are other more productive ways to address the problems at the schools
of course, most importantly helping the low-income students who are
struggling. That means enough school nurses, counselors, and teacher
assistants in the early grades.
It means ending the waiting list for NC PreK so at-risk kids start school with a great chance to succeed.
it means helping low-income families too, reinstating the state Earned
Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers, expanding Medicaid, and
reversing the decision to kick thousands of children off the child care
subsidy program that allows parents to work or go back to school.
And it means injecting some commitment in the budget negotiations to adequately fund public education.
battle currently is whether or not to cut more teacher assistants after
several thousand have already been cut. The decision about teacher pay
is coming up with money to give many veteran teachers not a salary
increase, but merely a $750 bonus.
Not doing more damage to public education should not be the barometer of success this year.
That’s another unmistakable message in the absurd A-F ratings, that many schools and many students need extra help.
don’t need more budget cuts or fewer TAs. And they don’t need to be
stigmatized or privatized. They need to be supported—the schools, the
teachers, the students and their families. They are not failing. The
state is failing them.
Fitzsimon is the Executive Director at N.C. Policy Watch. NC Policy
Watch is a progressive, nonprofit and non-partisan public policy
organization and news outlet dedicated to informing elected
officials as they debate important issues and, ultimately, to improving
the quality of life for all North Carolinians. Read more commentary at www.ncpolicywatch.com.)