OUR story so far: beginning with the egregious No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (enthusiastic, and later regretful, co-sponsor: Ted Kennedy), plausible, or "plausible" deniability that right-wing education "reform" was aimed at poor urban districts and teachers' unions has been supplied by the requirement that all schools show improvement under the act, a legislative beard Indiana cheerfully donned when the Daniels administration began its own offensive. (It's always instructive, and frequently touching, when the Republican party demonstrates a vague understanding that the law is required to be fair, at least while the cameras are rolling. Innit?)
Well, Time, as is its wont, evidentally, has continued marching, and the Piper, as usual, has turned up with an invoice. And guess what? We didn't really mean it!
Munster High School in Lake County has been ranked one of the nation's best high schools by Newsweek magazine.
Sorry to butt in, but that means shit. Literally.
So why is Principal Steve Tripenfeldas worried? So worried, in fact, he sent a letter to the Indiana Board of Education?
Because under the state's rules, his school is about to receive its "letter grade" state rating -- and it's, gulp, a C.
"Don't let a school that has an (end-of-course exam) passing rate well over 90 percent for Algebra 1 and just under 90 percent in English 10 with large gains be labeled as a C school," he wrote. "Before the letter grades are published, please work to make sure that those letter grades are accurate."
"Accurate", in this instance, means "flattering to well-off Republican districts with no tradition of the Gentleman's C".
For years, Indiana has laid down a tough penalty on schools that failed to make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law. When the state rates schools, flunking AYP means a two-step demotion on the state's five-category rating scale.
The state board now wants to move away from counting AYP against schools, but new state rules won't come fast enough to help schools this year.
"Can we give ourselves a waiver?" board member David Shane asked at Wednesday's board meeting.
The answer is "maybe."
Maybe. That's education administration jargon for "Definitely, soon as no one's looking".
Indiana's move to A to F letter grades this year when ratings are released July 22 has raised the stakes for the AYP penalty. The goal of the letter grades is to make state ratings more understandable than the current categories of exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress, academic watch and academic probation.
Tripenfeldas' letter expresses the concern of many Indiana educators -- people understand that C means "average." State board members agreed letter grades have changed the landscape.
It's interesting that not only does much depend on who owns the ox, and who does the goring, but how often the people complaining now were the ones holding the pike when the whole thing started.
"I understand the rationale, but at the same time we're working on a flawed system out there," state board member Mike Pettibone said. "Our public is going to think Munster High School is a C high school."
When the public is only supposed to believe that every urban school deserves an F.
AYP, as it was originally designed, was supposed to force schools to focus attention on groups of students that often were overlooked. "Subgroups" whose test score growth is tracked under AYP include ethnic minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, but also students in special education classes, kids with disabilities, poor children and those learning English as a second language.
For schools with lots of qualifying kids, there can be many subgroups. Tripenfeldas, for example, complained that Munster has 33 subgroups and only one -- a subgroup with 41 special education students -- fell short of the required test gains. Lawrence's Harrison Hill has taken a rating hit in the past when just one of its 29 subgroups didn't make AYP.
Right. It's absolutely unconscionable to penalize Munster schools when they bear the burden of educating almost 90% of the state average number of special education students, or as they struggle to overcome a poverty rate almost 31% of the Indiana average or cope with half the English language learners of the average school district.
Jesus Christ. If we could just figure a way to make cars run on nausea and bullshit we'd be fixed.