Nebraska Education's Low Expectationsby Kyle Michaelis
In some school districts, administrators are well on their way to turning our public schools into mini-Enrons - inflating numbers, fixing standards, and even going so far as to root-out educators who choose to teach rather than placating students, parents, and school board members who care more about passage rates than the quality of learning.
Yes, there is a lot more to be said on this subject, and it will be said in time - whether on this website or elsewhere in the state - because rural Nebraska is doomed if something isn't done about the cancer being embraced as the salvation of its schools, that of low expectations.
For one example of this catastrophe-in-the-making's early manifestation, check-out the following Omaha World-Herald report:
"The citizens of Nebraska have every reason to be proud of their local schools," said Fred Meyer, president of the State Board of Education.
But Nebraska's pride might be puffed up by locally created tests that are easier to pass.
Nebraska and Iowa, compared with some other states, use easier measures to assess school quality for President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. The federal law imposes sanctions on low-performing schools based on exams selected by state and local educators....
Less-challenging local tests may make it more likely that schools can meet new federal requirements, but educators say tougher standards would mean more student improvement in the long run.
A look at recent test results also shows that some Nebraska districts set much tougher standards than others....
• Gretna, Norfolk and South Sioux City, among other districts, reported near-total proficiency in some subjects and grades, based on their own assessments. Yet when their students took national standardized tests in the same subjects, many scored below the 50th percentile.
• Some districts had proficiency levels on their own tests that were nearly equal to the percentage of students who beat the national average on a standardized test. For others, there was as much as a 30 percentage-point gap between those two measures....
• On the federal reading test, just 34 percent of Nebraska fourth-graders were graded proficient or better. A total of 68 percent were deemed at least partially proficient. But on Nebraska's own tests, 85 percent were declared "proficient"....
Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said there are good explanations for some of the apparent discrepancies....
"You can trust the statewide results," he said.
But Christensen acknowledged that other states may have more ambitious goals than Nebraska.
Yes, ambitions like students being able to compete in the modern world, being able to read, write, compute, and - most importantly - think critically....no, we don't want any of those. So, we choose the easy path. We short-change our students to artificially maintain the federal cash flow. We tell ourselves everything is fine, with state officials offering their every reassurance that good enuf' is good enough for us.
Ahh, but we will pay for this. Even sadder, our children will pay for it - for the rest of their lives - because we have failed to invest in them, failed to invest in this state's future, and failed to believe that we can and should do better.
Though teachers should be paid more in Nebraska, money is not the answer. We can no more spend our way out of this problem than we can test out of it. If I might be so bold, what our schools need is a renewed purpose in a system emboldening them (and perhaps forcing them) to expect more than students simply showing up.
Something must be done. Soon. Very soon. Each year we wait, it will become more difficult to restore our schools' integrity and avert the crisis it portends.