What’s a “low-performing” school? And if you are one, is it helpful or harmful to get that label?
The N.C. House voted 120-0 last week to change which schools are deemed low-performing. Supporters say it’s a fairer way to judge schools. Critics worry the change will prevent low-quality schools from getting the attention they need to improve.
Under current law, if a school earns a “D” or “F” performance grade, it is considered low-performing even if it meets growth expectations (and, of course, if it fails to meet growth expectations, but not if it exceeds them).
Under the House bill, a school could not be deemed low-performing if it meets expected growth standards, regardless of how poorly its students perform on end-of-course tests and other measures. A school with very low test scores and graduation rates would not be considered low-performing as long as it met expected growth. The only low-performing schools would be those with a “D” or an “F” performance and that didn’t meet expected growth. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Critics say the change lets schools with very low achievement off the hook. Those schools can meet expected growth for years, they say, and still produce students who perform very poorly and who graduate with a nearly worthless diploma.
Furthermore, they contend, if a school is labeled low-performing, its teachers, principal and district leaders must do something to address that. On the other hand, if a school is not on that list, it won’t get the attention or support it deserves and needs. Schools don’t like to be labeled low-performing, the thinking goes, but at least they get some attention that way and the pressure is on to help them improve.
We sympathize with the spirit of that argument. But we think the change better accounts for the realities teachers face in some schools and puts greater weight on a school improving year after year, which everyone wants. Teachers have to teach the kids they are given; in many schools, those students are ill-prepared, and so meeting expected growth is a significant accomplishment, even if their test scores still have a ways to go. It is wrong to punish a school that is helping its students grow in their academic achievement.
The bigger problem is that Charlotte and North Carolina have so many schools that have such high concentrations of poverty. Many of those students come from homes where their academic progress is not supported. Many of those schools feature teachers doing heroic work, but others employ teachers not up to the challenge.
The solution lies less in worrying about definitions of low-performing and more in helping these kids get on track starting at birth, providing them with the most passionate and caring teachers and investing public tax dollars in public, not private, schools.