New Castle News

October 26, 2012

Our Opinion: Dispute over progress numbers misses point of education

Dave Ramsey
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Education in America has become an expensive — and controversial — process.

In recent years, the nation has moved toward more standardized testing to assess the progress of students. Pennsylvania is involved in this effort.

And the commonwealth has pursued other changes, mainly designed to explore innovation and alternatives to regular classrooms. Key among these are charter and cyber schools.

These types of educational facilities are structured in a variety of ways. And in some instances, cyber education allows students to remain at home. These educational alternatives are based on the belief that at least some students can perform better outside of traditional classrooms. Plus, it’s argued that competition from other sources may force troubled public schools to clean up their acts.

But not everyone agrees with these assessments. Critics contend that alternative forms of education fare no better than traditional instruction. And rather than spurring competition, alternative forms of education merely drain essential dollars from regular classrooms.

For instance, in 2011, Stanford University released a report of Pennsylvania charter schools which found mixed results when comparing math and reading scores with traditional schools. The same study found cyber students in Pennsylvania performed below the level of students in regular classrooms.

Now comes a controversy over this year’s data regarding Adequate Yearly Progress and charter schools. AYP is a key measurement the state uses to assess school performance. Although various data goes into determining AYP, a big part involves standardized test scores.

Officially, 59 percent of charter schools in the state met AYP, compared to 50 percent of public schools. But foes of charter schools say only 37 percent of charter schools actually met AYP, because the state department of education changed the way they were being measured.

Basically, the issue is whether to treat a charter school as an individual school, or as a school district. The education department contends there is nothing wrong with changing how charter schools are treated, but a spokesman for the department acknowledged to The Associated Press that the way the data is presented “does mask potential academic problems.”

While we acknowledge the case could be made either way on how charter school performance is calculated, we’re not sure either figure offers much to crow about. If 59 percent of charter schools make AYP, that means 41 percent are missing the mark.

The issue here isn’t traditional school vs. charter. The issue is providing education in an effective and cost efficient manner. Pennsylvania should be pursuing that effort, not playing a numbers game.