In praise of LePage’s grading system

Yes, yes, I know. The criteria Gov. Paul LePage released for grading our schools last week was very problematic. Using mostly one test from one day in one year to judge an entire educational experience is absolutely crazy. Penalizing failing schools solely because of attendance, regardless of what is happening for the kids who attend, is silly. Pitting schools against each other, as opposed to letting them stand or fall on their own, is absurd. Not taking demographics into account is simply being blind to reality.

Professionally, I have programs working in some of the schools that got D’s and F’s. I can assure you, there is some remarkable learning going on that is not reflected in these scores.

But despite all these flaws, somehow LePage got it right. That’s right. I said it. Somehow, he got it right.

I am not sure how. Maybe pure luck. Maybe his system is better than I believe. Maybe he has simply outfoxed us all with some behind the scenes re-calculation that ensured accuracy. But somehow, he did it.

Let me explain. You see, we progressives have been arguing for years that low-income schools are at a severe disadvantage to schools from wealthy districts. Schools with large populations of diversity are more complicated than those that are homogeneous. Schools that have the resources to pay their teachers better, provide first class technology and fund arts and after-school programs achieve better academic results.

Conservatives, of course, always argue that resources have nothing to do with results. Schools don’t need more money; they need fewer unions. They don’t need additional resources; they need additional competition. They don’t need to add teachers; they need to fire the ones they have.

But now LePage has proved our point. According to his system, elementary schools that received an A grade had, on average, a student body with only 25 percent who were poor enough to need free and reduced lunch. Those who received a B had 37 percent who were poor. Those who earned a C had 52 percent. A D averaged 59 percent. And, for schools that received an F, better than two of every three kids were poor (67 percent).

For high schools, the disparity was even worse. The top schools have less than 10 percent who are poor. The worst had almost seven times as many kids who are low income (61 percent).

Now that a Republican has confirmed what Democrats have known, maybe we can stop debating whether resources matter and start figuring out how to get those resources to the schools that need them.

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