KENNETH SHERWOOD: Let students' needs drive decision making
Indiana Area School District parents were invited by phone to an Academic Extracurricular Committee meeting on Monday. Weeks before an election, it appears that some on the board still want to commit the district to a deeply flawed reconfiguration plan. A number of options are being presented, but concerned parents and citizens need to reject all of them (and not weigh in on the least worst option). What should we do?
Let students’ educational needs drive decision making.
1) Grade K-8 students do better in small schools
2) Students do best with the fewest transitions (i.e., moving to one school for grades K-2, and another from grades 3-5 etc. is bad)
3) Age-based consolidation (i.e., five or six grade 3 classes in one building) is not educationally effective
4) Middle schoolers (age 11/12 and up) have distinctive social and developmental needs, which are distinct from those in fourth or fifth grade
These are all well-known, virtually indisputable educational principles. (See “Smaller Schools, Better Performance” Herbert Walberg, New York Times, March 11, 2010.)
We could add other reasons for keeping the current configuration, which includes the success currently achieved through Academy Teaming in the junior high grades 6-8.
We cannot let accounting dictate where educational values ought to be primary. Any move that goes against these clear educational principles represents a short-sighted sacrifice of educational quality, which will have long-term costs when students’ performance declines. In the short term, the district will save some on salaries — perhaps one less principal, one less nurse, two or three fewer grade teachers. But larger classes will require additional learning specialists and aides. All of the reconfiguration options come with more construction costs as well.
The current “crisis” is a manufactured one; the district has chosen not to increase revenues as allowed by the state in the last three budgets. We need to insist that the IASD does everything else it can do to increase revenue and decrease costs before even contemplating decisions that would affect educational quality in the ways that reconfiguration would. It’s time to put education first.
Kenneth Sherwood, Ph.D.