Nowhere to hide now

Published 9:34 pm Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wednesday’s release of a new measure of public school success — or failure, depending on one’s perspective — met with the customary variety of puffery and spin from school administrators throughout the commonwealth. The consensus seemed to be that, while the numbers weren’t great, they were no worse than expected, and they give officials a starting point for making improvements designed to graduate more students from high school on time.

Citing the state’s 81.3-percent on-time graduation rate, in fact, Virginia Board of Education President Mark E. Emblidge said, “The fact that better than eight in 10 students in Virginia graduate on time with a diploma is gratifying, given that estimates relied on in the past were much lower.” Despite this “success,” he acknowledged, the commonwealth should do more to raise graduation rates.

Responding to the revelation that nearly three in 10 students in Suffolk’s public high schools do not graduate on time, one city school official said the numbers were “close to what we’ve been reporting all along” and assured taxpayers and parents that the school system is “putting steps in place to improve.”

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The numbers released on Wednesday weren’t good for Suffolk. In fact, they’d qualify the city’s school system for only a “D” under the grading system currently in place. Furthermore, without the average-level performance at Nansemond River High School, the system would have earned a failing grade in this vital subject.

Taxpayers expect more from the schools they entrust to educate the next generation. Increasing sums of money are poured each year — both in Suffolk and statewide — into a system that returns dismal results. And each year, administrators’ response is to ask for more money to fund more programs that seem to have negligible impact on student success. More programs and more money are the default positions in public education, and they’re likely to be the local and statewide responses to this latest report.

The positive side of the Department of Education’s new on-time graduation rate report, though, is that it gives administrators nowhere to hide when it comes to gauging the success of their programs. That, alone, made it a highlight of the week.