Time to stop talking and do something

Published 9:38 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

Another set of disappointing educational statistics has been released by the state, followed by yet another set of rationalizations and platitudes from the Suffolk Public Schools’ administration.

A Virginia Department of Education report showed Thursday that 12 out of Suffolk’s 21 public elementary, middle and high schools are failing to keep on track toward giving all students at least a minimum level of proficiency in English and math. The Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks are a part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, a bipartisan effort by Congress to improve public school systems and make them more accountable to their communities.

Going back to the year 2004, the best Suffolk has been able to do in the annual assessment is to fall short of Adequate Yearly Progress goals in “only” four schools. And the past two years have been the city’s worst in that period, which is even more worrisome, considering that No Child Left Behind is intended to prod school systems into constant improvement.

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A deputy superintendent for the city’s school system — confronted Thursday with the dismal return that Suffolk taxpayers are getting on their education investment — said administrators “want to see what we can do differently.” Now, there’s a good idea.

Even more distressing was the reaction of School Superintendent Milton R. Liverman, who told members of the School Board during a meeting Thursday night that they should lobby for changes in the NCLB legislation — because in its current structure it “will have almost every school in the United States of America not making AYP [by 2014].”

Liverman’s worried about 2014, but if things don’t change — and change quickly — some of the city’s schools will not be under the School Board’s governance by 2014. Under NCLB rules, Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, for example, could be withdrawn from local governance in just a couple of years if administrators don’t find a way to start meeting the AYP standards there.

The time has come for something stronger than platitudes, a response more meaningful than a denunciation of the standards. More than seven out of 10 schools across the state — including nine in Suffolk — met the goals this year, so it’s a hurdle that obviously can be cleared.

Sadly, there is no School Board election coming up in November, where the city’s voters could emphasize just how important it is to them that the school system’s policymakers ensure administrators give more than just lip service to the changes that need to take place.

Still, citizens can pressure their School Board representatives to stop whistling through the graveyard, acknowledge the dire situation in which the system finds itself and begin taking the drastic steps that might be necessary to turn things around. A good place to start would be to tie administrative compensation plans to AYP and Standards of Learning results.