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· December 6, 2011

Great Expectations

According to the Youngstown Vindicator, new State Superintendent Stan Heffner isn’t impressed that the Youngstown City School District is beginning to turn around their fortunes.
“While (the district) has emerged from state academic emergency, Heffner isn’t impressed with the improvement to academic watch because it was achieved through higher student attendance numbers, rather than success in the state proficiency tests,” it reads.
However, it is pretty much impossible for kids to succeed in the classroom if they’re not in the classroom. So perhaps making sure kids are in the classroom is a bit more important than Mr. Heffner is willing to give it credit. In addition, while Youngstown’s test scores without question do need improvement, on the state’s Performance Index score, they rank right where they should, given the number of kids on free and reduced lunch (over 90%, by the way), education attainment levels, income levels, etc. And that performance index score is better than nearly 40% of Charter Schools’, by the way. Still waiting to hear Mr. Heffner’s lecture to Charter School operators about that.
More incongruous is Mr. Heffner’s expectation that “he wants Youngstown to earn a continuous improvement designation from the state by next year.”
However, by next year, Youngstown will be operating with about $6 million fewer, thanks to the draconian cuts to education Gov. Kasich and his legislative allies put through House Bill 153 this year (nearly $3 billion statewide). In Youngstown, that’s a nearly 10-mill levy lost to Columbus politicians, or the equivalent of about $300 per $100,000 home. Do you think it’s reasonable to expect folks in Youngstown, where the median income is $19,954, according to the Department of Education, to replace that money with a levy?
So Mr. Heffner demands absolute transformation in one year with substantially less money. Oh, and getting more kids to show up and stay in school isn’t good enough either.
This is not to give Youngstown a free pass. They need to do a better job preparing kids in this tough economy, which has devastated the Youngstown area in particular. There should be a renewed urgency in the district to improve. And there’s certainly a chance they could transform as dramatically as Heffner demands with substantially less money.
However, expecting them to perform miracles with less money is unrealistic and seems to set up the district to fail. And pooh-poohing their higher attendance rates is also a bad approach, especially when budget constraints make that a more noteworthy accomplishment than one would think.
Don’t expect a Cadillac when you buy a Chevy. Why is it only in education that we don’t accept this truism?

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