Group looks at state education changes
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent March 2, 2012 2:02PM
Updated: April 4, 2012 8:05AM
CROWN POINT — The new state-enforced education accountability system designed to replace No Child Left Behind in Indiana will require innovative implementation if it has a chance to succeed.
If not, said Michael Berta, superintendent of Portage Township Schools, local educators may as well set a date down the road to have the same conversations they’ve been having for years about underperforming schools.
“I forecast that five, six, seven years from now, if we fail to take action, we’ll be back in this room, doing this again,” Berta said Friday during the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council’s quarterly meeting at Bethel Church. “There will be a different method with a different label and the same result. … If we don’t act, we’ll be back five, six, seven years from now trying to problem solve what we’re trying to problem solve here.”
The council, a civic conversation starter dedicated to spurring action in local leaders to improve the economy, environment and society, dedicated its quarterly meeting to the topic of education in the region, with an emphasis on the state’s new A-F Student Accountability Mandate.
Berta said he and other educators saw failure at the outset of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind standards because it promised “gold star” status for all children. However, the state’s new report card model, with its A-F rankings, is embedded with statistical quotas. And the Bell Curve nature of the method means that roughly 34 percent of students will be labeled low-growth, he said.
Pointing to the more than 50 percent of his student population that qualifies for few or reduced lunches, he said the impact of poverty on the skill sets of incoming students is “tremendous.” He also pointed to a study that showed students in poverty enter school with as much as a 5,000-word disadvantage in vocabulary.
“Free and reduced matters,” said Ric Frattacia, associate superintendent of Portage Township Schools, “And it’s accounted for nowhere, and nobody is talking about it … I don’t think the Report Card gives the whole picture.
Physician William Washington, father of Katie Washington, the first black valedictorian at Notre Dame University, talked about the experience she had at Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center. In addition to his daughter, he pointed to two other Banneker graduates in her class at Notre Dame, both of whom have gone on to law school.
“People are always asking, ‘What’s wrong with the Gary School system?’ There’s nothing wrong with the Gary School System.”
Washington put the onus on parents to take the active role necessary to ensure their children develop properly and learn basic English and math skills necessary to survive.
“I think the state can look at all the statistics they want,” he said. “The answer is family. It’s family, it’s family, it’s family, it’s family.
“You are your child’s first peer group. They have to be the most important thing in your life, more than money, more than cars.”