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Epidemic of Failing Schools.

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The Epidemic of Failing Schools

Daniel Caldwell

ENG122: English Composition II

Mary Larsen

March 11, 2019

The Epidemic of Failing Schools

The failing school epidemic is a major crisis facing the educational system of the United States today. The term failing schools wasn’t heard of two decades ago, but now it is a very popular and well known term in society today. The failing schools epidemic needs to be addressed because it is affecting the level of education students across the United States are receiving. American students are falling more and more behind their foreign peers. High school graduates are having to start their freshman year of college off taking remedial core classes. It is imperative that the growing number of failing schools and the causes of failing schools be addressed.  Major factors that contribute to the increasingly high number of failing schools are measured and evaluated using an obsolete rating system, not all schools have the same equivalency of students, communities are declining near schools, and there is a lack of strong leadership and proper management in schools today.

The method currently used to evaluate failing schools is obsolete .The current system used to rate schools as failing is based off student achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. No Child Left Behind was introduced by President George Bush in an attempt to “bridge the gap between middle and upper class students and student historically ill served by their schools.” (Heise, 2017, P. 1859) If the national rating system is anything like the state of Alabama, then there will always be failing schools no matter how well students perform on the standardized tests.  For example, according to the Alabama Accountability Act, failing schools are calculated with the following formula: “Determine current/open schools and remove any school that exclusively serves a special population. Determine the bottom six percent of Alabama schools for the current year based on the state standardized assessment in reading and math.” (Alabama Accountability Act 2015-434) According to this formula even if all schools perform exceptionally well, the bottom six percent will always be considered failing. Further proving that this method is outdated. It is also important to note that not all student test scores are factored into the failing school formula. In the state of Alabama, like other states, when looking at high schools, only the tenth grader’s scores are used to determine the school’s performance according to the Alabama Accountability Act. Schools need to be measured off more than just standardized achievement test scores. This measurement is inaccurate, especially if it’s only based off a few grade levels and not all.

Furthermore, as education itself changes, so should the ways schools are evaluated. Downey suggests that schools should be evaluated based on how much students learn in a year rather than a standardized test. “Another way to measure school effectiveness is what has been called the learning by approach-simply measuring how much students learn in a year, rather than where they end up on an achievement scale.” (Downey, 2008, P. 245) Not all students perform well when being evaluated on a standardized test. Evaluating how much students learn in a year versus evaluating their test scores is a more effective way to measure a school versus measuring schools on a standardized test in which only a select number of students scores affect the school rating.

The current rating system assumes that all schools are equal and all schools serve students of equal backgrounds. All schools are not equal and nor do they teach students of equal backgrounds. “We can’t evaluate schools assuming that they all serve similar kinds of students.” (Downey, 2008) It doesn’t seem fair to hold schools to the same standard when their students are not the same. Schools that have an abundance of funding can offer more learning opportunities than schools that have limited funding. Their teachers can do more in the classroom with more money versus a school who doesn’t have the extra money to provide services and educational opportunities needed for students that may fall behind on the learning curve. Funding is one of the main things that sets schools apart from being equal. Les Stein, educator, speaks of his time while working at turning around two failing schools. One thing these schools had in common was the number of students receiving free or reduced meals. 75 percent of students between the two schools were on free or reduced meals. (Stein, 2012, P.52) If 75 percent of the student body is receiving free or reduced meals in one school and another school has less than 25 percent of their student body receiving free or reduced meals then this proves that schools are not equal, they do not service students equally,  and nor do they serve equal students.

When the community surrounding schools begins to decline, the school also declines. Families do not want to move to areas that have a diminishing community, failing school system, and failing schools. “In recent decades, however, the city has struggled with drugs and gang violence, and tax revenues from the nuclear power plant build here 20 years ago dried up after the plant closed in 1999. Zion’s schools have also struggled. Going by last year’s test scores, Zion is home to four of the nearly 600 failing schools in Illinois.” (Russo, 2002, P.15) The community around the school impacts the successfulness of the school. Flourishing communities help contribute to the success of schools.  For example, in Huntsville, Alabama, the schools that were considered failing for the 2017-2018 school year, all are in communities that are considered to be in the declining part of town. While the schools that aren’t failing are in the growing communities inside the city. New schools are having to be built in the growing part of the city because of all the new subdivisions that are being built and because of the growth of the community. Growing communities and successful schools go hand in hand. They are a continuous circle as is declining communities and failing schools.

The lack of strong leadership and proper management in today’s school system is another factor contributing to the high number of failing schools. This also correlates to the obsolete rating system because administration isn’t rated on the current system, since it’s based off test scores. Stein covers this topic in great detail in his article. The need for strong leadership and proper management is so critical that Stein states “Most failing schools are the product of poor leadership and improper management-nothing more, nothing less.” (Stein, 2012, P.52) He also goes on to state that “a failing school needs a transformational leader who possesses the highest level of integrity, the strongest possible work ethic, superb people skills, excellent communication skills (verbal and written), and a fear of failure.” (Stein, 2012, P. 55) All of these qualities can change the attitude of the school from the students to the faculty and if the students and faculty want to be there than this will contribute to the school being successful rather han failing. Strong leadership can impact a whole school positively.


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