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Pop quiz: Who will do the heavy lifting?

Ohanian Comment: Good and bad are defined by test scores.

And we have some new educationese: repurposing all low-performing East Austin schools. . . .

The new superintendent, an import from St. Paul, Minnesota, was referred to in a previous editorial as a rock star in the education world who flies planes for recreation. Before going to St. Paul, Carstarphen served in senior leadership positions in school districts in D.C.; Kingsport, Tenn.; and Columbus, Ohio. Noting she'd served less than 3 years in St. Paul when she accepted the Austin position, the St. Paul paper called her one of a band of "revolving superintendents."


So, here is Carstarphen contemplating a departure after less than three years. She may have prodigious abilities, but the learning curve is steep and long, and her climb has barely begun. This may be the way to do a career, but it is not the way to do the Saint Paul Public Schools.

Perhaps we should consider paying our superintendents a very modest salary for the first four or five years which then doubles or triples in the fifth or sixth year. Maybe that will change aspirants̢۪ ideas of what a career path looks like.

Austin residents should be wondering how long she will stay.

Meanwhile, at Pearce Middle School, "successful" teachers get to stay. Others are out. All decided by scores on standardized tests. Don't you wonder where and how they're going to find replacements right before school starts? What experienced teacher wants to take the risk?

Editorial

On paper, there is much to like in the new plan to transform Pearce Middle School from failure to success. We're glad Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott gave it the green light this week.

But there are serious questions about whether the plan will deliver desired results for Pearce, which Scott shut down for failing to meet state standards for the fifth year in a row.

It's not that Pearce students can't cut it. They proved they could with an amazing turnaround this year. The biggest challenge will be staffing the school with the kind of quality administrators and teachers who can build on progress and get results. Scott is willing to permit some Pearce teachers to return. Good. But the school must get all new science teachers and a new principal as well as other staff. That would be challenging under typical conditions, given Austin's history of putting the least experienced teachers in East Austin schools, which have lagged behind West-side schools in student performance. But it is a huge hurdle to clear this late in the game. Teachers report to their campuses on Monday to get ready for the start of school on Aug. 24.

This year Pearce students made tremendous progress in nearly all subjects, either hitting the mark directly in math, reading, writing and social studies or making enough progress to expect they would meet the standard next time. And on the national No Child Left Behind report card, Pearce passed, making what is called "adequate yearly progress" for the first time.

On the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills math exam, Pearce students exceeded the state standard, which requires that 55 percent pass math. Sixty-four percent of Pearce students passed. State standards require that each student group pass, and 69 percent of Hispanic students did. That is impressive. African Americans students missed the mark slightly, with 52 percent passing. But that was enough to make the standard when progress is measured. In all TAKS subjects, except science, the school passed.

It's worth noting that students did not make that progress on their own, but with the help of teachers, parents, retirees,

homeowners, religious leaders and community organizers who came together to support the school. They must stay engaged with Pearce, which has been revitalized by their energy and attention.

Science continues to be a problem. Just 39 percent of Pearce students passed. Even so, Hispanic students improved their passing rate by 10 points and African American students by six points.

Those weaknesses reflect the lack of rigor in elementary and seventh-grade science and the need for qualified science teachers. The question is, where will Superintendent Meria Carstarphen find those teachers two weeks before school starts?

On paper, the Pearce proposal has everything a school needs to lift itself. That includes incentives to attract and retain quality teachers and administrators. Teachers could earn an extra $1,500 if the school earned a passing grade on the state report card and up to $2,000 if the school did better, earning a "recognized" grade. They also would be eligible for up to $5,000 in retention stipends.

The principal, who has not yet been named, could get a $30,000 bonus if the school earns the recognized grade, the second highest awarded by the state, and enough students surpass minimum TAKS passing standards. If Pearce soared to "exemplary" status, the principal would get $40,000.

Yes, the plan does look good on paper. A year ago, former school superintendent Pat Forgione put together a plan on paper for another school forced to shut down because of chronic failures.

After flunking for five years straight as Johnston High School, it failed its first grading period this year on the state's report card as Eastside Memorial High School at Johnston.

Then there is Reagan High, in its fourth year of failing state standards but also with a paper plan to make a turnaround. We're wondering why Scott spared Reagan, which showed so little progress, particularly given Scott's call for repurposing all low-performing East Austin schools and his stated passion for giving East-side kids the same opportunities as West-side children?

We do hope that the gutting of Pearce to create a new and improved school will yield more success at the school. And that this time next year, we'll be cheering those students for their success in all subjects.

— Editorial
Austin American-Statesman
2009-08-06
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/2009/08/06/0806pearce_edit.html


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