An Opinion From Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal

Poverty's Pull on Public Education
Posted on 09/17/2018
Image of Editorial IconThe state Department of Education completed its long transition to awarding school districts a single comprehensive performance grade. At the Thursday unveiling of this year’s school report card, 28 districts received an A; 191, B; 253, C; 122, D; and 14 got an F. Paolo DeMaria, the state superintendent, was quick with sound advice: Don’t obsess about the mark. Dig into the plentiful data, and you will come away better informed about the quality of education in district schools.

In that way, the Akron Public Schools offer a good example. The district received a D, along with Cincinnati exceeding the F received by the other six large urban districts across the state. That D shouldn’t distract from the reality that a student can get an outstanding education in the city schools.

If anything, that grade echoes something familiar about public education, and yet to be addressed adequately or effectively at the Statehouse — the burden of poverty in the classroom.

The numbers again tell the story, as crunched by Howard Fleeter of the Ohio Education Policy Institute. Consider that 88 percent of the students in districts with a Performance Index score of 70 or less are economically disadvantaged. And those districts with a PI score above 100? The share of economically disadvantaged students is 11 percent.

The Performance Index score for lowest wealth districts is 32 percentage points lower than the score for the wealthiest districts.

The progression follows up the income ladder; the wealthier a district, the higher its PI score.

Look at kindergarten readiness. Nearly 60 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students are ready. For the disadvantaged, the percentage falls to 27.5.

The share of non-economically disadvantaged students who score at the advanced level in science tests is 32 percent. For the disadvantaged, the percentage is 10.7. The same goes for math, social studies and English language arts.

This is the achievement gap, and it extends to race. The category Prepared for Success needs work, yet its thrust is true. Sixty-nine percent of Asian or Pacific Islander students and 44 percent of white students are prepared while just 11 percent of black students meet the mark. Here is the legacy of discrimination and poverty.

One category in which schools and districts showed broad improvement on the report card is Gap Closing, or just this problem. That is encouraging. It also is plain from the numbers the state has much to do.

Again, this can seem a tired song. Still, a state lagging others in its overall academic performance, and thus less equipped to make the necessary economic transition, hardly can afford to say that it has heard enough.

State Rep. Robert Cupp, a Lima Republican, has been leading a legislative task force on education and poverty. It has performed serious work, and it now is nearing a final report with a new state budget in mind, not to mention a new governor. How disappointing it will be if it misses the moment, lacking the political will to confront the challenge squarely and commit the required time, energy and resources. That hasn’t been done yet, not by a long shot, as the state report cards remind.
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