TPS: Need for urgencyWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a new school year: time to shake off the cobwebs and restart the engines of learning. While teachers and students are back in the classroom facing the challenge of teaching and learning critical thinking skills, Toledo Public Schools just got its state report card grading last year’s performance.
TPS officials released the report card results and discussed their plans, hopes and expectations for the future at a recent news conference. During the past year, a new attitude has been on display at TPS, guided by an ambitious and determined group of young leaders. Their willingness to embrace the challenges, find solutions, include their critics and tackle the issue of accountability in the classroom and to their students gives us more hope of future success than at any time during the last 15 years.
If the news conference can be considered a barometer of the future, TPS and its new leadership are making strides. The presentation of the report card was a huge departure from the past celebrations of mediocre results. Yes, TPS administrators talked about success. But in a break from precedent, we also heard about the failures. They focused more in their discussion about how success occurred and what they can do to replicate those successes. They discussed all results, not just the cherry-picked best of the bunch. They acknowledged their problems and focused on efforts to improve persistently under-performing schools.
We heard that district officials have been meeting with a diverse array of community groups and individuals, including their critics. An acknowledgement that there are critics and they should be included in the conversation is light years from efforts to discredit such individuals. This simple fact is evidence that those responsible for the changes may be genuine in their efforts to create a different district and get us all rowing those oars together.
Meanwhile, the TPS report card showed a mixed bag of results with incremental improvements in some areas and declines in others. TPS met one more standard than last year but still is deficient in 21 of 26 state standards. The overall trend continues upward, but at the current rate of progress, it will take more than four years to move the grade to a low B.
While showing adequate and incremental improvement, the report card is a wake-up call to TPS officials. The same schools again took center stage as examples of a continuing failure to address underperforming schools. There was more bad news as some previous successes appear to have been unsustainable.
Incremental improvement and mediocre performance is unacceptable. We should expect more and those hired or elected to manage TPS must deliver more.
While TPS administrators talked of higher standards and taking ownership of their problems, a lot of heavy lifting will be necessary if future report cards are to be better than just mediocre. C minus just doesn’t make it. It’s not OK when you realize that half of TPS students and most of TPS’ disadvantaged students are in failing schools.
Just getting the underperforming schools to an average level of performance would be a major accomplishment and significantly lift the district’s overall report card rating.
I believe the new TPS leadership team deserves our support. There are still numerous contractual issues that plague and distract from the efforts of reform, hamstring flexibility and adaptability in the face of a challenging environment, and result in the general underperformance of the district. Still, great progress on a cooperative level was made in the last contract negotiations and TPS union officials finally seem to be realizing that if they are not part of the solution, they won’t have jobs.
We are seeing real efforts to make substantive changes with research-based programs. It will take time to see results and modifications will need to be made along the way. It won’t be easy to be patient with so many students failing to meet state standards. Progress will need to be measured and continuous with a sustained sense of urgency.
The report card is a time for introspection but must be part of the evolving process of academic improvement. It is a time to communicate with and engage the community but it must be but one step in a process that has us all rowing the oars together. The simple truth is that our future depends on the success we have in educating our children.
Steven Flagg is a member of the Urban Coalition. Email him at email@example.com.