Flagg: Tough choicesWritten by Steven Flagg | | email@example.com
Having just lived through arguably the worst winter in the past 50 years, and considering that Toledo Public School (TPS) Board of Education members in the last election cycle made promises to parents to restore busing and that the fiscal year ended in June, you had to be wondering how long it would be before the board proposed restoration of student transportation.
In a perfect world without limits on resources, the primary mission of public education to assure that all students have the most favorable academic outcome possible could be expanded to include other objectives. In a time of limited resources, the primary mission requires laser-like focus without distraction.
If successful student academic outcomes are the objective, just how does restoring transportation for students impact this objective? Will this expenditure raise test scores? Will it improve reading and math comprehension? Will it improve attendance rates? There is no evidence nationally or locally to support such a claim.
TPS district attendance rates for the past eight years covering periods before and after transportation cuts show little change; the attendance rates remain in a narrow band averaging about 94 percent. The year transportation was cut to state minimum requirements there was little change from the previous year.
In fiscal year 2011, when transportation was cut to the state minimum requirements, enrollment dropped by 1,462 students. Still, enrollment losses in 2011 were actually lower than in previous years and not all the “lost” students per TPS data showed up attending charter schools or receiving vouchers. TPS enrollment does not appear to have suffered from the elimination of student transportation.
Test scores for TPS students have been on a slow but steady rise — although with the changing reporting practices and standards it is very difficult to compare year to year. Still, there is no evidence in yearly test scores to suggest restoration of transportation would improve state test scores.
Transporting students at an estimated startup cost of $6 million with annual operating costs of $4.4 million ($3.4 million for high school students) is not justified especially when compared with programs and practices that have proven records or show promise to improve student academic outcomes.
During the past brutal winter, it is doubtful that busing would have decreased in any meaningful way the number of days TPS missed due to weather. For days, many of the city streets were impassable to cars, let alone lumbering school buses. This past winter was a statistical aberration, that by itself provides little justification for restoring transportation.
It certainly is harsh to think of kindergarteners walking up to two miles to school in the brutal cold, but it’s not happening. Parents and caregivers have adjusted over the past four years, as evidenced by students getting to school at the same rates as in the past. Is spending $4.4 million every year an effective way to address a few weeks of inclement weather?
If the concern is primarily safety, it’s time to talk with Mayor D. Michael Collins, the police and our community. The safety of the neighborhoods around our schools is not the responsibility of TPS. Creating additional costs for our schools because neighborhoods are unsafe assures fewer resources to improve student academic outcomes and does not resolve safety concerns.
Whether you repurpose existing funds or pass a new levy, there are myriad ways to spend taxpayer dollars that have measurable impact on student achievement, such as improving teacher quality and development; actively engaging parents; integrating technology and adaptive learning algorithms into the curriculum and classroom; improving classroom management and student discipline; as well as teacher and principal evaluations.
Those elected to oversee our public schools must understand that in a time of limited resources, the focus of their efforts and our resources, must be on relentlessly improving student outcomes and educational achievement and not satisfying campaign promises or appropriating parental responsibilities.
Steven Flagg is a community activist with more than 20 years of experience in education advocacy including monitoring Toledo Public Schools’ policies, practices and operations.