By: Bill Bosher - email
Public education is, and perhaps has been since the publication of a Nation at Risk nearly 30 years ago, an institution in a conundrum. It is a challenge with conclusions drawn from guesswork.
The Virginia Department of Education recently published data demonstrating that the "on time" graduation rates are up for the public schools. With higher standards, exacting consequences for failure, and the potential of higher drop out rates, the news that more young people are graduating on time is exciting. However, the critics are already chunking rocks, not at the data, but at the assumption that the schools could be improving.
I believe in choice, competition, and accountability, but I also believe in fairness. As one superintendent said to me in frustration, "Bill, when our young people do poorly, we get investigated, but when they do well we get investigated too. How do we win?" Thus a conundrum!
Perhaps some of this is caused by administrators who try to prove that budgets go up with increases in enrollment and then attempt to prove that costs still go up when enrollments go down. But there are critics who also work on the assumption that the system is broken, and any indication of success is fabricated.
A conundrum is also defined as a question or problem whose answers are based largely on conjecture. Perhaps it is time to shift the discussion of education from statistics and/or guesswork to trust. As education has become more political, it takes on the characteristics of running for office. The winner doesn't have the highest positives, only the lowest negatives.