#MCS Referendum – Election Day

Today is election day on the School referendum. Polls are open from 7am to 7pm. If you’re unsure where to vote click here and follow the form instructions.

As with other elections, if you are in line at 7pm, you will be allowed to vote. Weather forecasts show thunderstorms rolling in this afternoon. If you can get to the polls early, I highly suggest you do so. Otherwise, bring an umbrella.

NPR covered the school referendum yesterday. The piece is the first link listed below. While the piece didn’t really do justice to all the issues involved, I don’t think any 5 minute piece could. Either way, I’m glad that this issue is getting some national attention.

In other news, I noticed a report this morning from Arkansas on Charter Schools. The conclusions of the report closely follow a nationwide study released in 2010.

In both studies the researchers concluded that the success of Charter Schools had more to do with demographic makeup of the schools rather than educational strategies.

What does this have to do with the current achievement situation in Shelby County? Well, by and large, students in Shelby County Schools are better off financially than their peers in Memphis City Schools. The perception is that students in SCS do better because, somehow, Shelby County Schools are better. In reality, SCS only does marginally better than MCS in state performance tests, and much of that difference can be chalked up to the overall differences in economic status between the two districts. Remember, 86% of all MCS students receive free or reduced lunches, meaning their families are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. By contrast, only 33% of SCS students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Looking at the conclusions of these studies, it follows that students who are economically better off, generally do better, which would help explain a part of the perception that SCS is better than MCS. But the truth is, considering the huge differences between the two systems in terms of economic status, SCS should be doing leaps and bounds better than MCS but it isn’t.

My point is, perception and reality have been long divorced in the way the two districts have been treated by the public and the media. Both assume that the two school districts start off on equal ground with equal challenges and opportunities to educate children. However, the challenges are anything but equal when considering just one factor, economic status. Only 33% of SCS’s student population is in some state of dire need as opposed to 86% of MCS students. This means that students in MCS have more overall external challenges than students in SCS. That the two districts scored within mere points of each other is a testimony to the success of MCS, even though the numbers look like failure.

The point is, we have to stop comparing two very different situations to each other. By looking at MCS relative to SCS, it does indeed appear that MCS is lagging. But considering the additional hurdles that students in the MCS system face, they’re doing a whole lot more hurdle jumping, and in the process, covering more ground than the kids in SCS.

To really assess how schools are doing we have to look at starting point and end point, not just the end. We cannot expect that a district that has to run a 10k to get credit for a 5k will finish at the same time as a district that’s only running a 5k.

That’s not to say that both districts shouldn’t be held accountable and shouldn’t strive for additional gains, but rather to say that it’s more complicated than the binary metrics employed by the state and reported in the media.

Ok, get out there, get off your butts and vote!

March 8, 2011

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