The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


October 5, 2013

Upgrading education system needs more than two-tier plan

---- — THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Pennsylvania will be using a two-tier system of grading school systems is an interesting concept. But with it comes good and bad elements.

The new system of rating how schools are educating students allows for a different way of judging school districts that have a substantial number of poor students than evaluating the others.

Yes, everyone realizes that children from poverty normally score lower on tests than other students from middle- or high-income homes. Part of the reason is that often the kids from poverty have no one at home to help them or to even push them to do better.

So the state will spend extra money to educate these students in reading and math. It sounds good, right? But will it work or is it just money wasted? In a state where Gov. Tom Corbett has been cutting funding for education, is it realistic?

A few years ago, the announcement was made that the once highly regarded “Head Start” program isn’t working. That stunned a lot of people. Studies showed that giving underprivileged children extra educational training at early ages failed, partly because as the kids got older they fell behind others anyway.

We wasted some $166 billion on the program. It’s pretty much the same concept that the United Way of Mercer County had when it started a “Success by Six” program to help with early education. One could ask, “Is that money better being channeled there or to other charities during this economic downturn that has affected our area?”

Maybe – just maybe the new system of grading schools will help if students get additional training in elementary, middle and secondary schools to add to the Head Start or Success by Six programs. That has yet to be seen.

But we also need to hope that this new two-tier system doesn’t just mean that we will accept lower grades for the poor. Because if this doesn’t work where do we go next?

We need a complete overhaul of the educational system, both in Pennsylvania and nationally. In a national program called “No Child Left Behind” there are way too many children left behind.

I’m not just talking about poor or even special-needs kids. We are providing woeful education for our best and brightest students. Instead of separating these higher IQ and high-achieving students into special groups and pushing them at advanced levels, we lump them in with other students.

Part of the problem is the huge number of schools in Pennsylvania that are too small to provide those kinds of programs. (Need I mention the value of consolidation?)

So in our individual classes we either teach down to the lowest intelligence kids, teach up to the higher level students or find a happy medium. And no matter how you look at it, some students are losing out.

Today (Oct. 5 each year) we celebrate “World Teachers Day”. But even the best teachers can’t succeed when their hands are tied as far as how they can teach and how they can discipline students.

And it’s going to take a lot more than just a two-tier system of grading schools before that changes.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for the Opinion Page. His e-mail is

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